New Kid in the Neighborhood

new kid

It sucks to be the new kid. Lonely and intimidating. It feels like everyone is noticing you, snap-judging you and the dorky whiter-than-white shorts you chose to wear, but really nobody is… and you’re not sure which you’d prefer.

I was 13 when my family left South Africa. I departed the cozy womb of my small 8th grade class at the only Jewish high school in Pretoria, and entered the loud, frenetic, unfiltered school of new everything in Hod Hasharon, Israel. The faces I knew even better than my own, the voices I had heard every day since Kindergarten, the secrets and jump-rope games (24 Robbers Came Knocking at My Door!), netball practices and Liquifruit juice boxes, blue blazer with the school badge and sensible black shoes… all were replaced with unfamiliar, uncomfortable, daunting and overwhelming.

I stood in the doorway of my new class, in my ridiculous white shorts, my almost-grown-out perm caught up in a scrunchie (omg I know, but it was 1987) and tried to smile as every strange face turned toward me. Gulp. Then turned away. Double gulp. Would I ever feel familiar here? Would I ever learn all their names? Recognize these voices? Would anyone ever greet me, never mind tell me a secret? Who wears white shorts when she wants to blend in and be cool? We called the teachers Shmulik, Malka, Naomi… Mrs West, Mrs Burger and Mr Coetzee were unimaginably far away.

Within weeks, I had ditched the white shorts. Learnt how to play Five Stones and basketball. Fell in mini-love with a cute, shorter-than-me boy named Dani. And shared laughs, secrets, dance moves and sleepovers with my new friends. Lonely, scary and intimidating made way for happy and comfortable. Hebrew colored my dreams. Unfamiliar became home, and I never did miss wearing that blue school blazer.

Twenty three years and a drastic hairstyle change later, I was once again the intimidated, lonely new kid. This time with a baby in my arms, a clingy child wrapped around one shin, and a flailing, angry seven-year-old. Who inappropriately and very loudly declared to all those gathered on the blacktop in excited anticipation of the first day of school: “I’m not going to school with these freaks!” He didn’t declare it loudly, I correct myself. He yelled it. And by all those on the blacktop, I mean the entire student, teacher and parent population. He too was a new kid.

Heads turned. The baby cried. My little girl tightened her koala-grip on my leg, and I tried to dash after my indignant, scared boy who didn’t know what to do with these new feelings of bewildered and uncomfortable loneliness. I felt them too, and I wished for any length of badly-permed hair to hide behind, instead of the short spikes that were surely standing every which attention-grabbing way on top of my head.

New year. New school. New teacher. New friends. I hoped. For both of us.

It had been decades since I had been the new kid. Since I had felt out of my element. Lonely and alone. And there I was, wishing I were anyone, anywhere else, the 36-year-new kid, feeling 500 hundred shades of glaring invisible on the blacktop.

My newly minted first-grader was mad. He hadn’t wanted to leave his old school. The friends he had known, played with, shared meals, toys, germs with since he was two-years-old. That was my decision. And his dad’s. And as my heart shattered on the blacktop into so many sad and lonely pieces that first day of new school, when he floundered and raged against a decision that wasn’t his, I wondered if we had done the right thing. For him or for me.

“It’ll be okay. Here, give me the baby,” a kind, firm voice said in my ear. She had a baby and a clingy kid of her own to deal with, but she whisked mine away so that I could help my distressed son. And myself. Her blue eyes looked straight into mine, “First days are hard. It’ll be okay.” I passed the baby into her waiting arms. And I believed her.

Four years later, there is not a new kid my son doesn’t notice. Befriend. Invite over. He shows them the pass-through in the fence between our house and the neighbors’, and all the kids fill water balloons and throw them at each other. They leave flip flops, hair ties and other bits of themselves in their wake.

“It’ll be okay,” the blue-eyed-stranger-now-friend said, when she drew me out of my lonely, bewildered new-kid moment on the blacktop. It’s not okay. It’s wonderful. Because of her. And all the moms and dads and kids and teachers and grandparents and people like her. It’s a small-ish town, with a big, big heart. Where everyone is a neighbor, a friend, someone to help, to care about. And hopefully the new kids don’t feel new for very long. Especially if they do not wear white shorts!

This post was inspired by the Finish the Sentence Friday prompt, “When it comes to my neighbors…”
Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee and guest host Allison from Go Dansker Mom.

21 thoughts on “New Kid in the Neighborhood

  1. I’m tearing up here. How very, very kind of her to take your baby so could calm down your son! Just that connection, that acknowledgement must have meant the world to you. Some say they can’t do change. You’ve shown here that it is doable and so very important. Love that your son has taken on the role of greeter now too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thirteen must have been such a hard age to uproot and move to a new country. Not that it’s easy at any age, as you share in this post (which I love, by the way). I feel the same way about my town – so fortunate to live here.

    Have an easy fast, Nicki.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dana. It wasn’t easy at first – but it remains the best time of my life! I loved the year we spent in Israel, even at that awkward middle school age (or maybe because I was that age!).
      Wishing you an easy, meaningful fast too.

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  3. Wow. I want to be the new kid in your neighborhood, Nikki! This was incredibly written as always and I love that your new blue-eyed friend (not so new now I suppose) took your baby so that you could help your first grader. It’s those small acts of awesomeness that make us realize we’re not alone in this world. Thank you so much for joining FTSF with this beautiful post, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kristi. I am loving FTSF.
      Every time I think of how she recognized my struggle, and knew to take my kids from me when she had never met me before, it leaves me breathless. You’re so right about the small acts that help us realize we’re not alone – it’s one thing to know it, it’s another to feel it.

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  4. What a gorgeous story! I laughed out loud at your son’s “I’m not going to school with these freaks!” although I felt your mortification at the same time. But then I teared up when the incredibly kind stranger came to help you. Unexpected, genuine kindness always makes me cry. I’m glad I discovered your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • O.M.G what a mortifying moment that was. I’m just glad those “freaks” didn’t hold his words against him and became great friends! It’s wonderful to connect, Kate – so love your writing.

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  5. I have 2 kids, little (5 & 2) and we are moving next summer. It scares me. I have always loved being the new kid: reinvention. Maybe I wouldn’t be a dork this time!! But doing it with 2 kids terrifies me. Thanks for making me realize people do it all the time, it is hard, but it works out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I have never thought about being the new kid from a “reinvention” perspective. Now I want to go back to my 13-year-old self! Although it all ended up being pretty damn great, despite those shorts.
      The amazing thing about young kids is that they’re very adaptable. And resilient. I would like to move somewhere again – Israel! – for a short period but I think I am missing the window as my kids (13, 11, 8 and 5) are becoming less open to change!

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  6. Hi Nicki: I’m not surprised that you found yourself included so quickly in Israel. It’s a small country, and everybody knows everyone fairly quickly. I think that your kids would probably have a blast there, and learn a bunch. Maybe you could convince Katia to go back with you, and start the Israeli branch of FTSF! Either way, it’s clear that your kids have gotten over being the new kid. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the story. It sounds like a fantasy to me, but I’ve had moments where a stranger came to the rescue of dealing with a distraught kid. It just never happens at the school. They hate me there, and always had, for no reason. That’s ok though, it totally removes the guilt when I have to get pushy about things.

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