We hit it today. Our first stumbling block. I was very curiously watching the man in front of me in the carpool line hock long streams of yellow tobacco spit into the elementary school grass when George came out to greet me.
“I want to move back to Indiana,” he announced as he climbed into the Tahoe. Then the water works began. He sobbed as he buckled himself into the back seat. I fumbled to stop Taio Cruz from singing “Dynamite” as I inquired about what had happened.
Culture change… that’s what happened.
However he might be at home, our George likes order and routine at school. He’s a rule-follower. He likes to know what’s happening, does what’s expected of him, expects everyone else to do the same.
That’s not happening here.
In Zionsville, kids were pretty compliant. For the most part, they sat when they were told to, they quieted down when they were expected to, they walked quietly through the lunch line.
Not so much in Starkville.
George has spent all three of his PE classes sitting in silence. The teacher won’t let the class participate until they’re all quiet. George’s classmates are never unanimously quiet.
He’s becoming unhinged.
“I’m so proud of you for doing what’s right even when everyone else was choosing differently,” I assured him.
“But it doesn’t matter!” he cried. “We all get punished together.”
“It does matter,” I said. “It matters to me. It matters to your Dad. It matters to your teacher. It matters to your classmates. You are making a difference by doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m so proud of you for that.”
But at that moment, he didn’t really care what I had to say. He was miserable, lost, broken-hearted.
“What about the other kids in your class?” I asked. “Is there anyone else you can team up with?”
“They all just ignore me,” he said.
And my heart broke in two.
This path we’re traversing is a tricky one. There are roots around the bend that trip us up. There are trees that grow so low our view is obstructed. And the critters? They’re crazy. They’re like none we’ve ever seen. Some are probably even poisonous.
I feel for my boy. I feel his hurt in every way. Because here, we’re invisible. Here, we get to recreate ourselves. Here, no one knows who we are until we tell them. And most of the time, that’s a fabulous advantage. When you’re 9, it’s a bit daunting.
There’s nothing inherently bad about Starkville. Or Mississippi. It’s just different. And different isn’t bad, it’s just… different. This is our new normal, and we’re all reaching out tentatively to feel the edges of it, to sniff its essence, to decide if it’s going to bite back.
And my sweet boy? He’s a one-friend kind of guy. All his life, it’s been Ethan. Even in Zionsville, even when they were at different schools, even when they didn’t see each other very often, it was always Ethan.
There’s no Ethan here for George. At least not yet.
Ethan is 500 miles away. They talked on the phone tonight. And although the conversation was probably silly and light and goofy, I know my boy’s heart was soothed by connecting with his best friend.
For that, I am so very grateful.
And this path? We’re figuring it out. Slowly but surely. As long as we can continue to avoid the 1,000 foot precipice hidden around the bend, we’ll make it.
We’re tenacious that way.