For me, the most vulnerable years of my life were not those fraught with the fear that the teenage years brought-by then I had a devoted, loving spouse by my side. It was the years when my children were in elementary school. We were strapped for money all the time, I was strapped for time, and I was working for the least flexible employer I have experienced to date. I had wonderful neighbors who reciprocated child care with me, and I relied heavily on the people affiliated with our little neighborhood school.
They never disappointed. The school community embraced my quirky family with acceptance and celebration, and walked shoulder-to-shoulder with me through an amazing series of
Our school principal was the best; a man with a laugh that echoed through the school halls and filled the gym. He was in many ways typical Boston Irish. His complexion was ruddy, his hair a golden-red, and he possessed those smiling eyes of legend and song. He was free with his sympathy and empathy. He listened. He encouraged and gave pep talks to the kids, and always had the kindest of words for the parents. No child, no parent was a stranger to him-he met you once, and he knew your name.
At the first-ever silent auction fund-raiser for our school, he offered up for bid, "Be Principal for a Day." To the highest bidder went the opportunity for a child to shadow him for an entire school day and help him make earth-shattering decisions such as which classroom he visited first or in what order to read the daily announcements. I won this bid, and because my Younger Daughter was in Kindergarten which was only a half-day, he offered to let my Older Daughter take the afternoon shift with him. They were thrilled beyond belief. Younger Daughter went with him to the nurse's office when he got his flu shot. It was her job to hand the nurse the band-aid. Both of my girls felt important and special and loved by him every day, and especially that day.
He was every-day nice. A good decision maker who supported his teachers and made our school proud. We wanted our school to do well, not only for our children, but also because our success was a direct reflection on him.
In perhaps his greatest (and I'm sure many, many families have their own stories of his greatness) gesture of generosity and inclusiveness, he met me after school one day to hear a plea. My dear neighbors had just adopted three girls-nieces, actually, direct from Africa. They had had minimal school exposure, minimal exposure to English, and zero exposure to American culture. The middle and youngest daughters were the same ages as my two girls, and their addition to our neighborhood was so exciting for us. I met with Mr. L. on a warm afternoon in early May to make my proposal. There was a month or so left of school. Our new neighbors knew us and nobody else. Would it be possible, I asked, for the girls to come to school with my kids for the last month to sit with them in the classrooms, to meet other children, to see what school was all about, and to have a tiny leg-up in the fall when classes started again? My expectation was that he would say he needed to talk to the Superintendent of Schools and he would see what he could do. It was all I hoped for.
He had a way of rubbing his eyes that always meant, "Give me one second here." After that second, he looked straight at me and smiled his huge, Irish smile, and said, "Of course. They can start on Monday."
As I walked down the ramp from the double glass door to the sidewalk, lightly brushing my hand along the metal railing, I thought out loud that this man was straight from heaven, and I would never forget to tell him, not one single day, that he was changing lives with his love.
The kids all went to school together on Monday, the principal went to their classrooms to visit, and he took their new parents into his heart along with everyone else. And every day I stuck my head in his office. He'd look up from his desk and give me a nod and a wink.