My middle child is the "new kid" at his school. Longtime readers of this blog know that we've homeschooled the kids until the middle one went to school for the first time this year. So he's the new kid, new to schooling in general, making his way through sixth grade. It has its ups and downs.
One of the downs early on was a seventh grader who seemed early on to be a good candidate for "nemesis"... I pictured him as big and bully-ish the way Middle Boy described him. Or perhaps just insecure, as the year wore on. Certainly Middle Boy's early close-calls with school discipline tended to involve this kid. They had two classes together; it was two too many.
Oddly enough, Middle Boy became friends with this "other kid"... kind of tentatively at first and in the way of middle school boys not always on solid footing but not shaky ground exactly either. Fine. Live and let live, maybe even have a little fun along the way. No problem.
Ex-Nemesis's grandfather passed away this week. When the announcement came through the school's email list, I figured it would be good for Middle Boy to go to the funeral home calling hours, sign the book, say something nice, offer a prayer. In and out, ten minutes. And learn a little bit about caring for others, pastoral graces, life and death. It was actually on Ash Wednesday. A fitting time.
So off we went to the funeral home. Middle Boy was not entirely sure about this plan, which took us a whopping two minutes out of the way on the commute home from school. I reminded him that this was a pretty lousy-minimal offering we could make, all the while squelching my own introverted dislike for the fact that I hadn't even met Ex-Nemesis, let alone any other living (or otherwise) soul I would see at this event. Also squelching, as life and ministry often call me to do, my innate dislike of the awkwardness of funeral home calling hour pleasantries. I admitted to the boy that this is an awkward thing to do, but we do it for others. Noble. Yea.
I reminded The Boy how kids he didn't know eased his experience when his grandmother passed away. It was a rainy day for a funeral and a friend's kids (who had never met my kids, etc.) took it into their heads, or maybe my kids thought of it first, that it would be a good idea to run outside in the rain in the church parking lot while the unsuspecting adults were at the reception. The well dressed grandsons of the deceased returned a half an hour later, dripping, soaked. Frankly, their grandmother would have been delighted by the antics, and the kids were glad of the break. Maybe we all should have run in the rain.
But I digress. On this note, we meandered into the funeral home. Ten minutes, in and out. We can do this. He signed the book. He scanned the room for his friend. He went awkward up to him and I have no idea what he said. They chatted for a while. I, sensitive to the needs of middle schoolers to occasionally appear to be self-sufficient orphans, made myself scarce. Ten minutes went by, twenty. Ex-Nemesis apparently showed The Boy where the cookies were kept. They made plans to rule the world. They took a walk into an unused chapel. My son was the break from all the boring adults.
Before I left, I met the other boy's mom. She thanked me for coming and said my son had given hers a much needed break. It was nice to meet another middle school mom, even under the circumstances. The boys have a lot in common and had some quality time together. Middle kid got a cookie in the deal, even though it was Ash Wednesday. And I hope he did learn a little about caring for others.
So much for ten minutes, we were there most of an hour. I'm glad we went. Even to embrace the awkward.