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Five years ago, I joined a meeting to learn more about mentoring first-graders through a partnership with a nearby elementary school. I don’t know why I was drawn to do this - I’ve never felt a calling to teach children. However, as you know, sometimes you can’t deny that familiar “pull” to do something outside your comfort zone.

Walking into the elementary school that morning, I noticed that distinct smell - the one that takes you back to your own days in school - a combination of books, floor cleaner, and new pencils. I remember how nervous I felt at the prospect of starting this new relationship with a child whom I had never met. What if he doesn’t like me? What if we run out of things to talk about or I realize I’ve made a big mistake in answering this “call?” As soon as the classroom door opened and I saw his sweet face and smile, all of the nervousness and doubt disappeared.

Fast forward to 2020, and Edwin is now in 5th grade. Our commitment to this program is to continue through the last year of elementary school. Last year I had already begun thinking about how difficult it would be to say goodbye. I considered all of the new and final things we could discover together in this last year.

I don’t know why but the image of our last weekly visit together in March is burned into my memory. I can still see him smiling and waving goodbye, heading down the stairs to return to his classroom. This probably sounds a little over dramatic...after all, we are both still alive and active and I’m sure he is learning and growing as he should. But, I do miss him. He always liked to check my bag to see what new activities, books, and games I had brought that week. He loved to play cards, so I found as many educational card games as possible. He loved Kit Kat bars and One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. And his patience in putting together the puzzle of the United States far outweighed my own.

Through this time of mentoring I came to realize that while I’m sure I was able to help with his reading and math skills, my most important role in this relationship was (and is) to be a friend. A friend he could count on to be there, to share laughter and stories. Sometimes it just takes a caring friend to help strengthen your confidence and improve your attitude.

The school has not been able to support online mentoring at this time; however, they recently offered the opportunity to have a brief meet-and-greet for the students and their mentors. While our first attempt was unsuccessful, we were finally able to connect. I was so excited that I had to make notes so that I wouldn’t ramble on and waste our precious few minutes together. As usual, he politely answered all of my questions. I noticed he kept looking down, so I asked him what he was doing and if he was looking at a phone? He showed that big grin he always has when I’m onto him and his shenanigans (I love that word) and held his phone up to show me the game he was playing. To be fair, it was his lunchtime and break from virtual school. And I wasn’t offended - I just enjoyed the time we had. Then, I reminded him that he was only 6 years old when we first started meeting and he said, “yeah, I’m 11 now.” He told me math was still his favorite subject. I asked him if he remembered our favorite game, favorite candy, and favorite book. He looked up from the game and started to smile and actually look me in the eye. I let him know we most likely wouldn’t be meeting that way again; that maybe we will in person but I’m kind of doubtful with school restrictions and COVID.

He maintained eye contact as I finished our time together saying, “I just want you to know I’ve been thinking about you and I hope you’re doing well. Be good to your mom, brothers and sisters, ok? And I miss being able to meet with you.” He smiled and said, “Me, too.”

The truth is, this friendship made a difference in my life as well. Thank you, Edwin.

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