Dear Atticus, even the wallflowers

My Physical Science Classroom

From the moment you arrived here I’ve been utterly amazed
Astonished at your level of perfection
So it breaks my heart in pieces to imagine all the ways
You’ll get hurt in spite of my protection
‘Cause someday I’ll have to send you like a soldier off to school
And the lesson you will learn there is that kids can be so cruel
So however well they like you and whatever grade you get
Promise me baby that you won’t forget

Even the wallflowers do survive – they can thrive
Even in the shadows
And there is a power in finding out for yourself
Rain or shine, whichever way it goes
Even the wallflowers grow -Carolyn Arends

Dear Atticus,

I have loved this song for years, but lately it has taken on new meaning as I have watched one particular student at school. He’s in kindergarten this year, and I often see him first thing in the morning. He has trouble following directions, has trouble sitting still. When I see him in the mornings, it is as if he is carrying the weight of the world, steeling himself to face the day. School is hard for him, hard in a way that I never experienced. I had trouble with the social aspects of school, but I knew how to follow the rules. I can’t help but think of him marching in “like a soldier off to school.” He does battle every day, and I think, given his morning countenance, that he is not pleased with the outcomes. The happiest moments of his day are when he is getting on the bus to go to the YMCA at the end of the day. Sometimes I see him then, and he exudes joy, bursting with thoughts about swimming and games and (this is just a guess) not having to sit still.

Your dad and I both work in schools, but the truth is that I have a lot of sympathy for the kids who don’t do so well. I could ace any subject you put in front of me, and I could play the game of right answers and good behavior, but I had a harder time with the social game. If there was a time that I felt safe and secure in my social status, well, I can’t remember it.

But maybe you will be different. Maybe you will move through school with an ease and confidence that eluded both me and your dad. Maybe you will make lifelong friendships in high school. Maybe you will fit in. Maybe you will succeed where we both failed. I don’t know whether to hope for that, because I don’t know what it’s like. I am sure it’s challenging and pressure-filled in its own way. And even if you are the Homecoming King and the King of Hearts and the Prom King all in one, there is no way to avoid feeling lonely sometimes. It’s part of the human condition, the ways that we sometimes miss each other.

The good news is that the song is right: we all make it through. And all those videos that people have been making are true: even if those aren’t your particular struggles, life does get better. I don’t know what it would be like to have a life that didn’t have cracks and chips in it. I don’t know if that’s even possible, though it seems for some people like it is. I don’t know that I can say that the cracks and chips make things more beautiful. But I think that it’s more real and honest and true to own the brokenness and to embrace the redemption. And though I believe in all the cracks and chips, I also believe very strongly in that redemption. It’s one of those beliefs I have built my life around. As much as I would like to fix all your problems, I know that you will have to work a lot of those things out for yourself. I can, at least, offer you a listening ear. And I make some pretty good cookies.

One last thing: if you are one of those people who does move through school with ease in every way, could you please remember to be kind to the wallflowers? Because, in my experience, they really need it.


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