Mike Lawrence: Childhood’s magnifying glass | SteamboatToday.com

Mike Lawrence: Childhood’s magnifying glass

Historical events loom larger when seen from young eyes

Adjene was the kind of kid you couldn’t hide anything from.

I knew Adjene five years ago. He was in first grade and I was the director of a tut,oring program at Tierrasanta Elementary School in San Diego. About 100 kids came to the program before and after school for activities, snacks and help with homework. Parents would drop off and pick up their kids at varying times, usually two or three days a week.

Adjene was there every day.

His mother worked several jobs. She would drop Adjene off at 7 in the morning – sometimes as I was unlocking the school’s front door, or, to my shame, before I arrived – and she always was one of the last to come through the door in the evening.

Adjene (pronounced ah-jean) was bright, honest and nosy. I bet he still is. In those days, his morning routine was to burst through the door, throw his backpack under the hooks on the wall, and whip me at checkers.

One day, his mother walked in with a new hairdo. When I complimented her on the style, Adjene exclaimed, “It’s a wig!”

With a kid that sharp, there was no way I could hide the truth on Sept. 11.

I arrived at the school a few minutes before anyone else that morning and had time to roll the television in to another room. As families came in, I ushered children to the crafts table and adults to the muted screen.

There is no feeling more eerie than handing out crayons and playing Connect Four while your country is under a devastating, horrific attack.

One thousand miles away, teachers and staff in Steamboat Springs were facing the same challenges.

“We decided as a staff not to have TVs on in the classroom,” said John DeVincentis, then principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School and now a member of the Steamboat Springs School Board. “We had a television in the (staff) lounge. We felt like if kids wanted to talk about it, they could, but we decided not to go into detail.”

A special edition of the Steamboat Today reported that middle school and high school students watched the news and discussed it in their first-period classes that morning.

“It’s like nothing I have ever been alive for. Columbine is the only thing I can relate it to,” high school student Abby Fritz said in the edition. “Then (during the Columbine shootings) you don’t know what is happening in school. Now you don’t know what is happening everywhere.”

DeVincentis and I had the same reason for keeping young children away from televisions.

“We wanted to make sure the kids felt safe,” DeVincentis said this week.

DeVincentis was in high school when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963.

“It was the same kind of experience. That shocks you,” he said. “You do remember those.”

When the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, I was a young student in Dover, N.H. High school teacher Christa McAuliffe was on the shuttle. She taught in Concord, N.H., one hour from Dover.

I remember watching the terrible, tragic launch at school during a special assembly.

Years later at Tierrasanta Elementary, I thought of the Challenger as I stole a few moments to watch the television in the back room.

During one such moment, Adjene caught me. He thought I was hiding from him, as a joke.

Then he saw the screen.

“Mr. Mike, what’s going on?” he said, his eyes wide.

I didn’t know what to tell him. Like Abby Fritz – and like countless students from San Diego to Steamboat to New Hampshire – I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what was happening everywhere.

And for the rest of his life, neither will Adjene.

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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