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Hi, Henry

2019 September 8
by WWGD

There was a post that went semi viral on Instagram last week among mothers and care-takers telling back to school kids to talk to the outcast, the child who looks lonely on the school yard, etc. 

The sentiment was lovely, of course, like most things you find on Instagram when you’re a mom, but I found it horribly misguided. Like posting that re-gram was going to make a true difference in anyone’s life but your own that day. Like mean girls, boys who bully and generally unkind kids of any age were going to see this re-post on Instagram and take it to heart. 

I sighed with frustration with every single re-post that I saw.

You can’t parent by Instagram. You parent in real life. 

We were in the car pool lane on the second day of school when a boy named Henry crossed my mind. He has been one of my daughter’s school mates for five years now. We don’t know him very well but he has always been a kind, quiet kid who goes with the flow in his own subtle way. His mom is lovely and always gives me a smile when she sees me, even though we have long forgotten each other’s names from the brief introduction we had several Septembers ago. 

“Have you seen Henry a lot this year?” I asked my daughter, as my son was struggling to work his way into his backpack in time to jump out of the car at the school’s bustling car pool curb. 

“Henry?” she questioned, pausing for just a split second to look up from her book. 

Henry, I reminded her, throwing in a detail or two to clarify who I was referring to. I didn’t even know his last name after all these years because they have never really forged a close friendship, but I knew that he was probably the type of boy who started back at school with a little anxiety in his back pocket. A few extra nerves lingering over his morning. A subtle, quiet boy on the outskirts of the activity just trying to find his way in. 

“Oh yeah, I haven’t seen him yet,” she said. “I don’t think we have any classes together, but I am sure he’s there.”

“When you see him, say hi to Henry,” I told her, grabbing her gaze and holding it tight. “Ask him about his summer, tell him which teachers you have.” I paused. “Say hi to Henry.”

She looked at me and nodded. 

“Repeat after me,” I nudged. “Say hi to Henry.”

I didn’t have to go much further than that, thankfully. My daughter understands. She has always been excited about going back to school, about seeing her friends, about making new ones. But she knows that isn’t everyone’s reality. We’ve talked about it. She’s witnessed it firsthand. She has seen the impact that her confident kindness can have on other kids. 

And she hasn’t learned one bit of that from my Instagram feed. 

She learned it through real discussion. Meaningful, poignant moments where I call her or her brother out on behaviors that we observe or witness or hear about. In dinner table conversations about kids with personalities and backgrounds and needs different from theirs. About bullies and mean girls and the teachers who make change and those who simply don’t. We talk about it openly and often. On first days and day 100. And never once on Instagram. 

“Say hi to Henry,” I repeated, this time a little louder and with a light-hearted laugh to go along with it, treating it like a command from General Mom. My son, now about to pop out of the backseat to navigate his own second day of school, laughed back. “Got it, mom!” he yelled, half way out the car door, already finding a friend up ahead to catch up to. “Off to find a Henry!” The door slammed behind him.

And with that we pulled away from the curb. My daughter went back to her book as we weaved our way through the kid-lined streets to the middle school. I turned up the radio a little and we drove the rest of the way without chatting. I picked up my phone at a red light, checked in on Instagram and saw the same post that had irked me in the first place. Another influencer mom, sharing a trendy bit of parenting advice in a scripted black and white font that aligned with her feed and her back-to-school content. I gave it a “like” to make her feel good about herself. Like she had made an impact that morning with that post. Silently hoping she had a real-life conversation to go along with it. That she wasn’t just driving in silence, talking to her Instagram audience more than her own kids. That she took the reminder as an opportunity to inspire change off her screen as well. Where it’s really needed. 

With a simple “Hi, Henry.” 

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Megan permalink
    September 9, 2019

    LOVE this post! I have conflicting feelings about that same Instagram post that gets forwarded around at certain times of the school year. I even saw another version that tells kids to sit down “next to the weird kid” at lunch. That one in particular makes my skin crawl. Any parent who refers to any child as the “weird kid,” is a part of the problem. Talking about being friendly to everyone is a constant discussion in my house. Its not about being everybody’s best friend, but instead, being somebody that is an available and friendly to everyone. It took my son a very long time to find his tribe. He is a corky kid — ADHD and very into books and science. He has found his tribe at this new school and that is amazing but I always think back to the kind kids along the way. Maybe they were never going to be his best friends but they were friendly. And on some days during his worst years at school, that was what he needed to get through the day.

    • WWGD permalink*
      September 9, 2019

      Ugh – that would make my skin crawl, too! I think I am just exhausted by parents doing the “right thing” online but rarely being mindful enough to actually model behaviors that make change in real life! Or even just look up from their phones long enough to see what’s happening with their own kids…right in front of them. I am glad your son found his tribe. I know it can be a struggle — sometimes even for the “popular” kids — to find people they can truly feel comfortable with and I often tell my daughter those people will come and go and friendships evolve and people change…but I am there each and every day making sure she is a good person. In-person. Not on my social feeds 😉

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