A call came in by my direct line that Ms. Erikson’s new second grade student, Benjamin, had run from the room. Last words as he ran through the door: I want my mom!

Benjamin’s teacher was a big woman and her chasing days were over. On warm days, her feet swelled. She made a flat confession over the phone: ” You get the big bucks. You chase him. I will never catch him. I’ve got a class to teach.”

I grabbed my walkie-talkie and headed out the door.

This curly headed, big eyed boy didn’t hide well. I found him in less than a minute at the far north side of the playground, sitting criss-cross on the corner of a four-square court. He had his back toward the school building. I approached from the side and called his name.  “Benjamin, what’s going on?” He didn’t move. I stepped closer and that’s when he blew up.

His explosion came in screams – Get away from me! And in hates –  I hate this school! And in wants- I want to go home! Two neighbors walked by and looked on. Here we were, working it through on a wide-open playground under a full morning sun.

My message to the front office: Hold the calls. I may be out here a while.

I stepped ten paces away and sat on the edge of the last bench next to the yard’s back gate. His screams continued. I determined it best not to carry him inside. My apparent options: Wait and watch.

As I sat, I tried to monitor what was happening with Benjamin. I noticed the flush and the fade of his skin as his emotions rose and receded. As I watched his color change, I started asking myself questions: Who is this little guy, anyway? What’s happening just beneath that flush?

I also noticed things about myself.  His outburst reminded me of a time in  grade school when a bigger boy stole a red ball from me. I remember how he taunted me by holding it over my head.  Come on! Get it! Grab it! Like Benjamin, I blew up and flew at the older boy, swinging, slapping and screaming. The bigger kid backed up and I can remember his face. I’m sure that I shocked him.

Skin hides a myriad of things. I have to adjust and redirect these energies underneath even as they conspire  to show out in actions or comments that I can’t take back. As much happens under the skin now as when I was a boy. I get plenty of practice, however. So now, on most days, I can keep my cool. Benjamin had no such sophisticated system.

The vulnerability of a thin skin is something all of us share. Old-school coaching tells us to tighten the jaw, and strut through the stumbles. But my skin, like every man’s, is nothing more than a membrane. I feel it all and all of it shows up somewhere, somehow. As I sat waiting for Benjamin to calm down, I wondered who ever thought we could get stronger by trying to be tough.

Benjamin. No one gets an easy ride.  Today, I am here for you so that you can be there for someone else tomorrow. Whenever you’re ready to talk, I am ready. Waiting, you’ll soon discover, is a big part of how we teach and then, how we learn.


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