Few experiences in a child’s life are as daunting as the first day of a new school year.
The summer I was 6, my mother and her new husband decided, against my advice, to move to a town 10 miles away.
At the time, we were living up the hill from the best place on Earth, my grandparents’ house; a stone’s throw from the market where I bought treats; and a shortcut through the woods to the school where I finished first grade at the top of my class.
I had all I needed within walking distance. I saw no need to change it. But my mother said children should be seen, not heard. So we moved to a place surrounded by a cow pasture and a whole lot of lonely.
On my first day of second grade, I was waiting for the bus before daylight. I sat alone the entire ride. The school was swarming with unfamiliar faces. I felt like a hornet in a beehive.
In the office, I stood on tiptoes to hand my first-grade report card to the lady behind the counter. She squinted down at me. “Is your mama here?”
“No ma’am,” I said.
“Well, bless your heart,” she said, and pointed me down the hall to a roomful of chaos. No teacher yet. Girls gossiping. Boys trying to kill each other.
On a table, I spotted paper and pencils, took one of each, picked a desk, put my head down and went to work. Minutes later, a big girl came over and sat on top of my desk, covering my paper with her generous backside.
“Whaddaya doin’?” she said.
“Writing to 100,” I replied.
Her eyes narrowed to slits.
“Is that all you can do?”
“No,” I said. “It is not.”
Then I rose from my seat and headed to the pencil sharpener.
I swear to you now, as I swore to her later: I had no idea that when I stood, the desk would flip over and break her nose.
Her name was Jane. From that day forward – after she stopped screaming and got cleaned up – she was my best friend.
Wherever we went – to school or church or basketball games – Jane saved me a seat, or I saved one for her. Her parents were strict, but when I stayed over, they let us talk all night.
Jane’s mother, a librarian, loaned me books I loved to read. Jane’s dad made arrangements to help me win a scholarship to college. Jane and I roomed together our freshman year.
After college, I moved to California, married and started a family. Jane stayed in our hometown to be a social worker. She never married, never had children of her own, but she was “mama” to many.
We were friends for more than 50 years. Her death seven years ago wasn’t unexpected. She had been in failing health. But even now, it’s still hard to believe. I think of her often, especially at the start of the school year.
TV ads try to tell us what children need for school – new shoes, clothes, backpacks.
Those things matter. But really, children’s needs are fairly simple. Beyond the basics – to be fed, cared for, well-mannered and loved – they need the blessed gift of friendship.
More than just having a friend, they need to be one. They need to know they have the power to offer friendship to someone who may need it more than they do.
For years, I feared how people saw me. But one day I finally understood: All my needs were met. I was whole. I didn’t need to be smart or pretty or popular. I just needed to be kind.
My grandson Henry recently graduated from preschool and received an award from his class for “Friendship.” No Olympic medal could make me prouder.
Every day – especially on the first day of school – children need to know that they are loved; that they have all they need; and that the best way to win friends is to be one.
Also, as my friend Jane might tell them if she could, they need to use the sense God gave them not to sit on top of a desk.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.