Character And Kindness
A few months ago, near the end of my son’s 5th grade school year, he came home with an invitation to a birthday party in his backpack. I read the name on the invitation and asked my son who the boy was, because I’d never my son mention this friend when we talked about school.
“Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’s kind of awkward and weird, and he doesn’t have a lot of friends so I want to make sure I go to his party.”
So we went shopping and found a birthday gift, and on the appointed day, my son went to the birthday party of the awkward boy. When he came home we chatted a little about the birthday party, which revealed nothing save my son’s excitement over the amount of food provided,
“We each got our own large pizza! And his mom gave me a 2-liter of soda to bring home!”
Because, of course. It’s all about food for my boy.
Let me stop right here and admit this to you: I know very little about the internal emotional machinations of my son. He’s deeply private, and aside from knowing he has a tender heart and loves his friends, I rarely know the details of his day-to-day life at school. He spends a lot of time in his own head and doesn’t share much with me, so to have him feel so strongly about his friendship with the birthday kid stood out to me.
Fast forward from the birthday party a few months ago, to last week. I hadn’t heard a word from about the kid from school until it was time to throw together a 12th birthday party for my own son last weekend. As we drove to swim practice one afternoon, I verbally sorted through the kids I knew from school, stopping at each name to ask my son who he wanted to invite to his party. In the end we came up with a very small list of kids, a couple from school and a few from his swim team. But he was adamant that the kid whose birthday party he attended in May get an invitation.
“Just so you know mom, when you meet him, he’s super awkward. Really awkward. He doesn’t have a lot of social skills but he’s so funny, and mom, he’s such a nice kid. We sit together at lunch every day, and I’ve given him a nickname, and I’m trying to get it to catch on with the other kids so he’ll have more friends.”
My son’s party was small and very low key. I took the boys to play laser tag + miniature golf, followed by pizza and cake in a park. The awkward kid was painfully awkward. He was glaringly physically uncoordinated while we played laser tag and golf. He was super annoying. He interrupted conversations constantly, he had a noticeable stammer and took forever to get to the point, and I had to wear my extra-starched grown-up pants all night long.
At the end of the night I drove all the boys home, dropping them off one at a time until we only had one friend left in the car. Awkward Kid. I heaved a big sigh of relief as he opened the front door of his house and headed inside. He had been on my last nerve all night long and I wanted to head home and put on my sweatpants and never, ever hear another Pokemon story again, in my whole life. As I backed out of the driveway I thought of what to say to my son about his party, about his friends, about how polite they all were, about what a fun party we’d had. But as soon as the door closed and his friend was safely ensconced in his home, before I even backed out of the driveway, my son turned to me and said,
“See mom? Isn’t he the nicest kid? He’s so awkward most people don’t look close enough to see him, but he’s so nice once you get to know him. And mom? He’s so lonely. He doesn’t have any other friends. Loneliness is terrible; I’ve been there and I don’t want anyone else to ever feel that way.”
I didn’t have any words for my son. I silently wept the whole way home in the darkness of the car, while I sent up a prayer of gratitude to God that I was sent a child who sees, and loves, invisible children. If he never earns an ‘A’ or wins a state championship or gets a scholarship to college, it will all be all be alright. Because kindness? It matters the most.