On a Monday morning a few weeks ago, I got a nudge from a short, stout fourth grader named Alejandro. He liked to stand next to me on the playground and give me advice. On that morning, he directed my attention to some older girls who were just then arriving: “Ooo, heads up, Principal. Here come those perfect girls. They tight!”
That which constituted perfection for Alejandro proceeded to arrive. From our center-yard post, we watched as five girls, one by one, showed up in short shorts, little boots, frilly tops and ponytails.
Ella, tall, thin and black-haired, arrived by the west gate. Blue-eyed Eva came from the east. Janetha, light skinned and confident, stepped from the building’s back doors along with Allison, the quietest. Sara, roundest, loudest, and least likely of all, arrived last and jammed herself into their gathering ring.
“I didn’t see that one coming.” I said to my adviser. “Well, there you go.” Alejandro replied.
On this particular day, these girls created a blacktop sensation. Even kindergartners paused to comment. When I approached to ask “How you girls doing?” one said, “We good” and added, “Never mind us, principal. We just talking.”
Fine by me. Carry on.
One thing pleased me: The ring included Sara. I knew her to be a brawler and a screamer, often at odds with her classmates. Could it be, at last, she had found friends? When we got out toward the third week of clique bliss, my hopes rose. Then, something shifted.
I spotted the group near the water fountain, and saw that five had shrunk to four. The four huddled in a fierce hush and made cutting glances across the yard. And there, Sara stood next to the back gate, hands clenched, looking a a bit like a bomb itching for a spark.
“Oh no. What have we here?” I headed in Sara’s direction.
As I got closer, I could hear her cry in a kind of cross between wail and whimper peppered with streaks of cursing such as: “Oooh, that ugly little girl think she cute but she ain’t!” and “No one get to talk smack to me like that!” Sara’s rants provided no further details.
“Leave me alone!!”
Whoops. Still too hot. I stepped back to wait, but to no avail. She hadn’t cooled down by the recess bell, nor by end of day.
And still today, I saw her standing by herself on the yard, not speaking to anyone. Maybe bleeding a bit on the inside. I had no insight on what had happened and to my outreach, I got a silent no-go.
A fundamental desire is to be a part of something and to belong to someone. Behind any coming together, however, is the coming undone. In precedes out. Climbing begets the tumble down.
I flashed back to Sara that first day when she shoved her way in. She strong-armed a place among these girls and made things work for an instant. Then came the push back and Sara came up short. How often had I seen it go that way?
You’ll find your home someday, Sara. No need for principal to be running around, fixing things all the time. Your crying is called for. Best to let it be. For me to remember? That each time through, the teaching and the learning cut a bit deeper.
We grow our souls one hard pass at a time.