If you look up on a clear night, you might be able to pick out twin stars dancing in perpetual round-about. Two weeks ago, I came to know two such stars, captured in the skinny bodies of Diana and Evangeline – inseparable fifth grade girls.
Their two teachers talked about them during yard duty- They don’t seem to fit with anyone else- Then I got a chance to meet Diana (without Evangeline) during parent-teacher conferences. That encounter proved to be the beginning of a twisted tale about friends, bullies, and heroes that show up when you need them.
I found out that Diana never missed school. She also liked to draw. Flowers, faces, exploding stars, and cats. During our conference, Diana drew as her parents mentioned the other girl, Evangeline. They asked that I keep the two girls apart. They don’t bring out the best in one another, said the father. I’ll keep an eye on her, said I.
Three days after this conference, I discovered a good deal more from my school social worker. She explained that she had been working with Diana since kindergarten. The kids tease her. It’s merciless. But she and Evangeline don’t seem to notice. I don’t know how they could miss it.
Now, enter the bully – a squat boy with a chipped tooth. Maynard (the kids called him Round Face). He had led other fifth graders in modifying a game called Cheese Touch. In this game, he who is Cheese Touched becomes outcast until he passes it on to someone else. Once I learned of the game, my playground filled cheese. I saw kids playing it everywhere. How had I missed it? And, just as my social worker had told me, there were no bigger cheeses in this game than Diana and Evangeline.
I gathered all the students from the upper grades last Friday and banned the game. Then it went underground. I understood I had to contend with a bullying juggernaut.
At the start of the second week, I saw how the twin stars stuck with each other. They saw no one else and did not know the swirl surrounding them. Regardless, the game came to a head in a surprising way just yesterday. From across the yard, I saw Maynard attaching a stuffed white glove to the end of a stick. He dangled it over Evangeline and Diana. They remained oblivious. Neither girl even looked up. To them, they were alone together.
I hustled from the kickball court toward the basketball hoop – a hundred yard journey. Meanwhile, Round Face pressed on. Even without Diana and Evangeline’s participation, he raised the glove over his head, shouted ‘Diana ‘Touched’ and swung it around. Then came a surprise.
Maynard smacked (on accident) Little Maya. Big mistake. This short-haired fireplug grabbed his stick, snapped it, and then snagged his glove. She touched herself all over. Try touching me, Round Face. Scared? Go play with the kindergarten little boy!
As Maynard shrank, the twin stars made another quarter turn, jump rope re-started, and three third graders ran back to the monkey bars for another go at getting across.
Playgrounds deliver with efficiency. Painful, but quick with justice that can ensure that helpless dreamers prevail, that cowards get crushed , and that courage coils and leaps to set things right.
Since I saw it on the blacktop, I have faith that it can happen anywhere.