I've watched with curious fascination as Dexter, our big 17 lb. mancat, has patiently welcomed little Lucy since she arrived in our home back in December. Unlike the other cats, who were wary of her, he wanted to get to know her even when she was confined to her habitat cage while she got well from a near-fatal respiratory infection. Once she was past being contagious, I opened the door to my studio so he could come in and check her out. He would sit outside her cage and patiently let her maul his flipping tail without one hiss. Dexter is still just as benevolent with Lucy's rampunctious kitten energy. As evidenced by the photo at left, she appreciates him and his sweet disposition. She takes advantage of cuddle opportunities any chance she can get. Why not? He's this big furry heater just perfect for curling up against. Dexter has made Lucy feel welcome in what could have been a very scary and hostile environment for vulnerable little Lucy. I don't think she'll ever forget that.
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago I, like Lucy, had the experience of being a newcomer when my family moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in California after spending 7+ years in Colorado. I had been in Colorado since I was 2 years old. I had spent kindergarten through part of 4th grade there with a few moves mixed in so moving was not anything new. Still, moving is never easy on a child. But my mom always spoke of moving with such enthusiasm that I would be more excited than scared--except when the first day in a new school rolled around. That was scary.
Just like Lucy, I walked into a new California school that could have been hostile and unwelcoming. I happened to walk into that new classroom on Valentine's Day 1977.
As happens when a new student arrives in the middle of the year, there's a lot of first-day paperwork to be done in the office before the student can be shuttled away to their classroom. By the time I was led into my new class, the day was underway and the teacher was in the middle of instruction. When I was escorted into the quiet learning environment, all eyes watched me as I was led up to the front to the teacher. I could feel all the 4th graders' eyes watching me. I had on my "brave face" and smiled when introduced to the teacher and then by the teacher to the rest of the class. Events were a blur as I was found a desk that I could settle into.
When I finally got settled, I started looking around me to get my bearings. It was a nice open learning environment shared by three 4th grade classes only separated by low shelves and partitions (remember, it was the 70's with a lot of new thinking and ideas about education). Each class was a pie shaped area that spoked off a main hub and the students faced the outside of the pie shape toward their respective teacher. After starting out in "home room", students moved between the three 4th grade instructors throughout the day depending on their respective level of learning for different subjects, dividing the entire 4th grade into 3 separate levels for different levels of competence.
Once I figured out what that was all about, I started looking around at the finer details. I noticed that since it was Valentine's Day, there was a line of hand-decorated brown paper bags hanging midway up one wall in my new homeroom. There was one bag for each student with each student's name on the top edge an individual bag. I surmised that throughout the previous few days, students had brought valentines for their friends and hand-delivered them into each bag. The valentines had been given probably a week or so to accumulate. Later in the afternoon, time had been set aside for all the students to have a valentine party where the valentines from each bag would be opened as everyone had refreshments brought in my homeroom moms.
"Oh well," I thought to myself, "Since today is my first day, I can't expect to get any valentines. Just keep a brave face and enjoy the party."
There were still a couple of recesses left in the day before the party. I went out with the rest of the class. I had expected to just hang back and blend into the "woodwork" silently. That was the safest approach to a first day, particularly one in a new state where student culture could be very different. However, I was pleasantly surprised as I was welcomed by smiling and curious students. How friendly everyone was! I didn't feel ostracized at all. My fellow classmates got me talking by asking me lots of questions that they genuinely wanted answered. I was toured around the playground that first day (as well as other days in the first week). I remember vividly who the girls were that welcomed me. We didn't necessarily continue to be good friends over the successive months, but that didn't matter. They were kind to me. That's what mattered more than anything.
Later that first afternoon, when it came time for the class valentine party with the opening of valentines, I was even more pleasantly surprised. Unbeknownst to me, the teacher had assigned some of my classmates to hand-decorate a valentine bag for me! Not only that, but my new classmates had quietly and secretly handmade valentines for me so my bag would be just as full as everyone else's! I was so touched. The valentines I received that day were full of handwritten sentiments of like "I'm glad you're in our class now" and "I'm so happy to meet you". You cannot imagine how much that meant to my little 4th grade heart.
Up to that point, Valentine's Day had always been one of the days I looked forward to the most during school. I had been prepared to dread this one. But instead, my thoughtful teacher and classmates made it the most special Valentine's Day of my entire school experience thus far and for the rest of my student career even through high school. Their thoughtful, kind, and loving acts had a great impact on me. I have never forgotten those gestures from that Valentine's Day 31 years ago.
Interestingly, the story doesn't end there, as there is a very special serendipitous postlogue.
I've been reflecting on the above event the past week because this year's weather is so much like the weather was that year--warm and very full of the nuances of Spring. I alluded to it in a previous post. Shortly after writing that post, I received an unexpected email. The sender was one of those 4th grade girls that had welcomed me so sweetly all those years ago!
Now a mom, this old friend still lives in the same town where we went to school. My younger sister does as well. They became acquainted through their children and through casual conversations the connection with me was discovered. Although we hadn't been close friends, we had gone to school together until we graduated the same year from high school. I have not seen her since.
After this discovery, my sister gave her my blog address in case she wanted to see what I was up to. After reading through my blog and becoming "reacquainted", this friend from my past decided to send me an email just to let me know. The email arrived only a couple of days before the 31st anniversary of when she first met and welcomed me on that Valentine's Day in 4th grade. Once again, I felt her kindness after so many years.
See what I mean about life coming about full circle? How's that for serendipity?!?!