I’ve always looked at my position as a mentor at Utopia as one that allowed me to teach children. Never did I look at it as an opportunity to learn from them, until a child taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.
One day, one of the more disruptive sprouts came in with a huge smile on his little face and a promise:
“Today I’m gonna be so good!”
“Today I’m gonna be so good!”
I was touched that he was making an effort to behave himself, but his promise couldn’t have possibly foreshadowed the behavior I saw from him that day. He helped me and the other mentors set up for and clean up after activities. He told his friends to pay attention when we spoke. He was perfect.
But as the day went on, he got worse. Slowly but surely, he began interrupting again, stopped offering to help, and encouraged his friends to follow in his disobedience.
By the end of the day, he was running around the library, hiding behind shelves while I tried desperately to get him to join his friends in line for dismissal. When he finally stopped, his devilishly satisfied smile left his face with alarming speed and he plopped down onto a beanbag couch.
“I’ll never be good,” he started with sincere regret in his voice. “I tried so hard today and I still got bad at the end. I’ll never be good!”
He was almost crying. I had no idea he actually cared.
I sat down next to him. “No, no, don’t say that. You can be good if you really want to. You just have to try a little harder.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “I *did* try. I tried *so* hard today. I still be’d bad at the end”
“Wanna hear a secret?”
His eyes lit up at the mention of a secret. “What’s the secret?”
“I’ll tell you in a sec, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, ever.”
He nodded profusely “I promise, I promise!”
“I used to be bad too,” I started “When I was your age, on the first day of school, my teacher let me be the line leader because I was a new student. While I was at the front, I was walking faster than the other kids, and I couldn’t see them because they were behind me. When I turned around, they were all very far behind me, and I thought it was really funny, so I started running to be even farther away. The girl behind me started running too, and then the whole line was running. When my teacher saw us, she got angry and put me in the back of the line. After that, I thought I could never be good.”
“How did you become good?”
“One day, I told myself ‘I wanna be good, so I will be good, and I’m gonna try my hardest until I become good’ and then I kept trying and trying and trying and now I’m your teacher!”
“So you can be good even after you’re bad?”
“Yes, yes you can.”
At this point, I realized that we’d get left behind if we didn’t leave for the dismissal hall soon.
“We should go. You’re gonna have to go home soon.”
“Yeah? Do you need help finding your art?”
“No,” he ran up and to me and gestured for me to lower myself so that we were almost the same height. “I just… I love you.” He jumped into my arms. While we hugged, I realized that this little kid, who was always seen as the troublemaker of the bunch, had just taught me more in two minutes than all the world’s books and the entire internet ever could: he taught me never to give up on anyone, especially myself.
Never give up on being good.