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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Some People's Kids

“Mr. Burns, know what?” Megan, a first grader in an uncustomary, yet very pretty and loud floral dress, swayed as she passed this common six year-old poser on to me while I surveyed the playground.

"No, I don't believe that I do. Tell me."

"My Mom made me wear this dress today, 'cause we was having pitchers taken." She held the thing by the hem along the bottom as she leaned this way and that, as if it might become wings at any moment that she would need to control. "I don't like wearing dresses, 'cause I can't climb the monkey bars. They’re dumb. My Mom makes me mad sometimes, Mr. Burns. I wanna wear jeans, but Mom says pitchers have to have dresses."

Dismissing the mental picture of Major League stars throwing fastballs in their pinstriped midis that Megan's Mom made them wear, I noticed her Hawaiian Punch-stained hands occasionally dropping between them a little brass token.

"You should keep your money in your pack or pockets, sweetie. The gravel out here eats kid-money, and almost never says thank you, or gives it back." I suggested with a grin.

"This is my lucky penny." She stopped and inspected it before handing it to me for my approval of its luckiness.

"It's very nice." I said. "Does it always bring you good luck?”

"Yes." Megan sighed as I handed it back to her. "With everything but my Mom."

I am blessed with these little exchanges hundreds of times a day in my capacity as a sixth grade teacher, and especially during playground duty at my school. The expressions of wonder, the surprises, and the everyday joys that burst forth from our kids are a continual source of amusement to me. They are also a source of strength, an exercise in character building, (for all of us), and proof to me of the existence of the Divine. After all, wonder is in many respects illogical, so the intellect by itself must deny the chuckles of God that I hear in classrooms and on foursquare courts. But by the same token, logically, no mortal needs to possess the gifts of humor or laughter, so they must have a deeper meaning. What objective purpose is served by lumps in the throat caused by hugs from newly band-aided eight year-olds, who are not as hurt or afraid because I was there at the right moment? How is it that things can be so much more wonderful when seen from three feet off the ground as opposed to six? No, a few inspired hugs, amazing stories, and inexplicable chuckles from my kids are all the evidence I need that angels fly over the playground and in the halls. They peek out from behind smiles still graced by a little bit of Mrs. Sellar's school lunches, forming them into sticky kisses blown, fantastic questions asked with secret grins, and tearful requests for me to go on the roof after another ball.

Though I have heard that "children are the future," that they are "our most precious resource" or that we should "believe the children," and I certainly agree to a point, I often sense that those muttering these little niceties don't spend as much time around kids as they do atop soapboxes. This accounts for an often-calculating reduction of kids to time, material, or subject matter in an attempt to sound grown-up. Kids are, above all else, just people. People who have not been around so long that they have forgotten that bugs are cool, that you only share your gum with somebody you know really, really well, and that sometimes gas is funny. Especially if coming from a properly embarrassed adult.

All this said, it is sometimes difficult to understand how to deal with kids and the various and sundry challenges that their education presents. How does one encourage, instruct, lead, or appropriately give affection to the children of others? How does one discipline them? How does one go about dealing with the parents of those in one’s charge following such activities? How in the world can all this be done without divine assistance or an advanced college degree? It is usually at such times that we are reminded how we each share the former, and the latter may come in time, if we find it's important. We’re never that old.

Meanwhile, there is fresh paint in the school. The stuff is everywhere. Having spent much of a recent summer at school putting it there, I think I know where it all is. Funny thing, much of it cannot be seen right away, because it was tucked away in little corners where no one looks unless they are painting, looking for stray supplies, or cleaning out cobwebs. I don't know why, but I kind of like the idea of it being found sometime, and the explorer commenting, "Gee, it even got painted back here." So many of the things that are done around the place are like that - going into the corners of lives without being noticed right away. I am glad to keep the tradition alive with something as simple as white latex.

Summer is gone for now, but for my own part, I always welcome my return to the land of Band-Aids, chalk dust, clinic occasional referrals, recess detentions, six-foot-guy jump rope attempts with four-foot girls, and my daily doses of "Know what, Mr. Burns?" I am curious to see how the kids have grown and what the year holds in store for us. I promise not to voice any of those stupid grown-up end-of-summer comments and questions I hated when I was a kid. "Did you have a nice summer?" for one. After all, that's what kids do. They have nice summers. Asking this is like asking your puppy if he had a nice bowl of steak scraps.
Less severe, yet also to be avoided are: "So, are you looking forward to school?” "Oh, you've grown, I didn't recognize you," (even if it's true), and never, ever any reference to how soon it will be now before boys actually like girl cooties, and vice versa. Much of maintaining good communication with kids is based on what you do not say. Grown-ups, too. Isn't that odd?

Oh, there you are Megan. I almost didn’t recognize...(Oops). What a great hugger you are. Those are wonderful new jeans your Mom got you for school! Welcome back.

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