For many area kids (and parents), this has been a very big week.

School started for Fargo Public Schools on Thursday. For my kids, that meant packing and repacking backpacks filled with newly sharpened pencils, crisp brightly-colored folders, and pink erasers that still smell like the manufacturing plant.

It meant running to the mailbox over and over again looking for the letter that would tell them the names of their new teachers.

It meant picking out a new fall outfit for the first day of school and then hoping the weather was cold enough to actually wear jeans and a sweater.

The start of the school year comes with excitement, but it also comes with anxiety. What if the new teacher is mean? What if I don’t like the school lunch? What if the kids in my class don’t like me?

I tell my kids the same things I often have to tell myself: Smile. Be kind. Go out of your way to say hello. Those little actions make a big difference in how people react to you.

Nikki German, of Fargo, recently shared this story with me:

“This morning in church there was an older gentleman sitting alone at the end of our row. My son Max was insistent to get down off my lap. I let him down, and he walked to the man and reached his arms up.

“The man looked at me hesitantly while I gave him a go-ahead nod. He picked up Max and placed him on his lap, where my big 2-year-old sat happily kicking his feet and smiling.

“The look of sheer joy and happiness on the man’s face was so incredibly heartwarming. Max waved and smiled at him throughout the service. As we were leaving, the man commented, ‘This little guy has made my day.’

“For Max it was just a smile and a simple wave; to the gentleman and to me, it was so much more.

“For me it was a not-so-great moment of self-reflection. Would I have acknowledged, spoken to or even made eye contact with the gentleman at the end of the row had it not been for Max? Sadly, and much to my disappointment, probably not.

“When we go out, Max waves and smiles to everyone – and I mean everyone. And he doesn’t quit waving until you wave back. Almost everyone we encounter walks away with a smile on his or her face. Mission accomplished, and Max is a happy boy.

“Granted, a wave or smile from an adult isn’t nearly as cute or endearing as those from a toddler, but think of the ripple effect one smile or wave or act of kindness could generate.”

Thanks, Nikki. At school, church, work, the mall, the gas station or the next Bison home game, think of how full of friends your life could be if you stopped to smile like Max.