Life as an elementary school principal was often unpredictable, poignant, challenging, and sweet. Being a principal meant, for me, learning the names of every student in the school because relationships mattered. Being present on the bus ramp when our buses were delivering students in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon was a great way to get to know each child better.
Even after a few years, I still enjoy reminiscing fun and funny moments on the bus ramp with some really great staff members at what was arguably the best elementary school in Florida. One little first grade boy, as he was about to board his bus, heard his bus driver call out to him, "You better hurry. I was about to drive the bus off without you" to which the little boy whipped his head around and said, "What the WHAT??!"
To ensure everyone's safety on the bus ramp when the buses were coming, we would stop kids by putting up our hand and calling out "Freeze!" The kids were so good about it, maybe even too good. One morning when it had dipped below 60 degrees (remember, we were in Florida?), I remarked to one of my co-workers as she came out of the building, "It's freezing!", to which a little girl stopped dead in her tracks and put up her hand to the other children around her.
Without a doubt, though, my best memory of the bus ramp was Isabella. A sweet and beautiful 1st grade girl, she had deep brown eyes that could reflect her soul. She was one of the many military family kids who came to our school. She also had a knack for making my entire day better. As she would get off the bus, she would always come up to give me a hug. I treasured those dear hugs, and I always told her (and her precious mom), "I don't have children of my own, so I rely on Isabella hugs at school and puppy kisses at home." She would giggle as if I hadn't told her that one, before. After several weeks of bus ramp and hallway hugs, Bella made my day one cold morning when she came up behind me and put her tiny little hand in my pocket to hold my hand. She warmed my heart. Perhaps because I had gotten tickled, the next day she came up behind me and put her hand in my jacket pocket, even though my hand was not in my pocket. With her little hand in my pocket, she walked beside me on the sidewalk for a bit while we talked. I remember thinking it was adorable how she enjoyed the attention. Frankly, I did too. So, we held hands and walked. Quite a few times that year.
Bella is one of the five children of a dear, dear family who will never forget November 27, 2006---the date their dad's F-16 crashed in Iraq. While I wasn't present at the funeral in Arlington Cemetery, I have seen many heartbreaking and touching photos of Bella's mom at that service, walking to the gravesite alongside her children. Everyone was visibly grieving...and so they held hands.
Not all of us know what it is personally like to lose a loved one to war. But we don't have to experience it, personally, in order to thank someone who has served in the military or honor those who have fallen for us. For this weekend, we have only to bow our heads, say a prayer and remember to hold hands.
Thank you to all who have sacrificed so that I could be free. Without you, I may never have served as a principal and had the blessing to get to know Bella.