Social media allows us to connect with anyone in the world at the push of a button, literally. In this case, you either got here through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, an email from WordPress or some other way which doesn’t really matter. The point is you’re here now and for that, I am appreciative. Also, I have to give credit where it’s due so thanks to social media, without which in more ways than one, this story wouldn’t be possible. It has allowed us to connect on this journey which is about a time in our lives before social media was even developed. A time when the press of a button only consisted of the letters “A” and “B” on a Nintendo controller. A time when connecting was made by creating a straight line of matching discs during a game of Connect Four. A time when relationships were built on the fate of being placed in the same classroom at the beginning of a school year.
This tale takes place in the early nineties at the School of Somewhere located near the coast line of California. A friendship was being developed in the first grade amongst seven highly gifted six-year-old boys. Many adults, including their parents always knew the boys were advanced for their age, treating kindergarten like child’s play. They were finding upper and lower case letters in the alphabet as easily as trying to spot Polkaroo on Imagination Day barging through the Polka Dot Door yelling, “Polkaroo! Polkaroo!” When it came to reading and rhyming, they were catching on so quickly, it made Dr. Seuss look like a nurse. As for learning how to count, they were counting triple what the guy on Sesame Street does when he counts at a rapid and rhythmic pace from 1 to 12 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12.). The group of boys owned Sesame Street and needed to be challenged with bigger and better things.
Once they were freed from the cages of kindergarten and put out into the open school ground, many of their peers saw them as a little like celebrities. They were even given a group name after another famous boy band at the time. The students called them The Smart Kids On The Block, aka T.S.K.O.T.B. The boys were oblivious to the band but didn’t mind it at all. Besides, when it came to being smart, they all knew they had the…oh oh oh oh oh, the right stuff. Even their actual names had a boy band ring to them; Jack, Noah, Evan, Biz, Kevin, Mike and Mark. These boys were young, talented and gifted. If only they were smart enough to know the one thing that can cause even the smartest people not to think straight and more importantly, to maintain their friendship.
One Monday morning, the grade one class was interrupted by a knock at the classroom door. It was a faculty member asking for the teacher. As the two went about with their business, everyone in class was in awe to see a little girl behind the adults as she did her best to remain hidden. They knew whatever was being discussed, it would be “da bomb.” Although, it’s safe to say kids at this age find any news to be noteworthy. Just ask the janitor about the broken drinking fountain that one Friday morning. All the students in the class was thirsty to find out who the guilty culprit was that damaged the water pipes; it was totally awesome.
It’s expected for these kids to be curious but a few went as far as looking like windshield wipers, maneuvering left and right in their seats, peeking out to see more. As for the little girl, she continued to hide behind the faculty member as if she was the Counter in a game of Hide & Go Seek. To no avail, the class could see her long wavy blonde hair, white short-sleeve shirt, black skirt with red and blue plaid accents and plain Maryjane’s. Her shoes were similar to Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz, but rather than sparkling ruby red, they were black and simple. A minute went by and finally the faculty member left as the teacher led the little girl through the classroom door. Now, this could have been all coincidental but as she entered, a gust of wind simultaneously blew through the open window inside the classroom, causing her blonde mellifluous hair to slowly flow back. As she swung her head from left to right, it caused every strand of hair to fly behind her, allowing the class to see her facial beauty. All the boys in the class instantly drowned in her blue, oceanic eyes as they gave way to her angelic smile, which ironically for the boys, was a smile that could get her out of any school punishment.
“Hi, my name is Laurene.”
To the group of boys in this story, an angel just fell from the sky and transferred in to their classroom.
As Laurene made her way to the front of the class, she quickly scans the room only to acknowledge the one empty seat available. Now if you’re wondering “yeah right, what are the odds of the only available seat being near the group of boys?” I couldn’t possibly know the answer to this question but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of smart individuals found a way to make this happen. As ecstatic as the boys were to be sitting near Laurene, they were blindsided by the fact that none of them have actually ever socialized with a girl before. And so, for the first time in their lives, the group of boys was dumbfounded.
Once the class settled down, the teacher asked all the students to group into threes. It was time for their curriculum to switch from math to something with more creativity, arts. For Kevin and Mike, this subject is what separated them from the rest of their group. They loved to draw, especially shapes of all kinds. Many of their efforts were posted on the classroom’s Wall of Art with smiley faces to go along with A-pluses. As remarkable as their artwork would be from a couple of six-year-olds, they were best known for framing their artwork with borders around the subjects they drew. Other students would just draw and leave the subject “floating” on the piece of paper. For these two boys, they felt the need to always frame their drawings, as if to say every subject is a masterpiece.
As the rest of the class try to partner into threes, their group of seven boys were left trying to divide themselves into two groups of three without leaving a variable. They knew this is one equation that would leave someone on their own, forcing to partner with other students in the class. While many of the boys bickered back and forth, Kevin and Mike snatched the opportunity to partner with the new girl instead. As frightening as it may seem for the two boys, they felt they should use this subject as a bridge to confront their fears of socializing with a girl. They felt it gave them a sense of confidence other group assignments couldn’t provide. The two boys somehow slipped away from the herd and ventured into an unknown territory. If only they knew what lay ahead besides confronting their fears.
When Kevin and Mike approached Laurene, they immediately panicked and couldn’t even think of a two letter word between them like “Hi.” Instead, they stood in front of her side-by-side like two of the happiest mimes you’ll wish to never meet. As much as this startled Laurene, she understood their intentions and in return, smiled back. Somehow, they all agreed to form a group without saying a single word. Not too distant from all this, the rest of the boys received the message of betrayal loud and clear. They felt Mike and Kevin had just chosen a girl over their friendships. A lesson the boys should have learned later in life. Some guys will be men about it and simply shrug it off, but then again, we are dealing with a bunch of six-year-olds so in a way, feeling betrayed at this stage in life warrants immaturity.
As expected, the class admired the creativity of Kevin, Mike, and now Laurene. It should also come as no surprise the two boys continued framing their artwork and Laurene even helped provide different styles of borders. Some borders were as thin as a pencil, others were as thick as a marker. For one of their drawings, they even drew a double-lined border around the subject. It was during this time that something miraculous happened. Mike was using a crayon to shade within the double-lined border when he accidentally coloured inside where the subject was drawn. He knew he must continue shading over the whole subject including the borders or else the piece would look unfinished. In the end, the drawing with the double-lined border was fully shaded. The class admired the unique look it had and the teacher respected the bold display by the three students. The admiration Laurene received from the class helped boost her confidence with feeling accepted. As for Kevin and Mike, this particular art piece would find its way back into their lives decades down the road to help develop a way to inspire the rest of the world.
Mark, Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz remained at their seats while the rest of the class huddled around the Wall of Art admiring each other’s work. They were clearly disinterested and were doing a poor job hiding it from anyone who was willing to notice. The teacher didn’t appreciate the lack of participation and felt they could use an extra thirty minutes in class during the one hour lunch to reflect on their poor behaviour. As for Kevin and Mike, this hurt them a great deal knowing it wasn’t for lack of creativity that caused their friends’ disinterest in art but more the jealousy at partnering with Laurene.
“Not my fault they’re a bunch of chicken.” It didn’t matter who whispered this between Kevin and Mike while leaving for lunch but the rest of the guys heard enough to know what had been said. It was clear there was a lot of tension in the room so in a way, dividing the group was a blessing in disguise. As for Laurene, she escaped from the rest of the students once the lunch bell rang, looking to adjust on her own terms in her new school environment.
Meanwhile, the grade one classroom was nice and quiet, occupied by a disappointed teacher and five boys with long pouty faces. The kids sat at their desks with their elbows resting on the table and fists pressed against their chins until they possessed the cheeks of a Cabbage Patch Kid. Although their punishment was to sit there and do nothing for thirty whole minutes, some of the boys felt it would be therapeutic to relieve some of their anger by swinging their legs back and forth like untamed pendulums. It may not have been much of a stress reliever but at least it gave them something to do. The frustration of the boys had the look of a scene from the Breakfast Club. Instead of teenage boys and girls, it would just be a group of childish boys and rather than a scene in the library, it would be in a classroom. Come to think of it, nothing about this is like the Breakfast Club except for the number of bratty students in detention. In case you weren’t aware, the answer is five (John, Andrew, Brian, Allison and Claire).
Evan, underneath his breath muttered something to himself that almost caused him to laugh and breakdown. As he quickly adjusts himself to look innocent, the teacher from his desk looks up from his reading material to see who has been disobeying. What he sees are five sets of eyes staring back with a puzzled look of innocence as if he is the one hearing things. To reassure himself that he’s not the crazy one, he tells the boys, “Cut it out guys, you know better.” The teacher then goes back to his reading material, prepping for the next curriculum while Biz discreetly catches Evan’s attention.
“Hey, what cha laughing at?” whispers Biz.
“Nothing…just this class has a bunch of squares,” responds Evan in the same tone.
“What? Who’s a bunchy square,” adds Jack.
Noah, being the last one to chime in, “Who? Who’s fat? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”
It was clear whispering was causing a lot of confusion. The only one lost for a different reason was Mark for having a tendency to blank out and wander into his own little world. He was known to always be thinking multiple steps ahead and the boys figured this was just another one of his quirks they’ve learned to accept. As for dealing with all the confusion, the boys knew exactly what needed to be done in these types of moment. Before there were iPhones, Blackberries, or any form of handheld communication devices, students relied on passing paper notes secretly to one another as if executing a drug deal. Not to say Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz operated on a system which allowed them to trade illegal substances, but when it came to communicating discreetly with one another, they were at the top of the game.
Anytime there was an indoor recess with not much excitement going on, the four boys would cut pieces of paper into small rectangular shapes. Each piece would be the height of a thumb and a width of a middle finger. As for the note itself, it needed to be big enough to be able to write a short message on it but small enough that when it’s folded a couple of times, the piece of paper becomes the size of a single tic-tac.
Their system worked on three factors. First, the note needed to be short and sweet. Long sentences only prolonged the writing, increasing their chances of being caught. The second part, which took a bit more thinking relied on using less letters in the words. They were careful to still keep its meaning, and the same can be said about using popular expressions. For example, when someone showed a high interest of laughter, rather than writing “Laugh out loud”, the boys would simply put, “LOL.” Lastly, if a note needed a response, it would be written at the back of the note that was just received. If it didn’t need a response, the boys would start on a new note. You’re probably thinking none of this is ground breaking but if you were to refer back to the first note you passed in class, what grade were you in? Regardless, the four boys would end up developing something more advanced than we could have imagined back then. I wouldn’t be surprised if you just used their technology sometime today or maybe even just before diving into this story.
After going back and forth with their notes, the boys felt their punishment ended quicker than expected. The teacher with a simple nod of his head, gave the direction to the boys that detention was over. Finally, they were free to enjoy the rest of their lunch hour. Without any hesitation, the boys rushed out of the building looking to make the most of what little playtime they had left. They decided not to exit through the door into their regular school ground in case Kevin and Mike were out there. They may have spent the last thirty minutes cooling down but clearly the boys were still heated. Instead, everyone felt it would be best to remain distant for now. And so, the group of boys dashed out into the unknown grounds of the building only to walk into the one person they were least expecting.
They found Laurene socializing with girls, none from their class but girls from the second grade. The boys knew right from the moment they laid eyes on her, it would be a matter of time until she made friends at their school. They just weren’t expecting it to be so quick and with an older group. She was already an angel in their eyes and within half a day in her new school, she’d become the coolest girl in grade one. This just made it even harder for the boys to treat her just as another classmate. If you recall back in elementary, if this type of thing happened, it automatically gave anyone the status of, depending on whether you’re a guy or a girl, either “Zack” or “Kelly.” So much for being saved by the bell, the group of boys see Laurene and her friends approach them with still twenty minutes left of their lunch hour. This brought their nervousness to a level only Big Bird could reach and just like him, the boys knew they couldn’t fly out of the situation.
“Hey, I see you guys are just getting out now,” Laurene comments with optimism.
“Yeah,” says the boys.
“Got in trouble eh?” she follows up with a slight touch of sadness.
“Yeah,” the boys reply.
“Was it bad?” she adds.
With the harmony of uncertainty, the boys respond, “No.”
The boys failed miserably but at least it wasn’t for lack of effort. Maybe they would’ve done a lot better if they knew Laurene a bit more. She may have been an angel on the outside but she was more of a saint on the inside. Laurene was kind to every boy she knew, not just to the jocks who played Tug of War, Capture the Flag or Baseless Baseball. And so, she tried reaching out once more with a simple, “Hello.” This time, towards Mark’s direction. “Ahh…ummm….Hhhh, hhh…hi,” Mark responds. Social norm would tell us a simple response such as “Hello” in this situation should be as easy as pie, but Mark found a way to make it as difficult as trying to recite at least five numbers after 3.14 in the other Pi, even for him.
Mark was a special person. He was different. He was exceptional. He was the childhood version of Doogie Howser, gifted with a brilliant mind and challenged with living as a normal six-year-old child. One of those challenges was grasping a sense of social norm towards people he had just met. At first, he may seem awkward and distant, but like Inspector Gadget’s arm, he’d find a way to reach you and maybe, just maybe, you’d do the same. So when he’s faced with an awkward situation such as this, his anxiety took over.
There was an awkward silence which lasted roughly five seconds where everyone just stood there like a bunch of drones. Evan, being the eldest in the group (by months) summoned enough courage to ask Laurene and her friends what they were doing. She gladly responded with an invitation to play a game of tag. Everyone in the circle was excited to start playing except for Mark. His anxiety still hasn’t calmed down and the boys weren’t about to let him drain everyone’s excitement.
“Why don’t you sit this one out?” said Noah. Being the joker of the group, he tries to find ways to put you in a joyful mood, but Mark wasn’t buying it. Noah should’ve ended while he was ahead but decided to make one jokingly comment too many, “Weirdo,” added Noah. Of all the words to describe Mark, whether serious or kidding around, this was the one word Mark couldn’t tolerate. He accepted being “odd,” but there was just something about being referred to as “weird” that he just couldn’t stand. He saw the two words like the characters in Spy vs. Spy; the differences between them are as obvious as black and white.
The rest of the guys knew Noah was horsing around as he normally does, but Mark clearly took offense and stormed away from the group. As he looked back to see if they felt any remorse, all he saw was Laurene’s reaction to Noah’s comment. He hated the fact that she found it humorous for him to be considered weird. This was her way of pleasing Noah by making him think he was the life of the group. If only Mark had known the truth.
Lunchtime ended and in a way, so did their friendships. For the first time ever, the boys didn’t have lunch as a group. There was too much anger and betrayal from one another to consider it any type of a Kodak moment. Even on the last recess of the day, there was no trade talk of Pogs, no jumping for joy in Hop Scotch or any reason to move for a game of Red Light, Green Light. In an instant, their friendship was lost like Waldo on American soil during the 4th of July. The strength of their friendship was still there, it was a matter of whether or not it was worth looking for. Instead, they allowed their friendship to slowly die like a neglected Tamagotchi. By the end of the year, they still remained school friends, but it was never the same.
Summer had past and by the time second grade started, the group of boys kept their distance and remained divided into three.
Kevin and Mike became best friends over the summer and continued using borders around their drawings while exploring different types of shading overlays. Their interest in this approach, combined with their brilliant minds inspired them to develop a way for us all to share creativity with the rest of the world. They called it, Instagram.
Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz continued passing notes around in class as if they were secret agents. Whether someone wanted to point out an observation, make a comment or simply vent, they knew they could rely on each other to stay connected. Who knew their system which started in grade one would graduate to a more advanced version that allows us to do the same… Of course, within a certain amount of characters using Twitter.
As for Mark, well, right after that moment on the school grounds during lunch, he knew there were a few quirks he needed to work on. As he got older, he wasn’t quite focus on his social skills and instead, applied them to his love for computers. Through his brilliancy, he developed a way for people to socialize online with anyone in the world and avoid the awkwardness he felt during face-to-face interactions. Last time I heard, all his success led him to be one of the 100 most wealthiest and influential people in the world. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
Laurene remained friends with all the boys throughout elementary school. She never looked at them as being gifted or special. She simply saw them for who they are, a group of kids who were so smart and constantly thinking, they almost forgot to think of just being themselves. She ended up doing really well for herself and just to show she is more beautiful inside than she is in the out, the root of all her success remained the same; to help those who are in need.
Like I said at the beginning, this story wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for social media, mainly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Mind you, everything about this journey is fictitious except for the names of the gifted children and a snippet of their outcomes. Who knows how life would be without these networks to connect us all? It makes the world seem the size of a classroom, where connecting with someone is only a couple of steps away. Of course, if you wanted to increase the worth of that relationship, like everything else in life that matters, nothing worth having comes at the push of a button.
Later on that eventful day, way back when, while Laurene was walking home, a little boy called out her name. While she didn’t recognize him, she did know they attended the same school. Unlike the group of boys she met earlier that day, this one was filled with confidence. He had a nice smile and very thick brown hair. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of him, but something about him was special. He had a certain bounce in his step unlike that of other boys, maybe it was his New Balance grey sneakers. Maybe it was the long-sleeved black turtle neck he wore on the Californian, early summer day. Or better yet, how she found it strange that he walked home carrying an apple in his hand.
“Hi, you must be Laurene, the new girl in school. I’m Steve.”