Friday, May 17, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong

Today is my son's last day at his elementary school. Although he won't be dismissed until 3 p.m., and I haven't yet attended his "Fourth Grade Farewell" ceremony, I'm typing this post through tears. Part of that is my 40-something-year-old hormones (I cry a lot. I broke a wine glass the other day and grieved. We had been so close).

But most of the tears today are because my little boy is growing up -- and I will dearly miss those who helped him become the fine young man he is.

We have been fortunate that his (public) school has been such a loving, nurturing, enriching place for my son and other students. He has been blessed by many teachers and staff members who always go above and beyond what is asked of them.

As much as his school staff rocks, though, this is dedicated to someone else -- someone who volunteers his time each and every school day to brighten the lives of children.

Mr. Armstrong is my son's school greeter. He also is my daily inspiration.

He stands in the school's parking lot each day, opening the car door for youngsters and greeting them with a smile, a small pep talk for the day, and a "fist bump." Come rain or shine, Mr. Armstrong is present. It's more than showing up each day for kids. Mr. Armstrong is present in the sense that he is engaged. He is involved. He is committed.

Mr. Armstrong, who has worked for ESPN and others as a monster truck commentator (so the kids already think he is super cool), could easily choose to relax at this station in life. But that isn't who he is. He is a man who must do something, something that matters.

I had the opportunity to speak with him at length one day, and he explained why he volunteers his mornings greeting elementary school students.

He told me it was important to him that children begin the day with a smile and some encouragement.

"I like to think it makes a difference in their days," he said.

Moms and Dads can get in a rush. We might gripe about the milk that was spilled. We might have our minds on that big meeting at work. We might be mad that our child just told us he needs khaki pants that night for the chorus concert he also forgot to mention.

We might forget to let our children know each and every day that they matter.

Mr. Armstrong's gift is that he helps children remember.

Every. Single. Child.

Every. Single. Day.

"Hey, sport!" he'll say, as a student climbs out of the car. "You look sharp today! I hear good things about you from your teachers. Go get 'em today!"

If Mr. Armstrong notices a child who is having a bad morning -- and he does notice -- he often pays a little extra attention to him or her, asking the youngster to hang out for a few minutes and keep him company. He'll tell his trademark funny stories, making sure smiles outshine tears before the child heads into school.

He reminds parents they matter, too.

He often leans into the car, greets any siblings and says to us frazzled, harried parents -- some of whom are still wearing pajama pants and flip flops and just trying to keep it together (er, not that I know anyone like that) -- "You have great kids, you know. Great kids. Super kids."

I nod. I remember. I do have great kids. Super kids. He has reminded me and my son of this every school day for the past five years, and I am thankful.

As I pulled away from the elementary school one last morning, I said to my high school daughter, "I wish I could be more like Mr. Armstrong."

I wish we all could be more like Mr. Armstrong.

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