School season is about to take off again. Things are a little more hectic than usual this year. Our oldest son is moving on to third grade while playing his first season of tackle football. Our “middle” son is moving up to first grade while playing his first season of flag football. Our youngest son will be attending his last year of preschool while dealing with on and off treatments at Johns Hopkins for a condition he has. Despite all of the distractions, the boys still have that build up of jumpy excitement and curiosity as the first day of school approaches.
Anxious butterflies, followed by feeling slightly apprehensive as to what the new school year might have in store, probably sums it up best for most kids. When it comes to making new friends and being accepted, preschool and early elementary school are naturally more welcoming than middle and high school. With that being said, you still can’t help but worry about your little one’s, wishing nothing more than happiness and acceptance for them. You want them to treat others how they would want to be treated. Pondering over these times in a child’s life has made me recollect a moment from my own youth, remembering how sometimes the simplest things can calm the nerves and help you feel accepted. It made me think of an old classmate of mine.
It was fall of 1986, my mother had remarried over the summer and we had just moved to the town of Linwood, MD. Linwood was more or less just a street in the middle of nowhere. I was getting ready to start 6th grade at New Windsor middle school. The school was made up of kids mostly from two different elementary schools. I’m sure I wasn’t the only oddball thrown into the mix, but for the most part, everyone seemed like they had a few friends in different places. Middle school can be tough no matter what, but the fact that this was now my third school in three years didn’t make things any easier.
At first I thought this might be an easy adjustment since I had already switched schools before, but this time something was different. This time I honestly felt out of place…stressed about being accepted. Maybe it was just because I was now officially dealing with “Middle School”, a time when clicks were well underway. Maybe it was just because I was new to the entire surrounding area. Maybe it was a little of both. . Either way, I simply had this feeling that this time it wasn’t going to be easy.
On the first day of school I headed into Mrs. Case‘s homeroom. Everyone was already quietly seated and facing the chalkboard. My desk was in the middle of one of the first two rows. As I sat down at my desk, Mrs. Case asked the class to take out a pencil. Up until this point I had not met a single person, not a single “Hello”, or “Hi, what’s your name?”. I opened my notebook and reached for the zipper on my plastic pencil pouch. As I unzipped it, an annoyingly loud and goofy sound was suddenly emitted from my desk, probably because the pencil pouch wasn’t broken in yet. The loud sound caused a few laughs from around the classroom and even drew me a long glance from the teacher, so I froze in complete embarrassment. With a lowered head, I turned and noticed the expression on the face of the kid sitting right next to me. He was still staring at my pencil pouch, in complete shock, like it was something from outer space. Seconds later, after trading a few silly comments, we were both laughing so hard we could barely breath. The kid’s name was Martin.
I was quickly becoming comfortable…all because of that one brief moment I had with the kid sitting next to me in my new homeroom. Middle school still had its ups and downs….but for some reason that little instant with the pencil pouch and seeing Martin’s expression just seemed to be the ice breaker I needed. It’s a shame that school can be so intimidating at times, but sometimes it’s the smallest things that help make kids feel welcome.
Unfortunately I had little time to get to know Martin. That year we only had the opportunity to chat in homeroom and occasionally share a few laughs at lunch time. Shortly after 6th grade, Martin was diagnosed with Leukemia. He died before we finished middle school. I’ll still never forget the day our principle came into our homeroom to break the news.
Despite having been taken from his family and friends long before getting the opportunity to experience life….Martin freeze framed an important moment for me during my childhood. I learned that sometimes the smallest of all things can make the “new kid” sitting next to you in class feel welcome. As I progressed through school over the years, I always continued that tradition. There would always be new faces and personalities to meet on the first day of school. Doing something as simple as cracking a joke or complimenting someone on how cool their new shoes were could end up making a new classmate’s day better. Each year I share this story with my three boys before school starts, so they too can pass on the act of kindness I learned from Martin.
As the new school year begins, I hope every child out there has a Martin sitting next to them in their new homeroom. If you don’t, then maybe you could pass on Martin’s kindness by making the nervous new classmate sitting beside you smile on his or her first day of school.
R.I.P ~Martin Busch~