Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Miss J and the Little People

So let me begin by stating, for the record, that I will not ever say on Facebook, or this blog, where I work or who I work for, nor will I ever give real names of coworkers, kids, parents, teachers, anyone I come in contact with, etc. etc.

I will only say I have taken on a second part time job wherein I am site coordinator of an after school program where kids come and hang out until their parents pick them up. I have between 25-30 kids and an assistant we’ll call Betty. For the safety and privacy of all involved details will remain vague.

Today was Day One.

Betty is a spunky, somewhat militant, 68 year old lady, and so far I like her. “I don’t do activities,” she tells me today, my first day. “I don’t play dodge ball or tag or games of any sort. I do crafts.” This is kinda perfect because I’d rather play dodgeball and tag all day long and you can take your crafts and stuff ‘em. You’re making penguins out of egg cartons? What the hell for? But she loves that junk and the kids dig it (some of them, anyway), so she can take the craft side of things and I’ll start up a game of dodge ball or spoons (yes these kids like to play SPOONS with plastic sporks! My kind of people.)

It’s been quite some time – as in years and years – that I’ve worked with kids in any capacity so I was somewhat apprehensive getting into it. Sure hope I still like kids, I thought ruefully. “Why do you want to work with children?” The application asked. I like kids, I almost wrote, They taste like chicken.

For my first day they threw me to the wolves. I haven’t even finished all the paperwork much less caught even a glimpse of any sort of curriculum or agenda or received any instruction or training. My fingers were still wet with the fingerprinting ink (yes, I got fingerprinted for this job! I felt more like a convict than a childcare provider. Now if I ever want to fulfill my lifelong ambition of robbing a bank, I’ll already be in the system. Blast!) when I was given directions to my school and sent on my way.  Betty thought I was in charge and I thought Betty was in charge for the day because, well, that’s what my immediate supervisor “Layla” told me. 

Layla had left a lesson plan, but no one bothered to tell me that. 

Betty said “This is Miss Jaralei” (the kids have taken to calling me Miss J, and who can blame them?) “and now she will lead you in an activity.” I will? Well golly gee whiz, how do you kids feel about poker? How about you all take a ten minute coffee break and I’ll get back to you after I dig back ten years in my memory bank and try to remember what sorts of activities one does with thirty kids.

So here I’m supposed to learn 30 kid’s names as well as their parent’s names. That’s sixty names – I’m real good at math – for starters, except then every kid has at least two parents and sometimes more because then there’s step parents and grandparents who may also be authorized to pick them up. By the end of the day I was ready to say “I don’t care who you are or which kid you take, just bring them back tomorrow in the same condition you found them.”

Turns out I still like kids, though. They’re entertaining as all get out, for one. “How about we play spoons with really sharp knives?” a second grader asked. “Bravo!” I nearly congratulated, “good one!” I’m not used to being the responsible adult in charge. I have enough on my hands trying to remember I’m an adult myself, half the time. Kids say something inappropriate and I laugh. Only now I’m responsible for guiding them into civilized society and appropriate adulthood. Like I know anything about that. Do as I say, kids, not as I do. (When a first grade boy, for example, took a toy from a fourth grade girl and was made to give it back and say he was sorry and she tartly  responded “Apology accepted”, it was all I could do to refrain from saying “Bitch, please”.)

On the playground (What? Oh you’re not supposed to take them outside when it’s only 19 degrees? My bad. Come on, kids, pony up) a group of boys were playing a rowdy game and when I noticed it was getting physical I stepped in and nonchalantly asked what they were playing. Turns out it had something to do with everyone having guns and shooting one another. Not being a huge fan of kids pretending to shoot one another, and particularly not at school – come on, kids, have you seen the news lately? – I suggested they might play something less violent. “HOW ABOUT INFECTION??” I guess it’s this game of tag where one person is a zombie and each person they tag becomes a zombie until everyone’s…zombified and last man standing wins. Well, end result is the same but I guess the means is less violent so…whatever. Infect away. 

So we’re playing tag and “Ivan” all of a sudden is whining. “He hit me!” He didn’t hit you, you big baby, we’re playing tag. He tagged you. “He hit me in the face and I didn’t like it!” Well what do you want me to do about it? You look fine to me. (The fact that my responses are not in quotations is an indication that it’s what I wanted to say, not what I actually said). “Bobby, did you hit him in the face?” “No, I tagged him!” You’re just mad you got tagged, you little whiney punk. “He hit me in the face and I didn’t like it!” Etcetera, etcetera. OK so they’re not all sunshine and puppies. Not all the time, anyway.

But some of them are. Sunshine and puppies, I mean. Those soft and sticky little hands slipping into mine. Those big puppy dog eyes (“Beware Charlie,” 2nd grader Tony warns, “He makes cute faces to get what he wants!”) looking up at me hopefully. Do you want to play Monopoly with me? And the little ones are so little. They follow me around and want to hold my hand and sit on my lap and hug me, none of which they’re allowed to do, of course. I want to, I want to scoop them up and say “Yes, I will play Monopoly with you all afternoon!” because they’ve been in a class room all day with dozens of other kids and after school is out Mom and Dad are still working so they have to hang out with me and Betty and another two dozen kids until it’s time to go home to exhausted parents and probably some packaged dinner and then to bed. They just want your time and attention and love, and because I smile at them and give them high fives and look them in the eye they are my biggest fans, right from day one. 

It’s enough to break your heart.

But of course, there are 27 other kids there and I’m not allowed to hold them on my lap because it may be misconstrued and I can’t play a game with just one child because I have to oversee the group. Site Coordinator, I coordinate the crowd and make sure all are gainfully employed and not shanking each other behind the slide or picking someone else’s nose or robbing the convenience store across the street. 

So little Matthew follows me around and I let him help me with some bookwork. “Nip that in the bud,” Betty warns. “Nip it in the bud or before you know it he’ll be trying to sit on your lap and clinging to you all the time.” 

And she’s right.
It’s how it is with public child care, this ain’t my first rodeo.
You can’t show more affection to any one child, can’t give individual time or attention. Matthew has to play tamely with the others or entertain himself in an appropriate fashion. The group is your responsibility, not little Matthew, Monopoly Player. 

Matthew never did get to play Monopoly this afternoon.

BUT, all in all, I think the situation has potential. I look forward to having some time to actually plan an afternoon and come prepared. There will be challenges. Like when Betty says to me “They don’t need to be outside for more than fifteen minutes, even when it’s nice out – some have even just come from recess when they get here!” 

Bitch, please. 

Luckily, she might have been there for four years, but I’m site coordinator and I’ll be jiggered if the kids at my site don’t spend a good hour outside playing Zombie Infection whatever on nice afternoons after eight hours in the classroom, thank you very much.

Sorry this was long. I promise I’ll make upcoming anecdotes short and entertaining. I just wanted to set the framework and put down my first impressions. Hopefully I’ll remember which fake names I’ve assigned to which kids. I might end up calling Betty “Betsy” or “Bertha”, who knows. Either way, you’ll get the gist of it.
Stay tuned. 

Happy Wednesday!


Donna said...

Laughed out loud so!many!times!! Oh my goodness. Then of course I cried. I really, really miss kids. But yes, they would break my heart.

No apology accepted for the length! Why make it short and entertaining when you can make it long and entertaining?

I loved it and I'm glad you are working with kids again. Can't wait for more entertaining stories. And you put that Bertha in her place and let 'em play outside.


Lisa said...

Also glad you are doing the kids thing again. These kids need someone with your spin on life... you'll be like a welcome breath of pure fresh clean mountain air to them, 'Miss J'. You will!