Please don’t go, Papa, Maria pleaded silently as she watched her father walk out the schoolroom door. She slid as far down in her desk seat as she could, hoping that no one would see the tears filling her large, brown eyes.
“Maria, will you please come to the front of the room?” asked Mrs. Wilson, the third grade teacher.
When Maria heard her name, she looked up, but she couldn’t understand anything else that was said. When she didn’t get up, Mrs. Wilson motioned to her with her hand.
Have I done something wrong? she wondered as she slowly stood up, but the teacher was smiling.
When Maria got to the front of the room, Mrs. Wilson put her arm around Maria’s shoulder. “Class, I want you to meet a new third grader. This is Maria Nevarez. She and her family have moved here from Mexico so that her father can work in the hospital. Maria speaks very little English, so we will all have to be her friends and help her feel comfortable and happy in our class. Can everyone do that?”
All heads nodded.
What are they saying about me? Maria wondered as she walked back to her seat. Oh, I wish I were back in my schoolroom in Mexico with Señora (Mrs.) Ramas and all my friends!
That evening when Maria’s father came home from the hospital, he sat Maria on his lap and asked her in their native language, “Mariacita, how was your first day at your new school?”
Tears welled up in Maria’s dark eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “It is so good to talk to you and Mama in Spanish. I was afraid today, Papa. I do not like school here. I want to go back to Mexico where I can understand what is being said and be with my friends.”
Maria’s father hugged her and gently brushed her long, black hair out of her eyes. “Maria, remember when we talked as a family about what it would be like to move to the United States? We knew that it would not be easy for any of us, but we also knew that it would be a great opportunity for me to learn new ways to help make sick people well. When we return to Mexico, I will be better prepared to help our people.”
“I know, Papa,” said Maria. “I don’t mean to complain. I just didn’t know that I would feel so afraid.”
“I feel afraid sometimes, too,” Papa said.
Surprised, Maria looked up into her father’s eyes. “I didn’t think papas ever felt afraid.”
“Yes, we do. Today I felt afraid when the other doctors at the hospital were explaining some very technical procedures and I did not understand all their words.”
Maria asked, “What did you do?”
“I talked to my special friend,” Papa said.
“I didn’t know you had a friend here, Papa.”
“He was my special friend in Mexico, too,” her father replied.
Maria was puzzled.
Papa smiled and said, “My special friend, Maria, is Padre Celestial (Heavenly Father).”
“You knelt at the hospital and prayed to Heavenly Father?”
“We cannot always kneel when we need Heavenly Father’s help, but He hears prayers offered from our hearts too.”
“How did Heavenly Father help you today?” Maria asked.
“He sent peace to my heart so that there was no room left for fear. Then I could concentrate on what was being said instead of my fear. That helped me to understand what the doctors were saying.”
That night when Maria was tucked snuggly into bed, she thought about what Papa had said. She had never thought of Heavenly Father as a friend before, but thinking about it made her feel warm and happy inside.
The next day Mrs. Wilson had the students go, two at a time, to the chalkboard and write answers to columns of multiplication problems. Maria saw that they were to answer as many as they could in just one minute.
Maria knew that soon it would be her turn, and her stomach began to feel queasy. She closed her eyes and prayed from her heart, “Dear Padre Celestial, please help me to not be afraid.”
“Brien and Maria,” called Mrs. Wilson.
Maria stood up, took a deep breath, and walked to the chalkboard.
Her hand flew as she wrote the answers.
“When Mrs. Wilson stopped her and Brien, Maria had almost completed both columns, more than anyone else.
“Wow!” said the class. “Maria is good.”
Maria could not hide her pleased smile. I wasn’t even afraid, she thought as she walked back to her seat.
After lunch Mrs. Wilson came to Maria’s desk. She smiled and asked slowly and clearly, “Maria, will you sit by Brien and help her with her math?” She pointed to Brien and then to the papers she held in her hand.
Maria understood. “Sí (yes),” she said. “I will help Brien.”
For a time Maria and Brien just looked at each other, not knowing quite what to do; then they both giggled quietly. After that, everything was easy.
“What’s this?” asked Maria’s father that evening when he saw the big smile on her face. “Something is different today.”
“I liked school today. I didn’t feel so afraid. And Papa, I made a friend! Her name is Brien, and she invited me to her house after school to play.”
“How did you talk to her?”
“Oh, we didn’t talk very much. We just laughed and played.”
“Why was today different from yesterday, Mariacita?” Papa asked, bending down and looking into her eyes.
Maria gave her father a big hug. “Because today I remembered my Special Friend. I prayed to Him in my heart that school would go better, and He answered my prayer.”