Kids scare me.
So surrounding myself with elementary school students seemed like a really bright idea.
Babysit a two-and-a-half-year-old? Frankly, I’d rather poke my eye out with a chopstick. Anyone who is too young to freak out with a ghost story, or not adventurous enough to build a fort out of prized junk from a dumpster, I get bored with in short order.
Many years ago, I must have felt differently or my “biological clock” was that much louder. My husband says that God, like Bill Engvall, made several attempts to dissuade us from having kids. “Here’s your sign” meant infertility specialists. Still not catching on, we became foster parents of two, both under three years of age, for a year, not knowing that one was a special needs child. The experience brok e our hearts. Even our combined families are the “end of the gene pool” — there are NO nieces or nephews to teach how to ski or to play HORSE with.
Here’s your sign: no kids for you!
This fear of kids (except having my own, I suppose) might be because in elementary school I met up with the most cruel and vicious of humanity: yup, I’m talking about those mainly blue-eyed, skinny, blonde, MEAN GIRLS who relished calling me “fatso.” And growing up, washing dogs and cleaning houses were a lot more profitable than babysitting.
My most recent involvement with children came about when I organized a yearly “Gifts for the Troops” campaign during the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Handmade cards and needed supplies were shipped over to our men and women with feet on the ground.
Collecting money, organizing volunteers, being interviewed on TV, no problem; being asked to talk to elementary school kids to share where their cards were going: friggin’ scary. I did about three presentations, I think. I don’t remember, I’m still experiencing PTSD; but all they wanted to know was:
Have I shot anyone?
(No, I’m not with the military, but I almost shot my foot off doing skeet, does that count?)
Do the troops receiving the cards get to shoot anyone?
(Well … maybe … but how about another question?)
Would the cards get there before the “army guys” died?
(Uh … I hope so).
Here’s your sign: avoid elementary schools. But wait …
Our local paper (the RGJ) ran a series on 13 elementary schools that were at the bottom of a recent ranking for our county here in the Reno area. Students learning English and struggling with poverty were most likely to attend one of those 13 schools.
At the end of the article, the RGJ provided a link for folks who wanted to help these last-ranked schools. On the wish list, besides financial support, some asked for volunteers to help read to the kids.
And guess who clicked the “I want to help” button?
Think of it. How awful would it be for a child to be the worst reader in class, to be embarrassed, to be the underdog at such a young age? How terrible for a kid to miss out on traveling to the center of the Earth, swinging from jungle branches, living on the prairie? What a rotten deal to avoid reading, and thus miss out on one of the most valuable tools for life?
So, just how hard could it be to help kids become better readers?
About three weeks after I hit the “I want to help” button, I was sitting on a chair half my butt size, during lunch hour, between two third grade boys who were taking turns reading me a story called, Zombies Don’t Play Soccer. I thought one of the boys might pass out from lack of oxygen, since he didn’t breathe the entire time he read. He’d take a deep breath after a page and say, “I’m done.” It was so enjoyable, I’d even forgotten about the gigantic blister I had on my lip from frying them the weekend before. Seriously, I was afraid the kids would say, “Oh no, we don’t want that woman with herpes!”
I remembered the training video and encouraged them when they faltered, asked them comprehension questions, and sincerely praised them — both were second-language students.
Next, two kindergarteners had me read to them, that is, after the spilt chocolate milk got cleaned up. And my first graders seemed really into reading to me and engaged, until the recess bell went off.
As I drove back to work at Raving, I thought, “Okay Universe, where’s my sign?” The school didn’t collapse, the kids didn’t ask me any questions about firearms or sex, and I got to read about monkeys getting eaten one at a time by a crocodile in a dramatic voice (what kind of book is this, I thought, until I got to the end. Whew, they were just hiding!).
The kids appeared eager to be singled out for their two-on-one classes. Maybe it was because they got to go first through the lunch line. There was only one mean third grade girl who, while I was waiting, said, “You’re a reading buddy? Hmpf.” She must have seen THE LIP.
I’ll be returning every Thursday until the school year ends — under the guise that I’m helping them. I think we really know who is helping whom …