I started working with kids when I was in high school. In fact, one of my first jobs was working with preschoolers at Kindercare. Later on, armed with my degree and my extensive experience as a 20-year-old, I took on a first grade classroom. That was before I moved on to the intermediate level (grades 3, 4, and 5) for the next 18 years. My heart has always loved the wonder of young children. Not to mention, they are so stinking cute!
This year, when my friend Libby went back into the classroom after a couple year absence, I volunteered to come in one day a week to help out and dragged my business partner Mary along with me. The first day with those kindergarteners was the most fun I have had in a long time. I had forgotten how adorable the Littles are. Now, it is a bright spot in my week.
Yesterday, they had picture day, Hispanic Heritage Day, and curriculum night. Yes. All three on the same day. (I bow to all the teachers.) Mary had another engagement, so I went on my own to help in whatever way I could. Being in south Hall, the school has a high population of Hispanic students therefore, Hispanic Heritage Day is very well attended. The students were gone for pictures when I got to the classroom, but the families and food were arriving steadily…flan, rice pudding, cake, and mountains of jello. I never knew jello (they call it jelly) was a Hispanic food, but it came in all kinds of festive shapes and colors. Rainbow layers. Cubes. Stars. It was a whole level of jello preparation that I had not seen before. It was impressive. Not even kidding.
The tables were already set up so I jumped right in with putting the homemade treats out. When Libby got to the room she said I could help serve plates. No problem. I have done at least 1 million class parties in my lifetime, this would be a piece-of-cake…literally. That was before I found out there was a rotation schedule, and there were actually 6 classrooms of kids that would be coming through, with their parents and siblings as well. Quickly, I amended my original class-party-expert assessment of the situation from piece-of-cake to Code Red.
Each group had what felt like 5 minutes to come in, sit down, be served, eat, clean up, and get out the door. Any teacher of Littles can tell you that allowing them to serve themselves is your worst nightmare, especially when there are two tables of food, so I dawned some rubber gloves and got to work making plates as fast as possible. The first group was there before you could count to 3. Libby was madly handing out the drinks as I threw food on plates. Once they were all served I began to make plates for the next group, at the same time the parents and siblings were coming through the line. I tried not to reach over, or cut anyone off but I was in my serious get-it-done mode. The noise level was rising and Libby, being the fabulous teacher she is, put on some quiet Hispanic guitar music (Am I allowed to use quiet and Hispanic music in the same sentence?) and asked the kids if they could hear the music. They stopped talking to listen. She is brilliant. One boy even said, “That is fancy music.” I think maybe classical guitar isn’t something he hears every day.
By the time the next group came, there were pre-made plates for everyone. I could spend the rest of the allotted time making more for the next group. It actually felt as if we were getting ahead. As serving plates emptied, I refilled them with extra dishes that didn’t make the already full table before. The kids didn’t complain about the fact that everyone had different items on their plates. I knew that as long as there were cupcakes things would be smooth. Cupcakes solve all the problems. Licking mounds of icing translates to every culture.
The food held out, which was questionable in the beginning. Though what remained was mostly jello, every student, parent, and sibling got to eat. The cupcakes disappeared after the fourth group, but the fifth and sixth were unaware, so there was no uprising. When the last group was complete and I was feeling quite accomplished, I finally looked up from my task. It looked as if a bomb had gone off in the room. There was jello of every color on almost every surface. There was chocolate cake ground into the floor. Icing everywhere. Then I remembered. The Littles…they are messy. By this time, Libby was as frazzled as I was, but with her kindergarten teacher smile you would never know it. However, all teachers speak frazzled-teacher body language, so I sent her outside to recess so they could run off their sugar…before lunch.
Did I say jello was everywhere? Did you know that if you try to sweep jello it actually rolls across the floor leaving a sticky slug-like trail behind it? Did you know that when it rolls it picks up all the sand and dirt on the floor? Did you know that chocolate cake smooshed and smeared into the floor doesn’t look like chocolate cake? Did you know that cupcake icing sticks to tables like dried playdough? Or maybe that WAS dried play dough…I’m not sure. Needless to say the clean-up of little tables and chairs took as much energy as serving food to the Littles. When I finally arrived at my car, I basked in the quiet for a moment and as I looked in the rearview mirror I noticed orange and purple icing all over my face. I wondered how long it had been there and why no one had told me it as there, but then I thought probably no one even noticed in the frantic pace of the morning. I didn’t even care because I was sitting down for the first time in hours. `
Today, I have taken Advil to ease the pain. I am babying my body because it isn’t as young as it used to be. Bending over tables for hours at a time isn’t something I do anymore. I have an ice pack on my back and my feet are elevated so the swelling in my knee will go down. As I refill my ice pack, I pray for all the teachers of the Littles. That God would bless them greatly for their hard work. That he would strengthen them so they could work those 3-special-events-in-one-day days. That he would surround them with people who will support them in all that they do…because they do so very much. That they will know how amazing they are. That they will feel hope and encouragement. That they would get the respect they deserve. That they will know how important they are. And that they will get some much needed rest and that their bodies would be strong, because one day for a couple of hours about did me in!