These are the Children in a Small Town

spuddies“Do you know everyone?” the girl asks. I shrug. “Close enough,” is the answer, as I turn to the next child on line to buy candy from the AYSO soccer concession stand.

“What would you like?” I ask, tacking on that child’s name too.

Names matter.

Remember how special it felt as a kid when an adult knew you by yours? You puffed up with pride, feeling like a grown up or a celebrity (nearly the same thing when you’re too young to drive). You felt, if just for a moment, like you mattered.

There are nearly 1,500 students in my daughter’s school district. If you handed me a photo array, I could probably name about half. It’s far from everyone. But it’s more than many could name.

Of course, I work for the Democrat, which has put me out there time and again, notepad in hand, asking parents the name of the child whose photo I’ve just taken. This could be considered an advantage, a bit of a leg up, but my memory has seen its better days, specifically every one that came before giving birth and surrendering a portion of my brain to what science has fondly dubbed “mommy brain.” I have taken thousands upon thousands of photos in the 18 years since I first became a Democrat intern (and later full-time staffer). I would love to say I remember the name of each and every subject, but the fact is my memory fails me at every turn.

I think we had spaghetti for dinner last night. Go ask my husband; he could confirm (did I mention he’s never given birth?).

Which puts me pretty even with the other parents out there who are struggling to make sense of all the Mackenzies, Taylors and Ethans kicking soccer balls across the practice field and banging drums on the concert stage save for one thing: I’ve learned to pay attention.
I’ve learned to listen to the stories of the two girls with the same name on the school bus, one sweet and silly, one a bit sassier (to say the least). I’ve learned to take notice of the names called out by the soccer coaches and dance leaders. I’ve learned to take a careful look at the concert programs … and ask questions later.

Naturally, there’s a fair amount of self-preservation involved. If I’m put to the test in my own home (and I am, regularly), I need to be able to reel off answers on just who it is that got sent to the STOP room last week and who’s on the outs in the sixth grade. It’s part of the job I signed up for when I decided, “Sure, I think this having kids thing sounds like a good idea.”

Then there’s that piece of me that remembers what it’s like to be a little kid with big dreams in a small town, a kid who wonders if anyone even knows her name. I was that kid, longer ago than I care to admit.

I remember their names because I was them once.

We all were.


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