Today was free dress day at the Sweetest Little School by the Sea. Children spilled off buses and piled out of cars wearing flouncy skirts, poofy sleeves, suit coats and neckties. A couple boys and a girl or two donned bowties. There were large green head bows, ribbons, bright green skirts and socks, dollar store necklaces with shamrocks and leprechauns. And each and every child was beaming.
“Good morning, Ms. Wells!” I heard again and again as students walked in through the front gates.
When I saw Daphne and Maribel I noticed at once they weren’t wearing any green. “Come with me,” I said and started up the steps to the main office. “Let’s get you some green.” We tromped up the steep stairway and I pulled out a drawer from a plastic rolling cart.
I hope I still have some stickers. I gave a lot of things away across the past few years. I see some smiley face stickers. There are a few green ones. Those could work. I move them aside and see the package of St. Patrick’s Day stickers there. I pick them up and see a second pack! Jackpot.
I always did love stickers. They are currency in the classroom.
“Here they are!” I exclaim, tearing them open.
“Put one of these on your shirt. Then you’ll have some green and no one will pinch you. I hate pinching!”
I head back down the stairs and stand at the gate with my stickers. More and more students arrive as we get nearer the opening bell. More and more students for whom morning arrived a little too early and they’ve forgotten their green.
“Here! Have a sticker,” I say peeling off a mini smiling shamrock and handing it to each kid. “No one’s getting pinched today!”
8:05 and the school bell rings. They’re off to their classes. Success, I think walking back to the front office.
It’s not five minutes before the first child is in my office with a referral slip. “Pinched another student,” it reads.
Julian and I talk about what happened. Of course he wasn’t the only one. Someone pinched him too. He doesn’t have any green on. But, I remember putting a sticker on his lapel this morning. It’s long gone now.
“I do have green if you consider my braces.” He smiles an open-mouthed smile. Yep, he’s sporting green bands on his chompers.
“Let’s go up to your classroom,” I say.
The kids are reading during breakfast in the classroom. “May I have everyone’s attention?” I ask. Every child stops and looks up at me.
I tell them a mostly true story about the mean teacher, Mrs. Raymer, who I had for fourth grade. I tell them that I forgot to wear green on St. Patricks day and that John Vogel, the boy everyone liked, pinched me…. HARD on that day. And I tell them that I never forgot it. That when John Vogel and I went to middle school and then high school I still didn’t forget. I tell them that when he asked me on a date in high school that I had to say, “NO WAY!” All because of the PINCH back in fourth grade. Their eyes widen. I ask if that was fair. They say, “NO.” I close by saying this: People remember how you make them feel. If you hurt them – that’s hard to forget. You guys are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. Choose kind. I ask how many of them can do that today. Every hand is raised.
Kids can be mean.
Life can be hard.
But, we can also choose kindness and to look on the bright side.
We can choose to create the best in ourselves and others.
Thank you little ones, for agreeing to do exactly that.