Wednesday, November 09, 2011

You had to be there

When Kiyomi was in elementary school she had a love-hate relationship with a girl I'll call E. They'd known each other since first grade, and went from intensely hating each other to being best buddies who couldn't wait to get together on the weekends for a playdate. While E could be sweet, she could also get aggressive and I know at least a couple of moms who had discouraged their daughters from hanging around her too much. She did have a bad habit of digging her little 9-year-old fingernails firmly into other kids' wrists.

Her parents weren't the most involved parents, but they weren't the worst, either. I knew them casually and thought they were friendly enough, and E seemed like a pretty happy kid in spite of always craving attention. But don't they all? Rigel and I often remarked that she was one of those kids you just wanted to like – that little button nose and bobbed hair and she was super polite, in an Eddie Haskell-ish kind of way.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago - Kiyomi was getting a 'Student Of The Month' Award along with a few other kids and there was a small ceremony in the auditorium towards the end of the school day. I definitely wanted to be there since she's graduating this year and I figured it might be the last of these types of ceremonies where I could get all teary-eyed and embarrass the hell out of her. But I promised I wouldn't clap too loudly and I left my big foam hand at home, the one that has, "#1 Girl" silkscreened on its pointer finger.

I took a seat and a few minutes later someone ran up and hugged me. It was E. She and Kiyomi hadn't hung around much since they started middle school three years ago, and I had only seen her a handful of times on campus. She said she was getting an award, too, and I told her how tall she'd gotten and how pretty she looked. Then I asked her where her mom or dad were, so I could say a quick hello before the ceremony started.

After I asked, I immediately wanted to take my words back because she looked so uncomfortable. "Um, they aren't here. They're too busy." Her words trailed off, and I tried my best to change the subject by asking her about her hat. Because I'm smooth like that.

The ceremony got under way, and the teacher who was leading the whole thing started off by telling all the kids to go sit with their parents. A reasonable request, but I knew there were at least a few kids in the audience who didn't have anyone from their family there and it made me cringe. (Only the first of things this teacher did that made me cringe, but that's a topic for another time.)

All these kids are a supportive bunch, so there was no shortage of clapping and shout-outs when the kids went up to accept their awards, whether their families were there or not. But then the teacher had to start talking about how grateful all the kids should be to their parents, who were so supportive and had taken time out from their busy days to be at the ceremony, and how they needed to give their parents a big hug. NOW.

Hugs from teenagers are hard to come by these days, so I gladly took mine from Kiyomi, but still couldn't help but feel badly for E and the other kids who were there alone. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder, and it was E standing in front of me.

"Can I give you a hug?"

My heart just about broke into a million pieces. I gave her a big hug, and then I talked her into taking a couple of silly pictures with Kiyomi.

I'm willing to give the parents the benefit of the doubt. We're all busy, maybe her parents just absolutely couldn't get away from work, maybe E didn't let on how much she wanted them there. There are a mind-boggling number of events that parents are expected to attend throughout the school year and there's no way we can make it to all of them. I even skipped Back-To-School night this year and I didn't even have a really good reason, except that I was exhausted, although I was ready with a carefully thought-out "Sinkhole ate our house" excuse in case any of the teachers inquired.

But this was kind of a big deal. There are over two thousand kids in this school, so for a handful to be singled out is an honor, one that doesn't happen every day and from what I've seen they pretty much stop with the awards once high school starts. After all of the hand-wringing and worrying about our kids doing well in school I can't imagine not being there when all their hard work is recognized.

I regret that the teacher didn't choose his words more carefully and wish he hadn't put so much emphasis on the parents physically being there. I wish he'd had the sensitivity to say something comforting to the kids who were there alone. I'm kind of kicking myself that I didn't ask E to come sit with us earlier in the ceremony. I wish middle school and being 13 wasn't so damn awkward and hard already without some sad moment getting magnified and maybe hurting more than it should. But most of all I really wish someone had shown up for E.

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  1. I've been on both sides of this predicament. I remember when Emily had an art show in preschool and I couldn’t get off work. She cried and cried, and I got up enough nerve to bypass my boss and go directly to the client and ask if I could take a break for an hour. “Go be a mom,” she said. I thought Emily would jump up & down with excitement when she saw me, but she didn’t. But she was glad I was there.

    Two weeks ago, Mary Belle sang in Millikan Idol. She was only one of a few 6th graders who made the cut. I had a Neighborhood Council Board Meeting, and since it’s an elected position, I take it very seriously. But I was there to see my daughter belt out “Rolling in the Deep.” Years from now, no one’s going to remember that I missed a meeting, but unlike E’s experience, I think Mary Belle will remember that I was there for her in the 6th grade.

  2. Yeah. I must admit that i haven't made it to everything, but I've made it to most things. "You know how you think we don't spend a lot of family time together these days? We spend more time together than most of my friends," my daughter said to me the other day. Poor E.

  3. I've gone to every awards ceremony, all the holiday concerts, but what does Sylvia still talk about years later? The science exhibit I missed. I just couldn't get away from work that day, and every time she brings it up, I cringe. I'm just glad you were there to give E a hug.

  4. That was a good thing you did. I know you wish you had done more, but at least you did something, and that girl will remember it. I won lots of awards at school, and I can count on one hand the times either of my parents showed up. My mother at least had good reasons not to much of the time, but it was still hard on me. I remember sometimes my friends' parents would notice and congratulate me or take pictures of me and that was really, really nice of them. I remember every time it happened and I'm still grateful.

    No one from my family came to my college graduation, either. I was there entirely alone. One of my friends who had also gone to high school with me was graduating on the same day, and his mother saw I was alone (again) and she took pictures of me with her son and sent them to me. They're the only photos I have of that day. It made me feel so much better.

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