Saturday, April 30, 2016

Unexpected Toughness

Yesterday at recess, a little boy fell from the monkey bars and broke his arm right in two.

He's not just any little boy, either; he's Benji.

Benji... darling, dramatic Benji.  He's in first grade.  I discovered him the first day of school when he stood smack in the center of the lunchroom, sobbing, devastated to the very core because his mother had packed him a sandwich instead of noodles.  It was my first day in the school, too, so we were brand new to one another.  I didn't yet know his whole story—how he cries at the slightest adversity, how he drives his parents and older siblings bananas with his whining and woe-is-me view of the world; how he asks fifteen questions for every one of the other kids in his class.  He's like a little five-year-old Eeyore.  And he can be exhausting.

Thanks to his teacher, who has the patience of Job, he's made tons of progress this year.  He's doing really well in school; he's built some really good friendships; and he tries—mightily, he tries—to think carefully before shouting out an impulsive question or comment during class.  It's hard for him, though; in spite of his efforts to control his reactions, he's simply an emotional kid.  He can't help but default to dramatic, tear-filled responses to things the universe hands him.

So when he fell from the monkey bars and landed right on his wrist, one would have thought the world would end.  One would have thought he would crumble into a pile of tears and screams.  After all, his arm was bent in an awkward, horrid angle.  Something was sticking up out of his wrist, jutting his skin up into a triangle.  It was pretty awful.

His teacher was there when he fell, and she—mama of three boys herself—knew exactly what to do.  She braced his arm using a Frisbee and walked him quickly into the school, murmuring reassurances the whole way.  She worked with our clinic aide to secure the arm into a splint and sling while I hustled to call his mother, who promised to be there right away.  Benji waited quietly, his face white and his lips clenched into a hard line.

"How are you feeling, Benji?" I asked.

He looked straight at me, his brow crinkled earnestly.  "I hope it's just bended," he said.  "But it willy, willy, willy huwts."

I realized then that our weepy and whiny little Benji hadn't shed a tear.  He hadn't whined.  I'm no doctor, but I knew that arm was broken pretty badly, and I knew it must hurt enough to justify a huge, full-on, blowout fit.  But he didn't do any of that.  He just crunched his face muscles together and endured the pain.  No tears, no fanfare, no muss or fuss.

Tough.  Really tough.

Who knew that version of Benji even existed?

Here's one thing I've learned:  It's when kids are faced with real adversity that gives us a glimpse into who they really are.  Not the little stuff, like forgetting an assignment, getting into a spat with a friend, or losing  a game.  No, I'm talking about the kind of adversity that requires them to reach way, way, way down into themselves and be strong.  The kind of adversity that would cause anyone—even an adult— to fall apart.

When Benji's mom arrived, she leaned down and tousled Benji's hair before gathering him into a gentle hug.  "I'm taking him to Children's Hospital for them to take a look at it," she said.  "I'll let you know what they say."

"I think Benji's going to be just fine," I told her.

I hoped she knew I wasn't just talking about his arm.

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