His eyes were rimmed red and he barely looked up as he spoke. I listened as another hot lunch mom asked the distressed fourth-grader to repeat what lunch he had ordered. The other students at the lunch table chatted and ate, moving clumsily in their bulky winter coats and snowpants. Beside them, the teary-eyed boy looked thin in his striped shirt and jeans. He burst into a fresh flow of tears as the other mom hurried off to find his missing lunch order.
"We'll get your lunch real quick," I said, stooping down to reassure the boy.
"It's not about my lunch!" he retorted. "I'm not crying about that. It's...it's everything!" And then he launched into a litany of missteps and injustices that had seemed to follow him that day, among them that he'd been sentenced to staying inside for recess. This explained his clothes, and more importantly, his tears.
I listened until he was done pouring out his story. "The day is already halfway through. It will get better," I promised.
He began crying again. "But it won't get better! After lunch I have math, and I hate math!"
He sat with his back to the table, his shoulders hunched in defeat. I gave him a small pat on the back and a few more words of reassurance, before moving on to continue helping to serve lunch.
A short while later I went to stand against the wall by the cafeteria door to eat my own lunch while chatting with another mom. I glanced over at the boy. He still sat with his back to the table. He wasn't smiling. But his pizza bagel and tears were gone. A few moments later the lunch monitors began directing the children to clean up. I threw out my napkin and went over to the boy.
"I hope your day does get better," I said to him, giving him another quick pat on the back.
He gave me a glance and a half smile and stood to join the line of children leaving the cafeteria.
Life can be rough, even when you're in fourth grade. I sure hope he goes home to a mom who gives him a big hug and a listening ear.
And when my kids get home, I'll be waiting to do the same.