As adults, we are being bombarded with daily, even hourly news that is rapidly changing the world we live in. As we try to adjust and adapt, no matter how hard we try to set up a new normal in our homes, our children’s routines are being disrupted. Change can be particularly challenging for kids and even small acts of patience and kindness can make all the difference. Here’s what happened to Cal as a young boy.
When I was nearly seven years old my family moved from the rural farming community of Afton, Wyoming, to Salt Lake, the big city (at least it was big for me). Our new home was part of a six-plex and had a front room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and one bedroom. My two sisters and I were given the bedroom, and my parents used an upright piano to provide a semblance of privacy to the dining room, which they used as their bedroom. Cramped as it was, we were excited to have indoor plumbing, which had been lacking back on the farm.
Our new home was only about a block from Whittier Elementary, my new school. I don’t remember my mother walking me to the school before it started, but I’m sure she must have done this to help me avoid getting lost. But I was a country boy and my point of reference was a few familiar homes belonging to my aunts and uncles, nearby farms, barns, wire fences, cows, sheep, horses, haystacks, and pastures. I didn’t have any experience with blocks of houses, cars, and streets going all different directions.
And the noise in a city was different than what I was used to. Instead of hearing the cows and sheep and horses in the background, I heard cars and trucks. I was not used to the way the city’s air smelled of smog and smoke and other contaminants. I was more familiar with the smell of fresh clean, country air. I must admit that city folk didn’t like the smell of our cows and other animals, but I missed it.
I remember my first day at the city school. My teacher was Mrs. Larson, and she was nice and very friendly, but I was still nervous. I didn’t know anyone, which meant I didn’t have any friends and when I tried to talk to the kids, I had nothing in common with them. You wouldn’t know it now, but back then I was shy and introverted. When school finally ended, I walked out the first-grade door and got completely lost. Remember, I was new to the city and everywhere I looked I saw streets running east and west, and north and south, any one of which might have been where I lived. Busy cars everywhere. Traffic guards trying to get me to cross the street (which I did, but it was the wrong place). I was lost. I was scared. I didn’t want to die in some faraway place with no familiar face with me (OK, this may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s a good one and that’s how it felt in the moment).
I remember standing on the corner, in front of a little store, crying and trying to figure out where I lived. Nothing looked familiar. "Why did my dad drag me out of Afton to a place like this?” I wondered. Then miracle of miracles happened. A neighbor boy, a year older than me, recognized me and took pity on me and told me he would show me how to get home. He walked home with me, showed me where I lived, and he did this as an act of service, never teasing me or making me feel bad about getting lost or even for crying.
The next day I went back to school, and, sure enough, as soon as the closing bell sounded and we were sent home, I got lost again. I stood in front of that store crying for a second time, and for a second time my new friend was there to help me home.
I don’t remember if I got lost the third day, but it’s totally a possibility. If I did, it was the last time because I learned my mistake – I had been entering the school at one end of the building and coming out the other. I got oriented to the city (at least that part of the city).
I have never forgotten this small act of kindness to me when I was a small boy lost in a big city. I remained good friends with that neighbor boy as well as his five brothers and still have fond memories of each of them.
One resiliency skill we can practice with our children today is giving, receiving and appreciating small acts of service as we navigate change and disruption.
Happy Failing Forward,
Cal and Anne
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