Monday, June 24, 2013

Little Sponges

This is my fifth summer at camp. My fifth summer of dealing working with kids. I don’t mind them the older they get, it’s the youngest ones that have always been a struggle. A lot of goofiness. A lot of ridiculous questions. A lot of tears. A lot of high emotions and low logical reasoning.
But last year, I worked at an elementary school (the one place I swore I would never work voluntarily) and those kids grew on me. Especially Trenton and Devon. Those two totally and completely stole my heart and I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting those pieces back any time soon. I miss them. And my experiences learning side-by-side with kindergarteners who literally cry over spilt milk and 4th graders who will blame their math intelligence on paper cuts, has shown me that I can like these kids.
I can like them now because I finally (yes, finally) realized that these kids weren’t being ridiculous just to drive me crazy, they were being ridiculous because all 8 year-olds are ridiculous. It’s part of their development or code of conduct or something: “Be ridiculous.” They can’t help it.
Since I have realized this, kids have become more bearable. Okay, maybe even likeable (but no further, I promise you).  As the 8-10 year-olds bombarded our camp yesterday, I was less fearful and more excited. Less annoyed and more intrigued. Less stand-offish and more equipped. I’m practically a pro now.
I spent this morning at the blob directing campers to life jackets, teaching correct form, and mediating minor squabbles. I felt less equipped in my handling of kiddos when one camper and I had this conversation:
Me: “Here’s your life jacket.”
Him: “I don’t want that one, it’s pink.”
Me: “What’s wrong with pink?”
Him: “That’s a girly color.”
Me: “If pink is only for girls, is blue only for boys?”
Him: “No.”
Me: “Okay, well it’s just another color. You can come blobbing with us with the life jacket or sit on the beach without it. Besides, I know several guys who wear pink.”
Him: “Yeah, guys who marry other guys!”

The other boys in the cabin laughed. I was shocked. This eight year-old has heard this somewhere. Kids don’t just fabricate this stuff on their own. Somewhere along the line, probably an adult made a joke about gay people or a comment about gender roles. And this little kid was taking notes. As they all are.
To this eight year-old and the entire cabin I said, “Boys and girls are free to wear whatever color they want. Wearing pink does not make a boy any less of a boy. And it is not okay for you to make an unkind joke about people who are different than you.”
I felt the Mama Bear in me beginning to rise and I surely tamed it down when I remembered he was eight. We went blobbing. We got cold and went inside to go swimming.  They left. But this exchange reminded me that as young in years as these kids are, they are human sponges who can’t help but soak up the world around them. I wish I could protect them from stereotypes, sexism, prejudice, and unkindness, but I can’t.

So when these kids are around me, here’s what I hope they soak up:

-Be kind to everyone. Even if you don’t understand them or like them. Be kind anyway.

-Be your balanced best. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone else. If you can’t climb to the top of the blob tower today, that’s okay. If you are scared, that’s okay too. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re safe with me.

-When you want something, say “Please.” When someone does something for you, say “Thank you.” When someone looks sad, ask them, “Are you okay?”  

We are responsible to each other.

We have to act like it.

Even when it’s hard.

Even with kids.

Because they are watching day-by-day. 
Creating our future out of all that they see.


KendraKay at said...

I'm so impressed that you've achieved some understanding of kiddos w/o being a parent. I generally tolerate kids that are the age of mine our younger because I've seen how each piece is part of their journey - their development in this trip towards grown-up-hood. I thought the oober-silly six yr olds would kill me and then I had two. It's growth and I think it's helping me shift from celebrating arrival to appreciating process. SO hard for me!!

Carley Brown said...

Those kids will have fond memories of you after they leave camp and many years after. I have so many awesome memories of GVR and the people who worked there when I was a kid.