I see that child - the small one, the dirty one, the odd one, the fat one, sitting in the corner of my classroom desperate for a friend.
I know him, the child who smiles and laughs at jokes that are taken at his own expense, the child desperate for attention, for friendship, for acceptance and love.
These are the children that I take particular care with; the ones I try to boost with an offhanded positive comment meant for others to hear.
I was once that child – and so were many of you. I was called “small-fry” or “short-stuff” – the shortest one of the class who looked years younger than my age. Yeah, it could’ve been worse, but my heart didn’t know that.
Each year I search for those souls in my room- they’re not hard to find. I wrap them as best I can in my protective arms, all the while praying that the coming years in school will treat them kindly – but I know in my heart that they won’t. I try show the rest of the class by example what is important - their character, their humor, their intelligence and their special talent.
And that child who is too big for his age? The one who might be the youngest in his class, but because of size his parents decided to send him to kindergarten anyway- in order to help him avoid the taunts of the other children? The one they call fat? I know him intimately.
He’s my son.
I pray for him every night as we cuddle in his bed and he shares his heartbreak of the day, for I know that the coming years will be so very difficult to navigate. The doctors tried to tell us that he was going to be a big man, not to worry, he would be a tall man, and each year we kept a close eye on his growth.
I try not to cringe every time he eats a meal, or grabs a snack, or tells me he’s hungry because I know he’s a growing boy. Every other boy his age can eat like a monster and still be a beanpole. He has no such luck.
He plays each day and night outside with the “Do-Good Brigade”. They race their bikes down the bike-path to a school a short distance away. They shoot hoops upon their return, or play “Let’s crush whoever has the football” and then kill each other on the trampoline for hours.
He comes in every night long after dark, reeking of sweat and dirt.
And as he showers and walks to his room wrapped in his towel, I notice the stretch marks lining his stomach and armpits and my heart aches.
Still, we continue to encourage him. We talk about healthy habits and we incorporate them into our daily lives. The thing is- we are not unhealthy people. We DO eat fresh fruit; we DO eat tons of veggies; we ARE active people. This is what I don’t understand. But, I’ll just add that to the list of 5 BILLION other things that perplex me.
So now I not only love that chubby fat boy that sits in the back of my classroom, but I also love the one that sits at my kitchen table.
And I pray hard every single night for both of them.