Chloe and the Secret Handshake by Morgan Smith

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Her name is Chloe. She’s new here, just moved to Portland from Tampa. Her clothes don’t fit. Her hair is dirty and tangled. For lunch she carries around a long tube of Pringles or a bag of Hot Cheetos. She has a precious smile, a contagious laugh, and no friends.

During recess on her first day, she approaches me in a panic, wondering if her class has gone back inside without her. I ask her who her teacher is, and point her to where her class is lining up. Every day at recess, she wants to play what I am playing. Scramble, Four-Square, Switch, Rock It Out Relay, Soccer, Basketball, Wall Ball, Tetherball. Even if she doesn’t quite know how to play, she jumps in, full of interest and enthusiasm.

One day, she asks if I want to have a secret handshake, and so it began. Our handshake has developed over the weeks and is too long and complicated to describe on paper, but suffice it to say it involves a number of hand-slaps, fist-bumps, spin-arounds, and sing-song words. Other kids stare as we enact the complexities on the playground. The end result is always a huge smile on both of our faces.

Truth be told, I think Chloe would be content to spend the entirety of recess, each and every day for the duration of the school year modifying and refining our handshake. So I challenge her. “We can’t do our handshake until you come up with one for you and Brooks.” Twelve minutes and the rest of recess later, she and Brooks return to show of their skills. Then Chloe and I do our handshake. Now Brooks wants to have a handshake with me, so, with the help of Chloe, Brooks and I begin to craft our “secret” handshake.

Today, I have handshakes with more students than I can count. I have handshakes with parents, teachers, and even the principal. Each is unique and usually involves something we have in common. With one student, Yusuf, we give two high-fives while saying “dum, dum” then mime eating a Resse’s and say “yum, yum” then point at each other and say “peanut butter cups.” Doing the handshake always makes us giggle.

Watching Chloe come to life, thrive during class game time, and make new friends is one of the countless wonders of working as a Playworks AmeriCorps Coach. Had I not been here, I’m sure she would have found her way, but had she never come to Lent school, I may never have realized the joyful connection that comes from having a unique and special handshake with someone. Thanks Chloe!