Today’s post is an homage to anyone who works with children.
Last Wednesday evening, my Alternative Spring Break team spent about 90 minutes doing after-dinner childcare at Bethany House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Cincinnati. We do it every year. It’s always challenging, but this year was aggravated by an unexpected toy donation that arrived just as dinner was ending: dozens of light-up flying discs. (The kind where you pull a string on the handle, and the thing goes sailing across the room.)
I don’t know what the (presumably well-intentioned) donors were thinking. Did they imagine that these kids would be able to play with them in a park or on the beach some moonlit evening? Did they envision for one moment what a dozen kids in two small basement rooms would do with spinning, careening, light-up toys? Any preconceived notions my college students had about actually engaging with the children went out the (non-existent) window, as we spent the whole night trying to keep our charges from injuring themselves or one another as they shrieked, ran, and launched the practically-weaponized toys at one another and at us. Oh, and cried when they broke. And accused one another of stealing the unbroken ones. And cried some more.
We experienced a stark contrast the next morning, as we kept company with the kindergarten class at Corryville Catholic Elementary School. Those kids were just as squirmy and excitable as the ones at the shelter, of course. But the difference was in the relationship. We didn’t know the Bethany kids, and they didn’t know anything about us except that they were never going to see us again. The Corryville teachers, on the other hand, knew the kindergarteners by name, knew their quirks and interests, and had gained their trust, so they were able to personalize their approach to even the crowd-control aspects of education. We watched twenty-some five year-olds sit cross-legged, hands in laps, and read along with a Dr. Seuss book on the smartboard. Amazing!
I do not draw this contrast to be critical of Bethany House. The staff there is busy trying to attend to their residents’ most basic needs—literally, food and shelter—while helping women coming out of chaotic living situations to find some stable ground for themselves and their families. The temporary nature of emergency shelter rules out the kind of careful attention that a kindergarten classroom allows.
But children desperately need such careful attention. It’s not my gift (I work with college students for a reason), but I am in awe of anyone who possesses it. The heroic patience and endless self-giving that good teachers and other childcare workers demonstrate deserves to be praised–and compensated–as the foundational work of tomorrow’s society.
I’m home from Cincinnati now, heading back to work in the morning. I will resume my meetings, and project work, and to-do lists. But I will carry the images of those Bethany House children in my heart, praying that, when this rocky transition is complete, they will find themselves in a place where they are seen, known and loved by the many grownups in their lives, just like the little ones at Corryville.
There is another group of children on my mind., this one much closer to home. On April 7, our Mercy honor society (Sigma Phi Sigma) is throwing a baby shower for new and expectant moms served by Catholic Social Services in Norristown. We will decorate, and serve food, and make a fuss, and send them off with useful gifts. If you would like to help, check out this Amazon wish list for things like diapers, wipes, onesies, blankets, etc. All items will ship straight to Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University. Just remember, the shower is on April 7th so we need things ASAP!
If your daily life or chosen work immerses you in the lives of little children, God bless you. Thank you for everything you do. I say it every week, but I say it with extreme fervor in your regard:
May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!