Thursday, May 10, 2012
Kindness and Cartwheels
I tell my children one thing they could do to truly disappoint me is to commit an act of deliberate unkindness. One hard life lesson, though, is kindness doesn’t always beget kindness. Sometimes you don’t even get a thank you. I don’t dwell on every unkindness handed to me over the years, but I do remember the first.
I was nine-years-old and looking spiffy in my Brownie uniform—or at least I thought so. I slipped into it in the morning and loved wearing that uniform all day long for the afterschool event.
We sat on long white cafeteria benches, watching a ceremony on the stage. Lori, my new best friend of the day, wrapped her tiny arms around me and hugged me. “This is Mollie,” she told her mom, who was sitting on the other side of her.
Even though Lori and I seemed very much the opposite of one another, we loved each other whole-heartedly as third-grade girls can do. She was dark skinned and had bright and shining brown eyes and a wiry build; I was blonde and green eyed and already had the muscular legs and arms of the dancer I would later become. Lori and I bonded over cartwheels and back bends, while skipping our lunches and dreaming of becoming the next Olympic Gold medalists. While the other children were swinging and taking turns down the slide, we were turning back handsprings and practicing our splits.
“This is Mollie,” she said again to her mom.
What happened next is one of those moments forever etched in my mind. Lori’s mother’s face squeezed up in obvious distaste as she pulled her daughter from me. When I think about it, I can still feel the sudden lack of warmth from her body all of a sudden being pulled from mine.
“No wonder you’ve been getting sick,” said her mother, with her jaw stiffening and her glare moving up and down my person, placing me as one of the kids from Fish Pot Road, a trailer park.
For the first time, perhaps, ever, I noticed that my saggy knee socks were not quite as white as my friend’s. My shoes were also more worn and dingy. And suddenly, I noticed the yellow mustard stain fresh from lunch on my brown uniform. I looked at Mrs. B once again, her hair pulled neatly into a bun, her shirtdress starched and pressed. She clutched her hand bag against her chest. Her attention now was not focused on me, as I watched a prim smile crack into her face as she looked toward the front of the room. Dismissed.
But my little heart beat faster in my chest and my stomach tickled in frenzy as I felt myself getting smaller. Feeling less.
In high school, through college, and into my adulthood, I’ve had my share of those moments. But at the age of forty-something, with two daughters of my own, I’m happy to say it’s been awhile. In fact, just the opposite has been true lately, as I've gone out and met other writers. Most of them have gone out of their way to be kind to me.
I’ve often wondered what ever became of Lori and her mother, a woman whose unkindness that one day is really all that I remember about her.
Do you ever reflect on kindness? It's so easy to be kind, isn't it?