Thursday, February 24, 2011

God's Cruelest Joke?

So, after saying my entire life that I didn't want to work with children, I ended up dedicating my life's work to the little things.  I pursued a Master's Degree in the Art of Teaching and received a teaching license.  I even added on a Reading Endorsement.  I spend my free time serving as a Girl Scout Troop Leader, 4-H Advisor, and leading kids' programming at church.  Even if I said I didn't want to work with them, somehow they always found me or I found them.  It was inevitable.

So about 6 years ago, I was asked to change jobs and run an after-school and summer-long youth program for at-risk kids.  I took the job thinking that it was more in line with my degree than the job I had at the time.  The youth center used to be a place to merely hang out and I was asked to come and change the center to a more meaningful program.  We went through lots of growing pains my first year at the center as I changed rules and attendance requirements.  I had many clashes with families who didn't like it that I was asking them to help with discipline problems and participate in family activities.  I grew some tough skin very quickly!  Now, the goal of the youth center is to not only help with homework and provide a hot, nutritious meal each evening, but also to teach these young people the life skills necessary to survive on their own.  We work on skills such as doing laundry, opening a checking account, and understanding ads for housing.

I have 32 wild children, ranging in ages from kindergarten through 12th grade, every day after school and all day in the summer.  Some of the kids that I serve have learning disabilities.  Some kids are being raised by someone other than their parent.  Some come to the youth center hungry or dirty.  However, the majority of the kids I serve are just poor.  I help them with their homework and try to teach them something useful for life before giving them dinner and sending them all home each evening.  How little did I know that I would be the one learning so much from these children and come to love them all - even the bad ones - immensely.

On my birthday several years ago, I held a 9-year-old on my lap as she told me about her house burning down just hours before.  I've laughed as kids yell and scream because they caught a fish on their pole for the first time. I've picked lice out of hair.  I've taught kids how to tie their shoes.  I've helped a 16-year-old study for his driving exam.  I've taken the brunt of anger as a 13-year-old lashed out at me because she realized that she has a deadbeat mother and can't do anything about the unfairness of it.  I think it's my job to not only get them the basics, but also expose them to everything I was able to do as a child.  They're poor, but in my mind, they're kids.  And all kids deserve the kind of childhood that I had.  We didn't have a lot, but my Mom and Dad made sure that I was exposed to every learning opportunity.  At the youth center, we've made our own watercolors, tie dyed T-shirts, and gone camping and swimming.  We've had art lessons, dancing lessons, and piano lessons.  We've taken tours of chocolate factories, bakeries, the courthouse, local potteries, and the zoo.  We took a ride on a boat down the river.  I even took 11 teenagers to the ocean for the first time in their life.  Perhaps this is what my sister-in-law had in mind that day when she told me I'd make a good teacher.  I knew a typical classroom would never suit me - maybe that's why I had never entertained the idea of teaching.  What I'm doing now is much more than that.

I am surrounded by wonderful children everyday of my life, yet I have so much trouble having just one of my own.  I know that I'm making a difference in their lives, but at the end of the day, I have to hand them back to their parents or guardians.  And when I do, a good deal of my work with them is undone.  When would it be my turn to take one home with me?  To love as my own?  As my husband and I received the news of our infertility last summer, I became a bit reflective.  I love children.  I've taught them, cared for them, and been around them my entire life.  Heck, I even have a degree in them!  I'd always pictured myself as having children, but it seems to be the one thing I'm not able to do - at least without extremely high medical bills and the help of a team of doctors.  Was this God's cruelest joke?  Sometimes I still think it is as I send my 32 kids home each night.

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand how you feel! Through a set of circumstances not of my choosing (bad feet and a husband with a very specific job and location for that job) I am no longer able to teach. But for the years I spent in a classroom (ranging from Pre-K-6th grade) I can feel your pain.

    I am very impressed with your ability to work with at risk kids. I personally find myself haveing more and more trouble working with kids at all. Especially if I have to deal with the parents who don't care. It makes me so angry to see people who don't see what a wonderful gift they have been given.