“THAT Kid” and the “Other Kids”

This morning I read a lovely, heartfelt, so very TRUE article responding to parents of the “other kids” in the class who are concerned about “THAT kid.”  The wise and delightful Miss Night seems to have struck a chord with teachers and (most) parents alike, igniting an empathy for THAT kid, eliciting patience and kindness and trust.

I agree.  With every word.

And I would like to add on.  I would like to make a case for the value of being THAT kid’s classmates.  Not just tolerating him, or learning to deal with her until next year, or hoping you can make it through the year without your kid getting hurt.  No, I’m talking about real, actual benefits to the OTHER kids as a direct result of being classmates with THAT kid.

You see, the vast majority of parents would very much like the world to revolve around their child.  And they have every right to do so.  (I will not get out my soap box and talk about how my generation was deeply harmed by the “you are so very special, you can be anything you want in this world” attitude of our parents and wonder why we as a culture haven’t learned anything about teaching humility and others-centeredness.  Nope.  I will leave that discussion for another day.)  A parent is supposed to be their child’s best advocate.  They are supposed to be invested and attached, in their child’s education and well-being and future.  They are supposed to feel strongly about their child’s struggles.  This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.

But here’s the thing…  My job, among other things, is to build a community.  To teach generosity and self-control and others-centeredness and conflict resolution.  To make sure the world doesn’t revolve around anyone, and yet, that we all revolve around each other.

In the easy years, we go about our days, learning how to read and write, add and subtract.  We learn to say “thank you” and “excuse me.”  We occasionally say, “I’m sorry.”  We learn to be happy and calm and responsible.

But the hard years…oh sweet soap-on-a-rope, those are the growing times.  We learn to say, “Please stop, I don’t like that.”  And, “I forgive you.”  And, “How can I help?”  We learn, “I see that you didn’t mean to do that.”  And, “I can wait until the teacher is done talking to (THAT kid).”  And, “I think (THAT kid) needs us to care about him right now.”

And that very hardest year?  My kids learned to leave the room without me, go next door unannounced, sit down and read a book.  They learned to be patient when we walked laps around the first floor, as every time we passed our classroom, I glanced in to see if one of my superhero teammates had made it safe to return.  They learned to ignore the distraction when all four “THAT kids” screamed and yelled and banged their books on the floor under my table or in the corner or in the middle of the room.  They learned to be calm and self-sufficient in moments that looked and sounded anything but calm.

And what about the time the “other kids” begged and pleaded with me that even though “THAT kid” had been suspended earlier in the day on Halloween, we should all pass out candy for him anyway and save it for tomorrow?

And the time the “other kids” all thought of something kind to say about “THAT kid” after she had a very challenging day?

And the innumerable times I’ve seen the “other kids” ask “THAT kid” to play with them, over and over, no matter how many times the game ends in tears and frustration?

The “other kids” practice patience and kindness and generosity and forgiveness.  These are things we learn only when we have many opportunities to try them out.  They are the hardest things in the world for our broken humanity.  I struggle with every single one.

A small, not-at-all extreme example:  The other day, I had pulled a small group for reading, and found that K went to the library even though it was her group time.  Not exactly a “THAT kid” moment, but I was irritated.  I said, “K signed up for library?  She has small group!”  Her group-mate S responded to me, “She just made a mistake.  I know she didn’t mean to.  She didn’t see her name on small group.  I do that sometimes.  You do, too.  You remember the day you signed us all up for the wrong small group times?”  Point taken.

To be honest, I am “THAT kid” sometimes.  So are you.  We yell.  We throw things – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  We shut down and give the silent treatment and build walls.  You do the best you can with what you have to give, and sometimes in that moment, it just doesn’t work out well – for you or anyone around you.  But whether I am “THAT kid” or one of the “other kids,” those moments are more opportunities to practice being generous and kind and forgiving.  The messy struggle of working though tough moments and difficult relationships with patience and grace — it is redemption in action.  We are so much better as individuals and as a community for knowing “THAT kid.”

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