It was the morning of Lionel’s very first day of Kindergarten, and he was scared. Butterflies fluttered in his tummy, his legs felt wobbly like jello, and his heart beat fast and hard against his chest.
He put his hand on his heart and said, “Hushhhh.”
He pointed to his legs and said, “Be strong.”
He felt his tummy and said, “Be still.”
Lionel waited a moment and felt his heart quiet down to its usual soft thumps, his legs straighten, and the butterflies’ wings slowly come to a stop. He smiled to himself and said, “That’s more like it.”
His mom had taught him a secret– that words were powerful. Words could change things. He was going to need those words today, and he was ready.
When Lionel was saying bye to his mom in front of school, she knelt down in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders.
“You’re going to have so much fun today,” she said. “Today’s your very first day of Kindergarten. How do you feel?”
“Nervous,” Lionel admitted.
His mama smiled and said, “I am too.”
“Why?” he asked surprised.
“I guess because it’s a big day for you, and I won’t be there with you,” she replied. “But that’s a part of growing up, and I have to let you do things on your own and grow up.”
Lionel stood tall and said, “Mom, I’m ready.”
“I know you are, little man,” she said and gave him a hug.
“I love you, Lionel. Shine that little light of yours, okay?”
He nodded his head and said, “Okay, Mom.”
In the classroom of twenty kindergarteners, Mrs. Campbell had each of them introduce themselves and say their favorite animal and what they wanted to learn in school this year. Lionel was last. He knew what he wanted to say, but he was afraid the others would think him strange. Maybe he should just say something expected like wanting to learn how to read or make a book, which were all true. If he said what he wanted to say, they might not understand and stare or worse, laugh. But if he didn’t say what was on his heart, it would be like he was lying to himself. He finally made up his mind to say it no matter what.
He thought to himself, ‘You’re not weird. Mom says you have something special to share; now’s your chance!’ He felt a little less nervous and a little more sure.
A girl with red hair said her favorite animal was the unicorn and that she wanted to learn how to write like her big sister. A boy wearing a t-shirt with a red car on it said his favorite animal was the cheetah and that he wanted to learn how to draw cars and trains.
When it came to Lionel’s turn, he cleared his throat and said loudly, “My name is Lionel Kim, and my favorite animal is the kangaroo. I want to learn new words so I can use them to change the world.”
He looked around the room. They didn’t laugh but looked curious.
A kid with freckles asked, “What do you mean use words to change the world?”
“They’re like magic,” Lionel replied. “They stir up truth and make things happen.” He said this carefully, trying to remember how his mom had put it.
All the other children looked confused but still curious.
“Could you give us an example?” Mrs. Campbell asked. “We want to understand.”
“Okay,” Lionel said as he looked up at the ceiling to think of one.
“Oh, I got one. This morning at home I was scared because it was the first day of Kindergarten.”
All the children nodded as if they had felt that way too.
“I don’t like feeling scared, so I told myself not to be scared. I told myself that I was brave like a lion because that’s what my mom tells me. Then magic happened, and I felt brave! I told my heart to be quiet, my legs to be strong, and the butterflies in my stomach to be still. They listened to me, and things were different.”
The children excitedly began to talk to each other about how they wanted to speak magic. Mrs. Campbell held up her hands to quiet everyone down.
“Lionel, thank you so much for sharing. I think it’s something we all needed to hear today,” she said. “Should we practice what Lionel’s taught us?”
The children said yes in unison and sat up.
“I want all of us to say these words to ourselves and one another: I am important. I am wonderful. I am kind.”
The children said these words in unison and finished with a big smile and some giggles.
“Okay, now we’ll say these words to the person sitting next to you: You are important. You are wonderful. You are kind.”
The children turned to each other and said these words to one another, giggling but saying them truthfully. Lionel felt his back straighten and his heart grow. Kindergarten was awesome, and it was something he didn’t have to change with his words.