The snow crunched under my feet. I paused outside the heavy glass doors. The playground was eerily quiet, the lull before the storm of five to seven-year-olds about to invade. Slices of bread hung by yarn on a tree, flapping in the wind, awaiting hungry birds. I took a deep breath of the frigid, fresh air and steadied my mind and my heart to give what I had to a couple dozen kindergartners.
Wide chocolate brown eyes greeted me with delight. “Mama!! I didn’t know you were coming today!” I sat down next to her, “Surprise!” In between bites of bread squishy with peanut butter and jelly I peppered her and her friends about their morning. They relished me with stories about bowling in gym, singing in music, and the properties of the vowel “o.”
In between bites of bread and conversation, little hands passed me sauce packets and milk cartons with the request, “Please can you open this?” and replies of, “Thank you.” My fingers nimbly opened each one amazed that though technology has made life so much easier, a milk carton is just as hard to open today as it was when I was in kindergarten. I nodded and smiled and listened to their stories congratulating them on their victories of the day thus far.
As I bent over a tricky bottle of juice, I heard a request for help with another milk carton from the boy across from me. I nodded at him and finished ripping the plastic strip off the juice, returning it to the dark haired little girl who’d passed it to me. She smiled. I looked for the milk carton from the boy, and realized it was already in my daughter’s little hands. Her fingers made quick work of prying the cardboard open, all while walking him step-by-step through the process. “You just have to dig your fingernail in like this, and then pull it back just enough to get your straw in there, like that!” She handed the milk back to her classmate. He added his thanks and studied the opening she had just created. I looked down at her with awe and pride. “What?!” as she often says when I’m looking at her with admiration. “I know how to open a milk carton by myself!” Never mind that she has only gotten milk from school a few times. “Thank you for helping your friend. That was so nice of me.” She grinned and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “what else did you expect?”
I turned and continued my conversations of praise and encouragement with the wiggly bodies surrounding me. She offered some goldfish crackers to a friend. I realized we were doing the same things. We both were encouraging, serving, and loving her classmates. What we talk about at home was being lived out in the cafeteria. Serving without second thought. Helping without reserve. Encouraging and loving as God would have us to.
As I sat there shoulder to shoulder with my little one, I whispered a prayer that it might always be like this. That through the years this might just be the start of shoulder to shoulder serving and loving others together. Learning to live and serve in community begins at home. Then to the lunchroom. Then beyond.