As the school year has recently started or is about to start for many kids tomorrow, I feel compelled to share a personal story from one of my own first days of school. I was 13 years old and new to town. I remember feeling like a bit of an outsider. I knew no one. My parents were divorced. I guess I just felt different in all the ways that 13 year old girls do NOT want to feel different. Like most girls that age, I simply longed to fit in. To have friends. To be liked. To do well in school. To blend in and not stand out in any way.
As I said, I was new in town…we still had boxes to unpack so we must not have been living in our house for very long. It was the end of summer and school was starting soon. I was going to yet another new school for 8th grade. The last year of middle school. Middle school is a tricky time no matter what but switching schools each year for 6th, 7th and now 8th grade certainly didn’t help! I was at home and I remember seeing two girls on bikes ride up to my house. They introduced themselves and said they were in a YMCA youth group program. Their teenage youth group leader knew my older sister and told them to be on the lookout for a new girl moving to their street. Laura and Annie invited me to pizza. I didn’t go that day. I can’t remember why I said no. Maybe we had plans? But I do remember getting their phone numbers and making a plan for another day soon. Those two girls welcomed me to their larger circle of friends in the local middle school. Thanks to their kindness, instead of feeling like a complete outsider at a large school, I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had friends. I was invited to take the bus home or walk to Central Street for a slice of bread or a cookie. Often we would end up at each other’s houses after school to hang out.
When I draw up that memory in my mind, it feels frozen in time. I can distinctly remember the most minute details! I have to remind myself that it happened 26 years ago and that I’m no longer 13. I’m a mom of two daughters, one of whom is not too much younger than I was that day. I’ve told this story to our daughters many times. I guess I hope that it teaches them to be on the lookout for the outsiders. For someone who is new at school. Or maybe even just sitting alone at the lunch table at school. I hope it sparks them to take the first step, to introduce themselves and start up a conversation and offer their friendship. A small act of kindness can have ripple effects for years and years to come!