Popsicle Sticks

I started walking to get Jackson from school this week. It is one mile there and one mile back if I take the “long route”. I take the long route because the long route involves a stoplight, whereas the shortcut involves waiting for a break in a busy state highway, in Atlanta, then running like mad across five lanes while you scream “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” So I prefer the stoplight.

So this week I walked the two miles every day. By day two I had already developed shin splint. By day three my whole body hurt like I was an active person. But by day four I felt okay. I track my walk with my Apple Watch and my Apple Watch, for usually being a little, whiny bitch, has actually been pretty helpful. Everyday I’d cut my time down by 30 seconds. And by day two, Jackson didn’t even mind the walking. By day four he told me he looked forward to it. Not only is it good, quality time with his mommy (heart swoon), but “walkers” get out ten minutes before “car riders”. Oh, yep. That’s the real reason.

Anyway, on Thursday I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing something. But I had my Apple Watch on, and my phone in my hand just in case. So what was it that I needed. Then I realized that I was missing 15 popsicle sticks.

I don’t know if you guys had to do this, or even remember it, but when I was in fifth grade in Kansas there was such a thing as The Presidential Fitness Test. It consisted of a bunch of bullshit, if you were to ask a chubby Little Missy, like the despised “Sit and Reach”, where Mr. Hendee, our beloved, normally very rational and nice P.E. teacher, taped a yard stick to a cardboard box and you had to sit with your legs straight against the box and reach out on the yard stick as far as you could. What was the purpose? Who fucking knows! But it was for sure something we had to do twice a year. Along with “Pull-Ups” which was just us hanging on a bar until our hands gave up. I always lasted about five seconds. Then there were push-ups and sit-ups with your friend sitting on your feet (my BFF LeeAnne was as heavy as a damn stick, and I would just lift her up every time I sat up. She was useless). Then there was the dreaded one-mile run.

The dreaded one-mile run took place in the “soccer field” which was just the bit of grass after the blacktop where the cool boys played soccer at recess. Mr. Hendee set up bright orange cones. Just two. And we had to run around them 16 times. That, as he had equated, was a mile. I dunno how far apart the cones had to be, you do the math.

How did you keep track of your laps? Great question. Every time you passed Mr. Hendee, he handed you a popsicle stick. So by the end of your run you had 15 popsicle sticks in your sweaty, little hands. I often, OFTEN, wondered if they were used popsicle sticks, but never asked. Did I really want to know?

Anyway, one time, on the night before the dreaded one-mile run, I had been playing outside with my friends well into the evening. The street lights had just come on when I heard my mom’s unmistakable whistle that meant it was time for me to come in. As I got on my bike, my foot got tangled up with my pedal and fell, my bike coming down hard on my ankle. Later that night, after some medicine, it was still a little swollen and tender to the touch but it was decided that I would survive. Nothing seemed broken. But just to be safe, my mom would write Mr. Hendee a note to tell him that I was not to run the next day. WHAAAAAA?! I had no idea you could do that! I was amazed with my mom and her powers.

The next day I went to school with very little pain and a normal sized ankle, and the note happily tucked into my backpack. When P.E. time came the pain “suddenly” came back to my ankle. I started limping for effect, and everyone was asking me what was wrong. Ankle. I said. Probably broken. I limped slowly up toward Mr. Hendee when we were still in the gym. He eyed me suspiciously. I handed him the note, then looked pathetically down at my ankle.

“Did your mom take you to the doctor,” he asked, folding the note back up and putting it in his shirt pocket. He always had shirts with pockets.

I shook my head no.

“Okay, he said. You can make it up next week. Let’s go class!”

My mouth sank. Whaaaaaa?! I thought I would be exempt from the whole run, but apparently this was not Mr. Hendee’s first rodeo.

I got to hand out the popsicle sticks that day. One after the other, to sweaty, unwashed, little hands. Then the next week I had to run by myself, around the gym, while everyone else was playing parachute. Hmpf. Ain’t that some shit?

So there you go. I learned my lesson. I never tried to get out of another mile run again. And all this week, going back and forth, the two miles everyday, nothing to hold in my sweaty, unwashed hands, I suddenly missed those damn popsicle sticks to keep me company.

Thanks Mr. Hendee. For calling me out on my bullshit. And for teaching me how to juggle scarves.

M.

Hey, It’s Jackson!

Walking down the hall of my kid’s school with him, is like walking on stage with a rock star. Seriously. Since he was in kindergarten it has been this way. In kindergarten he was popular because he walked with an air of confidence. He was one of the few kids that went into school knowing how to read. He could read. He could write. He could color inside the lines. But above all else, my kid was confident. He didn’t cry on the first day like I did in kindergarten. He didn’t watch, misty-eyed as we walked out the door and left him behind with Ms. Gamble. Instead, he sat at attention. He helped the girl in front of him line up correctly. He volunteered to lead the line. He took Mrs. Turner’s hand and walked into the unknown with a smile on his face. And well, it is still the same today.

I was scared for a little while. When we moved him in the middle of third grade, I was terrified. We moved from a rural area in North Carolina into a school system that was very different than where we had been. He had been at a public school, an “A” public school, where 98% of the kids looked like him, and talked like him, and came from the upper ranks of the socioeconomic tiers. His new school was a STEM school. But it was also an urban charter school where he was a minority.

But by the end of third grade he had friends in every classroom. He knew all the teachers’ names. They all knew his. Fourth grade teachers already knew about him. Fifth grade teachers already knew about him. The Gifted teacher was eager to get her hands on him. In short, he did just fine with the transition. And then we moved in the middle of fourth grade.

We hadn’t planned on this, of course. Truth be told, we were hoping to stay in Charlotte until middle school at least. Hoping he would only know two elementary schools. Two I could deal with. But three? We scoped out his new elementary school the day we signed the papers on the new house. He wasn’t with us. Jerimiah and I came alone that day. We walked in not knowing what to expect. We hadn’t heard the best things about Atlanta’s schools, but then again, we were coming from Charlotte, so it kinda felt like home.

Turns out we made the right choice. His new school is a public school in DeKalb County. It isn’t an “A” school, but it doesn’t have to be, because it is an IB school. It is a STEM school. He isn’t a minority, but not all the kids look like him or speak like him. They have a Spanish immersion class. They have art, and music, and sports. It is a heck of a lot different than anything we have known, yet it’s exactly the same.

I walked Jackson to class yesterday to have a quick chat with is teacher. We are headed out of town tomorrow and he is going to miss a test. I wanted to make sure he would be allowed to make it up, and yes he will be. While we were walking down the halls of this fairly new school (this is his third week of classes) it all felt very familiar.

“Hey Jackson!” and “Jackson Goodnight!” and “Good morning, Jackson” rang out all around us. Teachers, administrators, second graders. They all know Jackson. The janitor gave him a high five. A kindergartener said, “Hey, it’s Jackson!” and pointed. To hear him tell the story, though, you’d think no one knows him, well until he digs in.

Jackson isn’t special just because he walks with an air of confidence, he’s special because he is friendly. He is kind. Turns out that kindergartner was wearing a shirt with a car on it one day, and Jackson walked up to him and said, “Wow, I like your shirt! I love cars too.” The kindergartner blushed and said, “Thanks.”

When Jackson meets the janitor in the hallways, he tells her “Thanks, you know, for picking up after us and keeping the bathrooms clean.”

When Jackson met the Assistant Principal he said, “I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

When Jackson met the STEM teacher he said, “I love STEM and am so excited about your class.”

When Jackson met the music teacher he said, “I’m not a very good singer, but one day I’ll probably have a record deal.” Well, he’s still a little confident.

The point is, Jackson notices people. He notices their hard work. Their dedication. Their cool style. And he says something, something nice. He gives a compliment. He doesn’t expect anything back. He just wants them to know he likes them, or he respects them, or they have crossed his mind. And that is what garners attention from people. From kids and adults. Kindness. Confidence. Vulnerability.

I guess today I am wishing to be a little more like my kid. A little more kind to everyone I meet. A little more confident. A little more vulnerable. To really put myself out there. I think maybe it would serve us all well to be this way from time to time. You never know, when you leave a room someone might just be saying your name in awe as well.

Here’s to being more like Jackson!

M.