Melvin played alone, he sat at lunch alone and he walked to the bus alone. In a classroom full of kids, very few of those kids ever saw Melvin. There were times, not often, that I saw Melvin, as I quickly looked his way wondering why he was so different, but, yet, Melvin remained alone.
Even though I didn't see Melvin very frequently then, I can see Melvin today. He wore the same dirty, grey sweater with maroon stripes on the sleeves, thick, black rimmed glasses and pants that were always two sizes too small. I can't hear Melvin's voice in my head because he said so little, but, I can hear the other children's voices loud and clear. "Is there a flood coming Melvin?" "You stink Melvin!" "What's 2+2 Melvin?" Kids can be so cruel. Even though I never said it, I let it be said. Just. As. Guilty.
There were times though that I REALLY saw Melvin. Like when I shared my crayons with him, when I said, "Hi Melvin" as he zipped past me riding an imaginary motorcycle down the school hallway alone or when every kid on the bus told him "no room" and I scooched over so he could sit with me as I used my coat sleeve to try and inconspicuously cover my nose from Melvin's lack of hygiene odor. When I saw Melvin, REALLY saw him and was kind to him, I remember feeling proud of myself. Proud for being kind to the kid who was different, who didn't fit in, who wasn't "one of us". I also remember giving myself a little "well, aren't you nice" pat on the back. It took me 30 years to realize I did not deserve a pat on the back anymore than Melvin deserved to be taunted, teased and bullied for things he had no control over. Being kind should NOT come with a pat on the back. It should just come.
Sometimes though, there is a kid or two that goes out of their way to say, "Hey Ryan!" or gives him a high five as he walks past. I believe most of them are genuine in their kindness. I believe they think Ryan is a nice kid and in turn, they want to be nice too, but, there are times, I see the old me in their eyes. I can see that little glimmer of pride on their face, that says, "Wow, with all the pressure of being cool, I just said hi to the kid who isn't cool!" If they weren't so busy texting with both hands I believe many of them would reach behind and pat themselves on the back, just like I use to. I get it, they are kids who don't get it...yet, but, you can teach them.
You see, it's not just the kids patting themselves on the back. Sometimes I see that same look of pride in the faces of the parents when their child is kind to Ryan. "Awww, look how good my kid is, being nice to THAT boy who is so different" as they walk away patting themselves on the back for raising such a great kid. Why shouldn't your child be kind? Isn't everyone, regardless of their differences, entitled to kindness? Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful when anyone shows kindness to Ryan, just like I'm grateful when people are kind to Kyle, Emma or me, for that matter. Just because someone looks different, acts different, or smells different, does not mean a simple act of kindness towards them deserves a pat on the back. Being kind should not come with a pat on the back. It should just come. Lead by example.
Teach your kids that although kids who are different may not react to their kindness in a cool, socially acceptable way, kindness should still come...without a pat on the back.
I hate that it took me so long to figure this out and I wish I could have a do-over. I wish I could find Melvin today. I wish I could tell him how sorry I am for all the times I saw him, but didn't. I wish I would have seen Melvin and not his sweater, his pants, and his glasses. I wish I could give Melvin a box of crayons just because I wanted him to have them not because I thought it was "the right thing to do". I wish I would have let Melvin sit with me on the bus regardless of how many days it had been since he bathed and not plugged my nose which would have made my kindness more about him and less about me. I wish I could go back and give Melvin the pat on the back he needed rather than the pat on the back I felt I deserved. I wish I had the maturity and awareness as a child that I do today as an adult. Mostly though, I wish nothing but unrewarded, unrecognized kindness for Melvin and all the other Melvins in the world.
Being kind should not come with a pat on the back. It should just come.