Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Green Bouncy Ball

I work at an elementary school as a para. I'm like a teacher's assistant. But really, I spend the majority of my day with two non-vebal, autistic, kindergarteners: Trenton and Devon.

Because my friends are a bit behind their kindergarten classmates, we spend a lot of our day waiting. Waiting for the rest of the class to get ready for P.E.
Waiting for the bathroom to be available.
Waiting for them to finish eating lunch.
Waiting for Devon to catch up.
Waiting for them to put toys away.

We move at a different pace.
We follow our own schedule.
We have a lot of quality down-time.

And it was in this down-time recently that I looked around the kindergarten classroom and recognized just how much this job has changed me.

As several co-workers have noted, my reflexes have adapted enormously because my friend, Trenton is a runner. I'm practically a super hero now. A year ago, I would've joked: "I don't do kids." I now have a kid-friendly vocabulary and a whole slew of 6 year-old conflict resolution tools in my back pocket. Whereas before I would have preferred the company of adults, coffee, and good conversation, I'm much more likely to be found on a playground or amongst children. I've learned that instead of dishing out reprimands, it's best to ask questions. Kids know that what they just did was totally wrong. I'm well-versed in the fine arts of shoe-tying, nose-wiping, diaper-changing, and lunchroom monitoring. I'm more patient. More sensitive. More compassionate. More kid-friendly, in general.

This job has changed me, but so have these kids.

I can't help but wonder where these little kids will end up. Will Trenton ever have a friend? Will Devon learn to generate individual thoughts and not only repeat everything I say? Will Ava grow up to be a mean girl? Some kids I need not wonder about. Joshua will go to Harvard and study physics. Mary will graduate valedictorian. Jenny will always be the beauty that people love to hate. Nelly will grow disinterested in her brilliant red hair and dye it some awful other color. Eli will dance his way into the hearts of some "So You Think You Can Dance?" judges and be an instant winner. I hope that Erica finds herself a simple farm and brings people joy. I hope that Uriah never recovers from his speech impediment, because it absolutely melts my heart.

How I wish so much good for these young souls. Especially Trenton.

Last week, I took him for his break while the other students did math. We walked to another room where he gets to pick between a mini-tramp or a big bouncy ball. This day it was the bouncy ball. He hit the ball. Pushed it against the wall. He smiled. He led me by the hand to be nearer to him. He sat me down to sit atop of the bouncy ball and climbed on my lap.

"Bow" he said, looking me straight in the eyes.
"Bounce?" I asked.
"Bow," he confirmed.

He threw his arms around my neck and held on tight. He giggled and I giggled. What began as a slightly giddy moment turned viral and Trenton let out shrieks of joy as we bounced up and down on that green bouncy ball. Rarely do I manage to match what Trenton needs with precisely the right response and it breaks my heart. But in that moment, as we bounced together on that green bouncy ball, I knew I got it. I knew he was getting precisely what he needed. His laughter soaked into my bones. And his breath warmed my skin. It was one of those euphoric moments that even as it's happening you know it's holy. That you'll remember it for the rest of your life. 

Much like this experience.
Thirteen days left.

Wishing them the best.