Since school started back in September I have been volunteering at my son's elementary school pretty often, in several different capacities. I work in the cafeteria, the library, the front office, the school store - and I'm also the class mom. A lot of it was accidental - I made reckless promises not realizing my name was being written down and I'd be held to my word. But I don't really mind - I like knowing what's going on at school and being known to the teachers and staff - and if it buys my wayward son a little leeway when he misbehaves it's more than worth it. I think the real reason I do it is that Cooper's pleased to see me at school and I'm pleased the he's pleased - I know before long he'll be rolling his eyes and pretending he doesn't know me.
Today I volunteered in two different capacities - first as a lunch lady and then for Eureka Science. I've been doing the lunch lady bit since school started: I roam the cafeteria during lunchtime with my little construction apron full of ketchup packets, napkins, sporks, straws, etc. and help the kids as they're eating lunch. My two main tasks are passing out and opening ketchup packets. I also grant permission for bathroom trips and occasionally settle fights or soothe hurt feelings. It's fun - I enjoy the kids and have gotten to know many of them, both the funny charming ones and the whiny tattlers. Today's' menu was chicken fingers and fries and carrot sticks, so it was all about ketchup and ranch. And I only had to clean up one chocolate milk spill.
This was only my second time doing Eureka science. It's conducting experiments for/with the students to explain science and make it interesting. Before Christmas I got guilted into doing the Kindergarten one - "If you don't volunteer we won't be able to have it at all, we're so short-handed..." and once the program coordinator heard me explaining condensation to kindergartners in a simple, understandable way she snapped me up like a fat trout. That's what I get for being clever, right?
Today's Eureka for the first-graders was Surface Tension - how water beads up and holds together. My role was to help them drop water onto a penny to see it bead up and not slide off, then put soap on the penny and show that it disrupts the surface tensions and the water won't grab. Sorry to bite the hand that feeds me but it was not very well planned or executed. The concept was too abstract and not interesting, and eye droppers and first-graders are not a great combination anyway - one of them shot soap right into my eye. We didn't have enough time for them to do it themselves so they had to watch me do it while I told them not to touch things. Not very fun or interesting for any of us, I'm afraid.
I wonder why it's so much easier to be patient and kind to other people's children? I visited with one little kindergarten boy today at lunch who was really having a tough time. I saw him clenching up his fingers and asked him if they were hurt and he explained that he was making a fist because he was really angry. I sat down and asked him why and he explained a few grievances - small but real - and I just listened and agreed that it really stinks when you have to do what you don't want to and when people don't listen to you. He looked at me like no one had ever said that to him before. It really made me think - we are always dragging our kids around and telling them what to do and basically not giving them any say in their own lives, and not listening to what they say. How incredibly frustrating for them, and how shortsighted I have been in not realizing that before. Children are people and their feelings are as real, as intense, and as valid as anyone else's, and they have a right to them. At least twice a day I tell my kids they're wrong to be angry or they just have to deal with it, or I cut them off while they tell me something that's on their minds. If I got that from someone else I would be unbelievably pissed at being treated with such patronizing disrespect. I'm really going to try to quit blowing off or trying to logic away my kids' emotions and to let them order their own worlds a little more, and to respect their feelings and opinions. If I can do it for the little blond boy at table five then I can sure do it for my own children.