Five hundred children were packed into the elementary school gymnasium. It was assembly time.
I watched little faces, some edged with pre-teen boredom, others gleaming with unmerited enthusiasm.. Some kids obviously took pride in their appearance, others dressed for comfort. Some were part of a cute little clique, others tended to drift alone. Some friends seemed unusual combinations- the almost 6-foot-tall fifth grader and his buddy, who came up a little higher than his elbow. Another was tall solid girl with long natural wavy hair and glasses, chatting happily with a petite blonde with a ponytail and name brand clothes.
As I scanned the faces, all shapes, colors, and sizes, I wondered what life was like for them. Surely some are happy-go-lucky, enjoying school, and living in a safe, loving home. Others may give that appearance but really struggle with abuse, self-doubt, or poverty.
They each had different reactions to receiving awards. Some were obviously purely excited for the recognition. Others tried to be cool and hide their feelings, especially the boys’ basketball team. Others seemed a little reluctant to be in front of others. The strangest reaction was from the sixth grade student of the month, who walked single-minded to the platform, without so much as a smile. He almost appeared angry. His principal described him as an excellent student and athlete. Was he having a bad day? Did he have a negative relationship with his parents, who had come to share in his award? Was he embarrassed? Did he not respect the award, being the eighth person to receive it?
I’m not sure why, but I felt for those kids. Growing up can be so hard. How many were already dealing with adult issues at home, or trying to face down the bully at school? What kind of issues would they face as they became teenagers? On the other hand, perhaps most of them are in their oblivious child worlds, full of wonder and excitement and the joy of the moment.
As I left the gymnasium, back to the real world of work and relationships, I didn’t look back. Growing up is tough. I wonder when I’ll get there….