The Boy Named William

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, kindergarten ruined my life.

Not the 1986 kindergarten that I was used to, I’m talking about the modern day kindergarten.  The kind without naps and with homework.  The kind that starts at 7:15am and involves science projects.  Elementary school is the real deal y’all and a few years ago I wasn’t prepared.

But now, I’m an ol’ pro.  Well, at least, I thought I was until the dreaded third grade arrived.  I don’t know if it’s that I don’t want my boy to grow up or if I have PTSD from my third grade year, but, for the past few weeks, I’ve dreaded the first day of school like the plague.

I became nauseated when the registration email came through followed by the supply list – oh, the supply list.  Number 2, yellow, pre-sharpened pencils and wide-ruled composition books.  Erasers, scissors and expo markers that are never packaged in the preferred quantity.  I rolled my eyes as I tried to find plastic folders with pockets and prongs.  And, I giggled in sarcasm as I bought paper for the “community” supply.

Community supply.  “Good lord”, I thought as I summed up the total using old school math that’s no longer allowed.  I’m another $120 in the hole for a community supply.  As I grumbled, “I shouldn’t have to buy extra supplies……”, all I could think about was my miserable third grade year.

In hind sight, it wasn’t all that bad, but when you’re nine things always seem worse.  I sat right in front of a boy that we will call William.  He was loud, unruly and always lost his recess privileges.  His clothes were usually dirty and consistently against dress code due to inappropriate adult advertisements.  He often had to go to the office to change.  He teased me mercilessly about everything from my book bag to my hair.  And then, one day, he committed the ultimate offense – he stole my homework.

My homework!  He took my homework off my desk, erased my name, and wrote his name on my paper.  I was distraught and had a little come-apart.  The handwriting gave it away and he was guilty.  I don’t recall William’s punishment but, knowing the nature of my teacher, I’m sure it was harsh and maybe a little out of control.  I still recall the look on his face and, although I was furious with William, I kinda felt sorry for him at the same time.

I’ve thought about him a lot over the past few weeks as I’ve prepared my son and myself for the third grade.  I don’t know all of William’s story, but I can tell you that homework was probably the least of his nine-year-old worries.  His circumstances were out of his control and the baggage he carried was much like his clothing – inappropriate for children.  His behavior was most likely a symptom of a greater problem rather than a true obstacle.   Was he really a “trouble maker” or was he just hurting and begging for someone to notice?

You see, one of the truths I’ve come to know is that hurting people hurt people.  It may or may not be intentional, but I can promise you that much of the hurt inflicted between us humans comes from a place of deep hurting within ourselves.  And, children are no exception to this rule.

My husband and I often talk about his middle and high school years.  His parents were divorced and his relationship with his mother was rocky to say the least.  And, although his dad was present and supportive, the strain and stress of the situation produced, at times, behavior that was uncharacteristic of who he is.  His grades slipped and his attitude, especially towards school, was far from perfect.

He tells stories of how so many teachers and other adults failed to see anything beyond his behavior.  He was sometimes disciplined harshly for things he did or said that were really a cry for help.  And, sometimes, because of a label given to him, he was even accused of things he didn’t do.

But, the thing that always amazes me is that he never ends a story without mentioning the few people in his life who had his back and showed him kindness: His dad and his grandmother who fought for him relentlessly.  A few teachers who saw past the grades and the attitude.  The teachers who saw good in him, encouraged him and gave him hope.  Then, there were his friends’ moms who fed him countless dinners and loved him like a son.

You see I believe the statement I made earlier needs an addendum.  It’s true that hurting people hurt people but it’s also true that:

Loved people love people

Forgiven people forgive people

Free people free people

And, those who have received grace and mercy will likely extend the same to others.

My husband has never forgotten the people who made a difference in his life.  A compliment by a teacher, a dinner at a friend’s home, a dad’s benefit of the doubt and a grandmother’s hug changed his life.  And, this my friends is what he remembers through horror that was often his reality.  Sure, he remembers the bad but it’s amazing how light can overcome darkness.

So, as we all start this new school year, let’s forget about the cost of composition books and the community supply.  Go ahead and buy two large boxes of number 2, yellow pre-sharpened pencils and extra expo markers.  Because, there’s a boy like William who needs you and those school supplies.

And, to all the teachers, school administrators, school nurses, and custodial staff, keep fighting the good fight and shining a light in the darkness.  Your smile, encouragement and inspiration will have a far greater impact than grades on a test.  Because, there’s a boy like my husband who will remember you and maybe one day tell his family how you changed his life.  Perhaps he will use your gift and become a light to others.

My younger sister teaches third grade (ironic I know) and her name is Mrs. Moose.  Isn’t that just the best thing ever?  What if you were nine and your teacher’s name was Mrs. Moose?  I love it!!!!  Anyway, this year she asked friends and family to cover the children in her class with prayer throughout the year.  Although the names of the children are anonymous, we’re bonded for all of third grade.

So, now I challenge every adult reading this blog to pray for the children in our lives.  Pray for kids like William and my husband.  As my sister requested so perfectly, pray for their home, their attitude, their belief in themselves and their little hearts.  Pray for the teachers and administrators who shine light into dark spaces.  And, while we’re at it, let’s lift each other up in prayer – parent to parent, friend to friend.  There’s a lot of hurting people in this world who need an addendum of love, forgiveness, freedom, grace, mercy and hope added to their story.

And, finally to my son and the children in Mrs. Moose’s third grade class in Cleveland, Ga, get ready because we’re gonna rock third grade.

~Mary Ann

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