Last Time I Visited First Grade

This was first posted when our college freshman granddaughter was in first grade.

Carole worked as a teacher’s aide some years ago. Our daughter has picked up the mantle. One of the true high points of my life was the weekly lunch dates at school when I ate with Carole and her class. They would ask, “Mrs. Benton is your Daddy coming to eat lunch today?”

First grade granddaughter invited me to eat lunch with her. I went early to visit her classroom. We have become acquainted with her teacher for whom we pray and like a lot. We have gotten to know some of the kids thru Hannah’s reports of who got into trouble and which kid cried and which one was sick. Hannah is a missionary to first grade. I’ve watched her encourage a kid on the playground, and I’ve seen her put her hand on the shoulder of a little girl who was crying for her mom. The morning drive to school includes blessing of each other. (I blessed Hannah today: “I bless you with a day without wedgies.” That appears to be a universal first grade concern. She blessed me with a day without offensive coffee breath.) It also includes praying for specific kids in her class who struggle, hurt or are in constant trouble.

Carole and Debi have kid magnets under their skin. They attract first graders. I watched as boys and girls rushed to hug Carole. What surprised me was the kids who got lost and found themselves coming to me to ask my name and to tell me life stories. A couple of them hugged me. I came away a little shaken by the raw, open need and how much a bit of attention will pay. A girl said to me, “You’re nice.” I was self-conscious about that. Where’d she get that idea and why hasn’t she told some of the adults in my world?

Carole says that Levi always hugs her. I watched as several of the kids hugged her. I didn’t need a spiritual gift of discernment to see that she was a safe place for them and invested something in them that they weren’t getting anyplace else.

I could never make it through first grade. All the rules!! So many rules! If you can successfully negotiate first grade, you’ve got it made.

We’ve been evaluating Hannah’s voice and reminding her to use her “indoor voice.” I decided the other day that Hannah’s voice has the texture of a kidney stone. It can cut through a diamond. Now I know why. We had a terrific lunch. I failed first grade lunch line. Only with the help of two adults and two kind first graders did I make it to the table with the hamburger, sack of carrots, a carton of white milk and a cookie. That’s when I learned rules about eating lunch. The noise level in the cafeteria will cause ear damage. Hannah instructed me about tray clearing and struck terror in me as I contemplated what would happen if I put the paper refuse in the wrong bin. Two rules especially seem to be most important. First, you can’t scream at kids at the next table. That seemed unlikely since communicating with people at our own table demanded screaming. The second important rule was that throwing hamburger buns at the next table was also not allowed. It was at the point of instruction that the wheels started to come off. Hannah was so serious and punishment so palpable, I allowed my smile to break into a chuckle which got totally out of control. Then Carole caught the giggle bug. There are no rules about laughing at lunch. We would have been busted for sure.

This is not my first trip to the lunchroom. Each time, I want to thank the lunch ladies for speaking each kid’s name and treating them with affection and dignity. Parents who never visit classrooms or eat lunch with the first graders haven’t a clue the investment the teachers make in their kids. (Hannah’s teacher spends her own money to buy school supplies. Who would guess that?) The noise I can live without, but two events made me glad to be alive: The laughter and Joseph. Joseph wears a left ear ring, dirty shirt and likes martial arts. He followed me thru the lunch line and asked if he could sit with me. He must have thought I needed the special attention.

Oh God! Be with the Josephs and Levis today. And fortify the teachers. All of them. Every grade.

Copyright 2017 D. Dean Benton

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