Friday, March 13, 2015

The Unexpected

For the first time in my life, I feel known by the people at our grocery store. This may sound funny, but I don't think I've ever, in my memory, consistently been to the same store and been "known" or recognized by the cashiers and attendants. I certainly haven't ever had this in my adult life.

When we moved in June, I started going to the same store down the street every. single. time. With a baby, I think it's hard to sneak out without having some sort of a conversation with the employees. This happens everywhere. BUT, our little grocery store down the street has people who are truly friendly, interested, and genuine. And they remember Ian each time, wanting to say hi to him and talk to him about his eyes, his strawberry hair, or the weather.

I love this. It makes me want to go back. We have a few cashiers who are often there during the morning when we go. I actually even try to get into Patty's lane because she loves to see Ian and her bagger is normally a very sweet older lady.

Today, we didn't make it to the grocery store until late afternoon. Our usual people weren't there and we were harried, trying to make it home to fix dinner before the landslide of the bedtime routine enveloped us.

I scanned the cashiers and saw a familiar face. It was none other than one of my old middle school students. He was a member of my first class when I taught sixth grade English. He is now about a foot taller and somewhat slimmer, but certainly recognizable. He happened to be one of the hardest-working, brightest students from that first year. I can still picture where he sat, his smile and laugh when I was a goof, the roll of his eyes when he wasn't thrilled, and even his handwriting. Isn't it amazing the things that stick with us teachers long after we've both moved on to new grades and different jobs?

Obviously I chose his lane. I'd seen him only one other time, but not before all of my items were already on the conveyer belt. As soon as we started talking it was obvious that he wasn't in middle school anymore. He was more confident and mature.

I commented that it had been a while since I'd seen him and he said, "Yes, it's been five years!" Wow. Umm. Yes, how did that happen? He asked if I'd heard some unfortunate news about another teacher from my team (which I hadn't heard) and then one of my favorite colleagues from that time walked up from behind and gave me a hug. I hadn't seen her in months. He commented, "This is like a reunion or something." After saying goodbye to the other teacher, I asked what grade he's in and he said, "Sophomore." Before I had a chance to say anything he said,  "You did well, I'm taking DE (Dual Enrollment) English next year."

Then he asked about what I have been doing and I told him that I am currently a mom. To this he replied, "Wow, that must be really hard."

Two things have left me a bit amused and baffled since the conversation we had:

  1. As he pointed out, five years ago I was his English teacher but he attributed his success in making it into a DE course next year to me. While it's flattering, I know that he already had great skills and ability and a very supportive mother. I'm not the reason he's in DE; he was already on that track.
  2. When I told him that I am now staying at home and being a mama, his reply was genuine and thoughtful. He wasn't saying, "Wow, that must be really hard" sarcastically or teasing at all. His face was serious and kind. 

I introduced him to Ian and said something to Ian about how I hoped he'd grow up to be like _______ one day. My student smiled. We said goodbye and see you again soon.

When I got into the car, I couldn't help but think... How many sophomore high school students would respond this way? How many would cringe at the sight of their old teacher? It may seem silly, but I don't often have interactions with people who knew me as a teacher anymore. Here I was in my grocery store, known by someone who spent 90 minutes, every day for a year in my class. He believed my teaching from five years before got him to where he is now in school. That teaching position was the hardest paid job I ever had, but he thought being at home with my son must be "really" hard. Fascinating.

It was an unexpected encounter, but it was the thoughtfulness that was certainly not something I was prepared for in my frazzled, late afternoon state today. Kindness can be found in the most surprising places and circumstances. My student taught me something today.

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