Pete wasn't Pete when I taught him. Well, he was, but that wasn't the name by which I knew him. He was Wayne, because his father's name was Pete and he didn't want that confusion. He would explain this to anyone who wanted to hear it, but mostly he was Wayne. Wayne wanted to help.
On the playground, in the classroom, before school, after school, it didn't matter. Wayne's eager face greeted me most mornings when I went outside to distribute the jump ropes, balls and soccer goals, along with the orange cones that delineated the areas in which various games would be played. "Can I help, Mister Caven?" No matter how many times we had this interaction and no matter how well he knew the task ahead of him, he always asked.
There was something different about Wayne's quality of help. He didn't doddle or stretch the little jobs into endless tedium. He worked like it was his job. It wasn't. The majority of the kids at my school were happy to let the equipment come to them, waiting in little clusters, chatting with friends until the playground was made ready. There were some who came to me, anxious to begin their soccer game and offered to carry the jerseys to the field, or carry one end of a goal to speed the plow. Once their goal had been place/achieved, they were done helping. There were others who came to help carry this or place that, who wanted extensive praise and recognition for the menial bits they did. They got theirs. I have always been generous with praise and acknowledgement when my job is made easier.
That wasn't Wayne. He was there to work, and even when all the balls and goals and jerseys and jump ropes and cones had been spread across the playground in anticipation of a day's play, he came back to check if there was anything else. Wayne was eager in the way golden retrievers are eager. It wasn't the approval he was after. He was after the connection of completion.
Years passed, and when Wayne's little brother was promoted to fifth grade, I assumed that I would end up with a similar face on the playground every morning. Ned was no golden retriever. Probably because his brother was. Ned was more of a lone wolf, and it took me some months to fully understand just how different the two brothers were. I could still count on Wayne's little brother in a pinch. If he was interested, he was every bit as helpful as Wayne, but Ned had his own agenda. Ned became part of my fifth grade leadership group, and he did his part. He came to meetings and pitched in as the situation dictated, but he never overwhelmed me with his presence.
Last week when that leadership group gathered for a celebration of a year's worth of character building, Wayne showed up as Ned's chaperone. He showed up early, and helped carry trays of food into the gymnasium. He did this while his brother sat in a corner, waiting for his friends to show up. When Wayne spotted me, he came straight over and asked, "Do you have anything I can do, Mister Caven?" I let him hand out the certificates for completion to his little brother and his friends. I encouraged him to help himself to the dinner that was provided, and to relax while the rest of the presentations were made. He came and sat next to my wife and me, keeping a pleasant flow of chatter as the evening progressed. Wayne was a high school freshman now, and wanted to fill in all those missing years since we had last met on the playground.
When the celebration was over, Wayne cleaned up and offered to deliver the certificates of the kids who hadn't made it to the party that night. How could I say no? I didn't. And I watched Ned, who came clear to me in a moment, when I saw the tiniest pained expression cross his face when there was one more thing to do. But he followed along with nary an eye roll. That's life as the little brother of a golden retriever.