Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I (Don't) Want to Work with Children

I've been playing "Mom" my entire life by caring for people and teaching others.  It's not a skill that I set out to acquire.  It's not something that I set out to study.  It just comes easily to me.  I'm just one of those people to which children are attracted.

Earliest pictures of me on Christmas morning portray a smiling little girl clinging to baby dolls. In kindergarten, my Mom told me that I'd come through the front door after the bus ride home from school, throw my bookbag on the floor, and lean on the door in exhaustion.  When asked why, I told her that I was tired from taking care of 2 classmates who cried for their mothers all day.  Years later, I was a 4-H Camp Counselor and the youth would arrive early at camp to make sure they had a good chance at getting into my cabin.  At family reunions and other gatherings, I often found myself wherever the children were organizing some sort of game or leading in an impromptu activity.  At age 13, I began teaching dancing and mothers would request that their child be placed into my classes.  At 15, I began an educational day camp for children living in the low income housing in our community.  I took baby/child CPR classes and my babysitting calendar was very full when I learned to drive at age 16  Every person who knew me said that I would make a great teacher and mother someday.

The funny thing was, I didn't want anything to do with teaching or working with children.  I thought that was a less-than-prestigious job that was for someone who was not out to change the world like I was.  Besides, that kind of work would never lead me to make the mega bucks like I had in mind.  Teaching?  I had no desire to raise other peoples' kids.  Sure, I had plans of being a mother of several kids - that was just a given, or so I thought - but I had big plans to work in medicine.  You ask what was the specialty I was most interested in?  Obstetrics and gynecology. I wanted to deliver babies and make sure young mothers had the healthcare necessary to carry out a healthy pregnancies.  Ironic, huh?

It was about 10 days before I was ready to leave for college that my plans changed dramatically.  I was up late in our front room preparing my 4-H project for the next day's County Fair.  Our neighbor ran to our front door, screaming.  I opened the door to find a small, blue baby in her arms.  Her tiny 6-week-old wasn't breathing.  Without thinking, I grabbed the baby from her arms, laid her on the floor and began the baby CPR that I was taught several years ago.  After a blur of yelling directions at my Mom, working with emergency personnel on their arrival, and a very sleepless night, we found out the next morning that the baby had died of SIDS.  At this point, I really had to take a hard look at what I thought was going to be my life's work.  I was OK with the idea of performing exams, providing medical information to expectant mothers, and delivering babies.  But if everything always went as planned, we wouldn't really need doctors, would we?  Doctors, especially good ones, are necessary when things go wrong.  And in this field, that could mean very sad consequences.  Consequences that I would take home on my mind and my heart.  I made a tough decision at that point that I just could not deal with that aspect of the job.  So I left for college 10 days later, still registered as a pre-med major, but knew that I would be changing that as soon as I figured out my next plan of action.  I went on to be drawn to Psychology, especially child psych classes, during my undergraduate career.  I graduated with a degree in Psychology and had no idea what I'd do with it.

I returned home after graduation and took a job working as a grant writer. I was learning a lot and fairly good at the job, but was not sure where it was going to lead.  My brother and sister-in-law paid me to provide kids' activities during a party they were throwing.  I was down on the floor, playing a game with several kids, and having a ball when my sister-in-law came into the room, looked at me with a big grin, and said, "You would make a great teacher."  I don't know why, but for some reason, I heard it that time.  My brain chewed on it for a whole year.  I did enjoy kids.  It did come easily to me.  I had learned that making a lot of money didn't necessarily mean I'd have a happy life.  I began a program that fall in which I'd earn my Master's Degree in Education and also earn a teaching license.  It took me 5 years as I held down a full-time job along with school, but without much academic effort, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  I passed all of my teaching exams on the 1st try with flying colors.

I began my current job almost 6 years ago.  I run an after-school and summer-long Youth Program for at-risk youth. It's a great mix between teacher and mom for kids that need both the most.  My job will become important later in my journey, but for now, it's a shame I (don't) want to work with children!

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