But not everything she learned in kindergarten could fit in her backpack. No teacher or textbook
could compare to the valuable lessons she learned from an unexpected friendship.
“Here’s where I printed all my letters, and I got a sticker and a smiley face.”
“Good job, Maddie.”
“And this one …” Madison paused as she pointed to a coloring page. “Well, I would’ve colored the sky blue, but Logan* took my crayon.” Her face formed a frown. “I don’t like Logan.”
“Oh?” I nudged for details. “Because he took your crayon?”
“No, because he’s not very nice. He calls Jade ‘coo-coo,’” she said, twirling her index finger around her ear.
Jade was a little girl with Down Syndrome in Maddie's class. I remembered seeing her at back-to-school night a couple weeks ago.
“You’re right.” I said. “That doesn’t sound very nice.”
Weeks passed and we settled into an after-school routine. Each day Madison proudly displayed her school papers and shared stories about new friends. Many times, she talked about Jade. That little girl seemed to have quite an effect on Madison. This became even more apparent one afternoon when I picked Maddie up from school.
I hustled into the classroom. Madison’s teacher looked up from her desk and smiled. “Madison, your mom is here.” Maddie gave me a quick hug and dashed to the hallway for her backpack. I chatted with Mrs. Marple.
Mrs. Marple gave me a knowing grin. “Madison is so good with Jade," she said. "In fact, if you have a minute, I’d like to share something with you.”
I nodded and she leaned in closer.
“I had a paper without a name on it,” she began. “So I held it up in front of the class and asked who it belonged to. One of the boys said, ‘It must be Jade’s because it’s messy!’”
Mrs. Marple sighed. She glanced at the door, watching for Madison to return.
“I was about to explain how his comment was unkind, when Madison stood up. She put both hands on her hips, stared up at that boy, and said, ‘She’s doing the best that she can.’”
I felt my mouth drop. I’d seen Madison speak up to her older sisters at home, but at school she was always quiet.
Mrs. Marple giggled. “Then another boy chimed in and said, ‘Yeah, she’s doing her best!’”
That’s my girl, I thought. Another great lesson learned in kindergarten.
One spring afternoon Madison got off the bus and raced into the house.
“Momma! Guess what?” She struggled to catch her breath. “I taught Jade how to skip!” Maddie flung her backpack toward the table. “See, I told her, ‘bring your leg up and hop, then bring your other leg up and hop.’”
Madison’s long ponytail bounced as she leaped up and down in slow motion. “I showed her, and she started skipping!”
Madison picked up speed skipping through the living room, circling the coffee table, and leaping through the air like a lively ballerina. Her joy was contagious. As I watched her delight in Jade’s achievement, I smiled along with her.
“That’s great, Maddie!”
“Yep.” She plopped onto the couch. “Now I’m going to teach her how to tie her shoes.” I sat down next to her and twirled her thick ponytail around my finger.
“You know what?” I asked.
Madison snuggled closer, the faint smell of gas fumes and dusty roads still clinging to her clothes from the bus ride home. “What Momma?”
“I’m proud of you. And I think it’s so nice that you are Jade’s friend.”
Madison stared at me with a puzzled expression in her green eyes. She obviously wasn’t getting my point. I tried again.
“I mean, what did you think of Jade when you first saw her? You know, at the beginning of the year.”
Madison shrugged. “Well, on the first day I thought she looked different. But then I got used to her, and now she’s my friend.”
I patted her little knee. "Maddie, If more grown-ups had that attitude, this world would be a better place."
On the last day of school Madison lugged her backpack home one last time. She turned it upside down, gave it a couple firm shakes, and watched its contents scatter across the kitchen table.
I sorted through the remaining school supplies. Worn-out folders with tattered corners, half a bottle of Elmer’s glue, broken crayons, and one crisp white envelope with Madison’s name printed neatly on the front. It was from Jade’s mom.
Below Madison’s name was a note: These are a few pictures I took of Madison and Jade on our field trip. Madison has been so sweet to Jade.
I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a picture of the two girls standing arm-in-arm on a playground, each flashing beautiful smiles.
When I reflect back on what Madison learned in kindergarten, my heart swells with pride. Her report card revealed academic accomplishments, but Jade taught Madison lessons for a lifetime. Jade helped Madison learn important lessons about character, acceptance and individuality.
Perhaps even better, Jade helped Madison fulfill a special need all of us have – the need for a good friend.