Could this confident boy skipping up onto the stage be the same child who four months ago told me that he wasn't smart and had no friends... and whose former teacher had described as a shy loner who produced average work?
Thrillingly, it is! He isn't really the same boy though... the last four months have brought an explosion of growth for him, both mentally and emotionally.
Moving to our new home and this community has been a true blessing for our family in so many ways, but the most important and immediately noticeable way has been how it has impacted our five year old's life for the positive.
Yesterday afternoon as I tidied our small house before leaving to tutor a high school sophomore, our little boy was belting out an original song of his own creation. "EVERY ONE HAS GOT A FRIEND!!!" he sang at the top of his lungs. "I HAVE FRIENDS AND SO DO YOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!! I HAVE TWENTY FOUR FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Just listening to him brought a huge smile to my face, and I turned away to play down my joy so that he wouldn't feel self conscious. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that this is the same child who felt so lonely and hated school. These days he's always talking about his buddies and his best friends... and happily he's connected with at least 5 of the kids in his class who always wave at him and chatter away to him when I come to pick him up in the afternoons.
I have made a lot of decisions as a wife and mother over the past 7 years - some of which were better than others - but this move stands as one of the top five decisions I have ever made. What a thrill it was on Saturday night to hear my husband tell one of his best friends that "We love it up here, man - definitely a fantastic move for our family. I've completely come around, I'm so glad we moved." Yay!
A week ago I opened up the yellow manila envelope that our son's teacher sends home with him every Tuesday to find a half sheet of paper folded with our names on it. Expecting another fundraising flyer I opened the sheet to read:
"Your child has been selected for a special award. Parents are requested to attend an assembly on Wednesday, May 25th at 8:45am in the school auditorium."
"WOW! Honey, this is great!"
"What's great, mom?"
"You're getting an award next week!"
"I am? For what?"
Our son was as surprised as we were... but very pleased. "Maybe it is for math," he smiled. "I am good at math. Or maybe for P.E. I won that silver medal at the Junior Olympics. I've been winning a lot of awards lately, Mom!"
"You know why this is great honey?"
"This shows that you are really blending into your new school and thriving like your Dad and I have noticed. Things are going very well for you!"
"Yep, they sure are!"
* * * * *
The week passed swiftly and by yesterday evening, our son had grown nervous.
"What if I look silly on stage? What if everybody laughs at me?"
"You won't look silly honey - there will be other kids getting awards and you won't be alone. Besides, nobody is going to laugh at you for earning an award. You are a kind, smart kid. Your true friends will be happy for you."
"Okay." He didn't sound convinced.
Before bedtime he picked out his own outfit for the award ceremony... nice jeans and a short sleeved collared shirt.
"You'll look so handsome!" I gave him a big hug. "I'll take a nice photo of you for our family album."
"Awwww, MOM!!!!" He was embarrassed but happy.
In the morning he dressed speedily and was waiting by the front door ready to leave for school 35 minutes early.
"Sweetheart, we'll have to wait just a little longer," I consoled. "Your teacher may not even be at school yet!"
"I don't want to be late, Mom!"
At the assembly our son sat with his kindergarten class in the front row of the auditorium while we stood at the very back with his baby sister who was busily taking off her shoes and handing them to the fifth graders seated around us. (She also tried to "read" her Curious George book out loud and raced out of the auditorium into the lunch court about three times, prompting her Daddy to throw her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry while she squirmed and squealed hysterically.)
The assembly itself was very cute - in its entirety it was about thirty minutes long and revolved solely around recognizing PTA parents and school students for their hard work, kindness and effort. After several rounds of awards and a short skit, at last the principal announced that it was time for classroom awards.
As it happened they gave awards in reverse order from 5th grade to Kindergarten, with our son's award coming last.
"And finally..." the principal announced, "From Room K, we have The Nifty Newcomer Award for (Our Son). Although he came to us midway through the year, this child has such a friendly spirit and a great attitude. He is a good sport and a hard-working student. It feels like you've been here forever and we just want to say, we're so happy that you're part of our school now!"*
He was the final child called up onto the stage and I could see from the look on his face as he came to shake the principal's hand that he'd been worried that they had forgotten about him.
Still, after skipping up the stairs he took his award and turned around to face the audience. Suddenly realizing that there were 400 pairs of eyeballs trained on him, he sat down at the front of the stage and dangled his feet off its edge. All of the other honorees and their parents stood in a line behind him.
"It's okay," said the principal to our son via microphone, "We have plenty of room for you to stand up here with the others... why don't you come back up to have your picture taken?"
My husband came to his rescue, giving our son a hug and leading him back up to the line of honorees. There was a nice round of applause. From the back, I took multiple photos while his sister called out in a surprisingly loud voice, "YAY BRUDDAAAAAA!!!!!!!"
Within moments, the assembly had concluded and the classes began to disperse. My son exited the auditorium with his class and my husband returned to say goodbye to our daughter and me.
"Wait!" I called out, "The certificate!" I raced to the line where my son stood with his class and whispered, "Honey, let me get your certificate framed before it gets torn or wrinkled!"
He turned around with eyes shining. "Did you SEE ME, Mommy? Did you like my assembly?"
"Oh yes. I saw you. It was marvelous!"
Glowing, he handed me the cardstock award certificate and disappeared into his classroom.
As I walked to myself, his words repeated themselves in my head. "Did you SEE ME? / Did you SEE ME?" When I returned to my husband, I related our son's burst of enthusiasm.
"We see him," I affirmed to my husband, "but even better and more importantly, everyone else here actually sees him too. His teachers. His friends. The principal... they really see him.
They see the best in our son, and they're celebrating it!"
What more could any parent hope for?
*Words spoken by his principal paraphrased from memory... you get the gist.