Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My life has value because of other peoples' children

When I was getting close to 40, I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend of mine. He pointed to a little girl around two years old and said, “Doesn’t that just make you want one??” I looked over at the little girl and felt nothing. I mean, she was cute and all…and I love little kids…but wanting one for myself?? “No, it really doesn’t,” I replied.

We continued with the conversation of how we were both getting older and how he wished he had started his family when he was younger. I kept looking at the little girl trying to feel some kind of biological clock ticking…something that would make me have this innate desire to wish she were mine, running around my table. It just didn’t happen.

Mind you, I’ve always loved kids. I played with dolls until I was in the 4th grade. I loved babysitting. …or maybe it was less that I loved babysitting and more that I loved that the parents trusted me with their kids. I loved that parents would hand me their children after church and I would take them and play with them while the parents stood around talking. I loved that the kids always took to me. I had some kind of gift, I suppose. But, at 40 and unmarried, it didn’t translate into me wanting a child of my own to care for on my own.

Though there are times I really wonder what went wrong in my life, I think I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that my life is not...and was maybe never meant to everyone assumes. I have not married and I don't have my 2.5 children...and I may never have that. Instead, I have learned that I still love that parents trust me with their children. I am honored that they trust if they put their children in my hands, I will provide them with new experiences, teach them things they didn’t get in school, connect them with resources that can help them, push them toward college, and do my darndest to see that they become productive citizens. I suppose it is for those reasons that I don’t feel the need to have children of my own.

There's still a little bitty nagging voice ever so often that whispers, “What happened?! You should have gotten married and had kids!” The louder, more rational voice speaks and reminds me that if I had had one or two or three little ones to take care of, I would have put all of my energies into them...because that's what parents are supposed to do. Parents are supposed to lose sleep, move to different neighborhoods so their kids have better schools, and spend money they don't have so that their children can get the things that they want and need. And because it’s such a responsibility to make sure they raise their own correctly, it doesn’t leave a lot of time.

I think about the parents who work jobs that don’t have “paid time off.” I think about the parents who immigrated to this country, don’t speak English, and can’t communicate with their child’s teacher or any of the school personnel. I think about refugees who are sent to our city but don’t understand the culture and are just grateful to be somewhere safe. I think about the parents whose hourly wage jobs are from 2-7 in the evenings, and doesn't allow them the time to expose their kids to new opportunities. I think about those who can't afford to enroll their children in all of the amazing enrichment and educational experiences available in our city. All of those parents want the best for their kids but don’t necessarily have the access or ability to connect with the resources needed to help their child succeed.

At one of our reward trips for the Eagle Scholars college readiness group I work with, I was able to take six middle schoolers and three of their older siblings to a friend’s home to make Italian food. Throughout the evening, so many learning opportunities came up.

Javier learned what a “whisk” was and why you use it. We talked about making a roux so we could create a thickening agent for the white sauce we were making. His super-surprised/shocked expression was priceless when he came back after taking a break and went to stir the milk, butter, flour mixture and felt how much it had thickened.

Another student learned about a sifter—the term, as well as why and how you use it. She repeated the word several times to make it permanent in her vocabulary.

We experienced stuffing cannelloni and tenderizing chicken for the chicken parmesan. We talked about using a serrated knife for bread so it didn’t smush the bread. We doubled recipes and used our math skills to multiply and  used Google and more math skills to convert ounces to cups so we would know how much to use. Some learned to correctly measure flour; others learned to correctly measure liquids (and for you non-cooks out there…yes, there is a way to do that so your recipe turns out right!). Before we ate, we had a mini-lesson on etiquette so we would know where to place the cups (on the right) and how to use the many different forks and spoons they give you in a big, fancy dinner setting (start from the outside and work your way in).

The whole experience was priceless…for me as much as I would guess it was for them. It absolutely made my day when one student told me, “This is really awesome.” Because we were searching for empty containers at the time, confused, I asked, “Looking for containers?!” “No,” she explained, “this whole cooking thing!” And went on to ask, “Could we do this again next year…and do a different food theme?” Of course!!

On the way home, I asked them what they had learned (it’s a question I always like to ask). One of the girls said, “Teamwork.” Not sure if she was saying that just because it was the “right” answer, I probed. “What do you mean?” She explained, “We all had to work together or we wouldn’t have gotten all of that done.” Another student explained, “Sharing is caring…because we had to share the stove with each other to make what we needed for our dish.” It was a great analogy…and I hadn’t even thought of it. We did have to work together. We did have to share. And by doing so, we not only accomplished our task, but I think the food came out absolutely superb! It was the perfect analogy for this group of students who are working toward college. The path is much easier when you work together.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent, but I know when kids enjoy, appreciate, value, and/or just learn something from a new experience, it makes me overjoyed. That’s when I know that my path in life was probably set for me by a higher power long before I realized it. My role is not to impact my own two or three kids. My role is to assist other parents with impacting theirs.

Editor’s post script: After writing this post, I received a text message from one of the kids who attended the cooking class. She sent me a picture of two tomato pies (just like we made last night) and said, “Look Ms I made my own.” Her text absolutely made my day…that she made the pies and that she texted me to tell me about it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Connecting Kids to Inspiration

Who knew that there was such a job as a “Colorist”?? I guess it makes sense. Comic books are better with color and someone has to do that job. I just had never really thought about it.

I set up an “event” for our Eagle Scholars because I know several of them are interested in animation. I figured if it had to do with comic books, maybe it would be something in a similar vein that they might like. After all, my goal is not to expose them just to the things they want to be, but to the things that could inspire them…the things that might spark an interest they didn’t know they had. Plus, this “Colorist” was going to be at UTA…which provided us an opportunity to be on a college campus (always a bonus!).

Only three had signed up. I got word the day of that Dereon wasn’t going to go. I was somewhat frustrated because this same kid seems to sign up and not show up quite a bit. When I called, his mom explained to me that she works 2-7 and couldn’t take him back to the school at 5:30. She explained that he has asthma and she didn’t want him walking all that way.  That argument stopped me. I know where he lives (which is quite a little distance from the school). Besides the concern of people picking on him and some random boys jumping him, walking that far would concern me with his asthma, too. It’s been rainy and humid lately. Not that any weather is good weather for people with extreme asthma, but it wasn’t a good combination.

“He can stay with me after school,” I tried. No, she wanted him to go home first. “I’ll take him home after the event,” I pleaded. She’d be home from work by then and could pick him up so that wasn’t the issue. After pleading and bargaining, she said she’d talk to his aunt. If the weather wasn’t bad (because she has two little ones), his aunt could take him.

I hung up the phone slightly frustrated--not really at her; not at him. Just frustrated…because everything she said makes sense and makes her a good parent, not a bad parent. I was originally irritated that he had signed up and now wasn’t going, like he has done in the past. I guess I figured maybe that was him deciding he didn’t want to go at the last minute or her just not telling him or something. Actually, I’m glad she did sign him up so I had the opportunity to call and talk to her about it. The reality wasn’t any of my assumptions, but poverty and resources. She’s a single parent. She has to work. She has to work hours that don’t allow her to see her kids or make sure they get places. She doesn’t let him go because she knows certain things trigger his asthma and she doesn’t want him sick. Makes sense to me.

She called back to tell me her mom could take him. Yay!! I don’t know if her mom doesn’t work or works different hours. Sometimes, though, I’m kinda glad people don’t work. (that’s a whole different post that I’ll need to explain later). I really wanted him to go because of what I had discovered when going over to their home for one of my regular meet-and-get-to-know-the-family meetings that I’m doing with every Eagle Scholar. As I talked to them during that meeting, I learned that Dereon has a Nintendo DS. It has some kind of animation program on it. He has created a six-episode animation series…which sounds fairly unimpressive until you see the program and see that it is the animation that requires one slight movement per slide and realize that there are 170 slides per episode. It’s taken him months to create the series.

Dereon's grandmother brought him back to the school at 5:30, as planned. I was the one running behind. After a stressed, rush hour driving experience, we made it right on time. (thank goodness!) The speaker (Jeff Balke) was really good. He was laid-back and handed out tidbits of information like, “Follow you passion. This has been a passion of mine since I was in 6th grade. I loved coloring.” Then talking about work, explained, “When I get an assignment to do a comic book, sometimes I go nights without sleep because I have a deadline and I have to get it done. But I love it so much it doesn’t matter.” He gave each participant one of his 100th comic books to take home with us (a big milestone in the Colorist arena).

Only two kids ended up going with me. As we were leaving the event, we stopped at one of Jeff Balke’s large banners of a Ninja Turtle he had colored. Dereon got up real close and studied it for a bit. As we walked off, he mumbled, “Now I’m really inspired.”

*That’s* why I take kids. That’s why it doesn’t matter that it was just two kids who showed up. Who knows what he might do with that new knowledge that someone can be a Colorist. That’s why I have to figure out ways to work *with* the parents and work through things like work schedules. Dereon deserves to be inspired and exposed to things he’s never discovered before. We deserve for him to be inspired. We might miss out on greatness if he isn’t!

That makes me inspired!