Every morning, I send my boys out into the world. And every day, I worry about them.
I don’t walk my kids into school, and I don’t do the car line either. I drop them a block away and, if the coast is clear, they sprint down the sidewalk until they reach the crossing guards. Then they wait patiently and proceed carefully through the busy four-way stop leading to the main building. They’ve been doing this for years, but my oldest graduated to middle school and now rides his bike most mornings, so these days, my youngest runs that dark pathway alone.
One particular morning, my little guy had a special project due, which included a model and tri-fold board about an iconic North American landform. He needed some help with the haul, so I parked in my normal spot a block away, and I joined him on the short jaunt to class.
After getting him settled and bidding farewell, I retraced my steps. But to my surprise, the crossing guard stopped me to confirm if he was, indeed, my child. Hesitantly, I nodded, wondering if she was about to scold me for bypassing the dreaded car line.
“I’ve been crossing your son for a while now,” the crossing guard said. “And I just need to tell you that he’s the sweetest kid. Always smiling and polite. I just love him to death.”
And even though it’s a small thing, those words made my day. Maybe my week. In fact, my insides went all soft and gooey, and my eyes may have turned a bit misty.
Maybe that sounds extreme. But every day, as I watch him run to school, my chest squeezes a little.
You see, that kid has more challenges than most. And he has so, so many reasons to be angry or unpleasant.
He was born with an uncommon digestive disorder called Hirschsprung Disease. He’s had some big surgeries and lots of meds and invasive treatments. His latest regimen hasn’t been working, and the next option was already denied by our insurance. Now, even his doctors can’t agree on a course of action, and we’re stuck in the middle with a little boy whose body doesn’t function quite like the rest of ours.
Managing his medical condition at school can be tricky. And unpleasant. And so very stressful.
Yet first thing in the morning, before the sun’s even made an appearance, my kiddo stops mid-stride to wait for the crossing guard. He greets her with a grin and wishes her a good day. And, even though it’s just a blip in his daily routine, I can see it’s really had an impact on her, a bright spot she can count on every morning.
Gosh, if only she knew the full story and just how miraculous his little smile is.
I’m so glad she told me!
I’ve read that praise and positive reinforcement have lasting benefits for kids, so I try to point it out when I catch a child doing something good. And sometimes I will text their parents, too, if I know them well enough. Because it validates our hard work and can even feel like a balm over our worries and doubts—at least, that’s how it feels for me.
But today I remembered another reason those reassuring words are so important: because there might be a whole lot more to the story than you’ll ever know. That child, that family, may have struggles, anguish and heartache you’ll never know about.
So the next time you catch a child or teenager choosing to act in a way that’s kind, polite or helpful, especially when there’s no real motivation to do so, please please please tell their parent or caregiver. I can just about guarantee, it will make their day. It certainly made mine.
This story was originally published in 2020.