Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amazing Grace

“How was school today Grace?” I asked.

“So good Mommy, I have a new best friend and her name is Juno, she’s Japanese.” Grace said excitedly.

“Oh, Ok Grace” I said with a smile. I’m thinking “wow!” it’s only Monday, on the first day of the school year and Grace already has a new best friend in one day.

What does she mean “she’s Japanese”? We’re American’s; don’t we all come from somewhere? I thought. We’re a melting pot of people from all different countries.

Grace also has a cute little girl friend named Doreen who is of Vietnamese nationality. Grace became close friends with Doreen last year in school. Doreen is a sweet girl. She came to Grace’s baptism with her family, which made it that much more special to Grace. There is a slight communication barrier between myself and her mother as English is her second language and she’s not quite fluent in it, but we get by enough to make basic arrangements. It seems Grace is attracted to children of Asian origin. It makes sense to me; some of my best friends in elementary school were Japanese, we got along well.

The next day after picking up Grace from school, she talked about Juno again saying with excitement: “Mommy, mommy, Juno is my new best friend, and she’s from Japan Mommy!”

“Okay Grace, I’m so glad you have made such a great new friend!” I said.

By Friday, Grace was so thoroughly excited about her new friend Juno, she got in the car and exclaimed: “Mommy, mommy, Juno is from Japan, she moved to the United States two weeks ago and she is my new best friend!”

“Grace, is she actually from Japan? Like, as in, she is actually Japanese, and came here from Japan?”

“Yes, she moved here two weeks ago Mommy” Grace said.

“Does your new best friend speak any English Grace?” I asked.

“Ummmmmmmm………, not really” she says with a surety.

Isn’t it amazing how children can communicate with other children regardless of language barriers? I guess when they’re playing it doesn’t really matter what language they speak.

I got a kick out Grace’s long drawn out “no.” Grace is such a sweet girl. When I took the girls to school the following week, I walked them all the way up to the play ground. There I witnessed Grace seeing Juno for her first time that day; they wrapped their arms around each other like they were long lost friends who hadn’t seen each other in months or even years. I watched Grace and Juno play together, chasing each other while laughing and running around in circles being silly. Juno didn’t need to be able to speak English and Grace didn’t need to be able to speak Japanese for the two of them to grow close and really know each other’s hearts. I think they both wore their hearts on their sleeves.

Juno had the sweetest little doll face. Her smile was so genuine and sincere; she had these beautiful little freckles by one eye that made her so unique. Juno was not only beautiful but radiated sweet humbleness.

Grace and Juno really did become quite good friends over the next four months. Their teacher, Mrs. Stephens, had given Grace the assignment to help Juno around the school, help her communicate with the teacher, keep Juno on pace with what they were doing in class, and just be a friend to her. Mrs. Stephens is quite creative, knowing Grace’s personality and how easily distracted she is, this gave her an important responsibility that was meaningful and a goal that was achievable for Grace. I think it also helped keep Grace on track; knowing she had to help Juno made it more important for her.

Ever since Grace started school, she has always had a difficult time making friends. Anyone who knows Grace would have a hard time believing this, especially since she is so very friendly. In fact, when I have said that in conversation to friends of mine, they immediately doubt me and think that I am being critical of her; but I’m not. It’s true that it doesn’t make sense though. Grace is always so quick to give hugs and kind greetings to people she knows and loves, and already feels loved by. However, starting when Grace was in pre-school, she would go out to the playground, find something to do, and go at it alone, with no effort to interact with any of the other kids; it just didn’t come natural for her. Then in Kindergarten, her next teacher noticed the same thing, she would go out to recess and just play alone, she would get into her own little happy place in her mind and didn’t seem to care about anything else. I called it “Grace-land Space-land.” Grace’s Kindergarten teacher was such a doll, she didn’t like to see kids playing alone so she set Grace up with some friends that she felt matched her personality. It worked out fine and she started to see that there are options aside from playing alone.

She’s in third grade now, and for some reason, still responds best to being “set up” with a friend. Mrs. Stephens must have been inspired to choose Grace to sit by Juno and help Juno. I think this small gesture on Mrs. Stephens’s part made a huge difference in Grace’s life forever. I don’t know if Grace would have made friends with Juno out on the playground on her own—she just needed that little introduction and encouragement.

We had Juno over at our home for several play dates and Juno also had Grace in her home many times. They were living in our neighborhood so it was convenient for both of us. Juno’s mom was a sweet lady. She was a beautiful young mother, stylish and fit. She was a dancer and had the beautiful figure that comes with it. Her English lacked but we were able to communicate enough to arrange the children’s play dates and plan a Sushi lunch date that never panned out.

The three girls; Grace, Juno and Doreen all grew very close together and would play together every day at school. I get the feeling that “two’s company, three’s a crowd” didn’t apply to them. They are all three such kind, sweet, loving little girls and all have hearts of gold.

On the last week of school before Christmas break, Grace came to me heartbroken and devastated. On the verge of tears, she said “Juno is moving back to Japan, Mommy.”

“What? That’s impossible; she hasn’t even been here four months.” I said. “Are you sure you’ve got it right? She’s probably just going back for Christmas break.”

“No, Mommy” she starts to cry, “She’s moving back to Japan, she has to clean out her desk and take everything with her.”

The next day at school I saw Juno’s mom and confirmed it with her. It was a sad day for Grace and a sad day for mom too.

After school got out, Grace asked to play with Juno every day. She REALLY wanted to see her again before she went back to Japan. I assured her that we had time. I spoke to Juno’s mom and I knew when they were leaving and when they were available to play.

Juno came over to play one last time, and of course as is typical for Japanese culture, brought a gift for Grace. It was a beautiful crystal clear, heart shaped, beaded bracelet with all the colors of the rainbow in pastels. Grace loved it. Ironically Grace gave Juno a friendship bracelet with three silver peace sign charms in the shapes of hearts.

It was a sad good-bye. They invited us to come to Japan to stay with them and visit, but the truth is, we will probably never see them again. We agreed for the girls to be “pen pals” through email. We exchanged email addresses and the girls have emailed a little bit over the break. Juno’s mom sent pictures of Juno and her sister playing in the snow in front of their house. Grace asks every day if she can email Juno, and writes her letters with beautiful drawings during church sacrament meeting on Sundays. Grace really is heart broken about Juno leaving.

When school started back up in January, Grace wasn’t really excited because Juno wouldn’t be there. She still had her sweet friend Doreen, but to make matters worse, Doreen went to Laos, Vietnam over the break and didn’t come back in time for school to start. Everyday I would pick up the girls from school and Grace would be so sad, no Juno and no Doreen = no best friends. She said she didn’t have anyone to play with on the playground. Grace became less interested in going to school. She would talk in anticipation of Doreen’s return from Laos everyday: “Mommy, I can’t wait for Doreen to come back; and she promised me she would bring me something back from Laos” she said.

“Ok, Grace” I told her, “but just remember, sometimes kids tell their friends they're going to buy them things, but in reality the parents are the ones who have the money, so she needs to ask her parents first, so don’t be sad if she doesn’t have anything, just be happy that she made it home safe on the airplane, and that you have your friend back, okay?”

Over a week went by before Doreen returned from Laos. I pulled up after school to pick up the girls. Katie and Emily came right up to the car, but not Grace. I looked around for Grace and saw her up on the grass talking with Doreen and her mom. When Grace came to the car she was clinging tight to a toy elephant about the size of a football, heavily decorated and hand stitched with all sorts of bright, beautiful colors. Grace could have lit up a dark room. Nothing could have made her happier than to have her friend Doreen back, and just knowing that Doreen was thinking of her during her trip to Laos, made Grace happier than a clam.

I love my little Grace so much. She really is an amazing girl and a really great friend too.

1 comment:

  1. love your blog! your kids are so big, and PS YOU LOOK SO GOOD! My moms been talking about wanting to run with you guys...get her to go!