Showing up on time, everyday, has its rewards. Little Victoria, a third grader, found that out this week when she won the grand prize – a triple scoop of ice cream on a sugar cone. To celebrate her victory, she chose vanilla!

This vanilla was said to be the best in town. For my part, I got to build the top-heavy cone and watch as her green eyes lit up. She paraded around and soon had a little string of sweet-treat friends who got to begging for one quick lick. Nothing doing, however. Little Victoria just kept moving and burying her round, red-cheeked face in ice cream. In about a minute, she wore as much as she ate.

In those moments, I saw this little girl in a different light: Tiny for a third grader, she wore her hair in a ponytail that came from the crown of her head and flopped around as she walked. Wearing her hair that way boosted her height a bit. Since she needed two hands to hold the cone, I noticed how tiny these hands were. Also – a tiny mouth, tiny feet, small ears.  A small package of a child, now leading an impromptu parade with her edible attendance award.

With sun overhead and the asphalt kicking up heat, Victoria lost control of the cone when she went to throw her hair back. Ice cream – all that remained, became a star-shaped splat on her shiny black shoes. Now, the parade ended, her schoolmates giggled, and tears came.

She had no chance with this cone. I should have seen that. Even with a ballerina’s poise and maximum focus. . .

Amidst the giggling, however, a fifth grader approached. The boy, Rafael, had won the award the prior month, and the heat had taken its toll on his award as well. In a few short seconds, the sweet-treat parade disbanded leaving only the tall (for a fifth grader) dark boy, attending to the tears of the crushed little girl. What struck me was how the boy stuck with her, walked her to the bench, and even helped her by paper toweling her shoe so that it wasn’t quite such a wipe out.

Wow, I heard myself saying. I also heard myself wondering at the motivation and the gentleness of this boy. What was he up to? Why did he seem thus called to assist this girl? Were they related? I mentioned my questioning mind to my colleague, Jennifer. She looked at me – gave me a good look – and said, what if he’s just being kind?

Well, what if? I had not considered that possibility. How stunning that there might be not only this boy, but others, traveling undercover among the rough and the tough, who carried a gentle heart within them, warm like the sun, but cloud-covered until the right moment. I thought back to my own days on the playground and could not recall having kindness (nor the courage to use it) to allow me to come out the way Rafael had.

My childhood is not my whole story. I can watch and learn. Teachers emerge at the right time. If I planting both feet on the ground – and speak less often about what everyone else should do, I can continue to learn and find that the reluctant gentleman of my boyhood becomes an audacious open heart, starting today.


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