Sasha and I were snuggled in beside each other at her desk this morning. It was "Family Reading" in Ms. Collins classroom and Sasha was reading me a tale of the latest shenanigans of Junie B. Jones. The desks are arranged in groups in her classroom, and yesterday a new desk was added to Sasha's group. As Sasha turned a page, the new member of her group slowly sat down in his desk.
"He doesn't speak any English at all, Mom", Sasha told me yesterday as she unpacked her lunch kit.
"That must be so hard", I said back.
And today I got to see what hard looks like.
As he slid into his seat, I watched him. He looked nervous and tentative - his beautiful brown eyes darting from side to side, watching to see what everyone around him was doing so he could do the same. I stopped Sasha for a moment and said "hi" to him - wanting to make him feel welcome, noticed and seen. But it's not the grown-ups around you that you want to see you when you're new. It's the small people who look just like you.
Sasha continue reading and I kept watching - growing more anxious for him as the moments slipped by.
And then it happened.
One of the boys from grade two that everyone loves and wants on their team came and stood at the new boy's desk. He had a Where's Waldo book in his hand. It's as though he knew it would be the perfect book for just this time. He motioned for him to come and join him at the group table and look at it together. And the new boy did. Without hesitation. Soon they were smiling and pointing together. His nervous eyes relaxed and he was caught up in the moment of acceptance he found himself in.
And I could breath just a little easier.
That moment was beautiful. You see, that confident and engaging kid who invited the new boy to look for Waldo with him was new once too. He came from the Philippines just a few years ago and didn't speak a word of English either. He knows just what it feels like. And he knows just the remedy.
Later in the morning as I'm pulling kids out of the classroom to work with paper mache' in the hallway, the resource teacher walks down the hallway with the new boy. She is holding his hand and pointing things out to him in English, slowly and deliberately. That nervous, anxious look has found its way back into his eyes. As they're making their way toward the classroom, I ask her if he can have his turn with paper mache' too. She does her best to explain with gestures and simple words what we are doing. He has no idea what she's talking about.
I take his hand in mine and lead him to the table. I push up his sleeves gently and lay out the newspaper. I can't imagine what he must be thinking or wondering. I bring over a big bucket of warm,slimy goo and I stick his hand into it slowly. We take a hand full together and begin spreading it slowly over the newspaper. He gets the hang of it quickly and keeps working at it - stopping to dip his hand in the bucket a few more times.
When he is finished we walk together down the hallway, hand in hand to the staff room to wash up. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go from one thing and one place to another never knowing where you're going or what you're going to do when you get there. To hear the words and sounds of a language you don't understand floating relentlessly around you. To know that the words inside you have to stay where they are, because letting them out won't achieve a thing.
I take him back to the classroom and leave him.
After I'm finished cleaning up the trail of paper mache' in the hallway, I come back into the classroom to gather up my things to leave. It's recess now and there is a lineup of students at the door waiting to go outside. The new boy is there, right beside the kid who befriended him earlier. The new boy looks more relaxed again. There are balls in some of the boy's hands and fresh air on the other side of the door. There is grass to run in and there are soccer balls to kick.
You don't need to know English to do that.
But you do need to be brave.
And brave he is.