I recently starting watching my nieces & nephews after school. I’ll spare you all the tedious details of my family tree, because you don’t need to know my entire genealogy to catch the spirit of my post. I don’t have any kids of my own. But I do play the role of the dependable uncle for several nephews & a couple of nieces who either have a true biological claim to me as an uncle or are cousins who are a generation younger & call me uncle out of respect. Long story short, I’m picking up four kids after school & watching them until their full time caretakers come home from work. It’s just a temporary set-up as I just happen to have some extra time on my hands & their regular caretakers have a sudden scarcity of time. I guess the laws of physics apply even here: Energy (time) can be neither created nor destroyed; only transferred. Okay! I’m not a physics experts & am summarizing here but work with me. Close enough, right? Anyway—back to the setup. Three kids are 6, 7, & 12 & attend the same elementary school. The 4th is 14 “going on 18” & is in high school. They are all close & get along well when they’re at home together. But of course, with the age discrepancy, they go their separate ways with separate sets of friends when they’re in public. It’s to be expected. Today, I took them to the park after school against my better judgement. In the midst of all the worry, sweat, & recognition that an hour workout four times a week is an extremely poor method of preparation for chasing elementary school kids around a park…I arrived at several revelations about childhood. And with each revelation I witnessed, I recognized that the lesson I learned about “them” applied just as much to “us.”
First, high school kids aren’t all bad. There really are several of them out there who can respect authority, enjoy a rich social life without resorting to dangerous or illegal activities, & stay as busy or more so as adults with fulltime careers. My niece, for example, was really telling me the truth when she said that her Mom lets her go to the park even on school days. And she just really wanted to go today because it was one of the few days in a semester when she didn’t have an after school activity planned. Even her friends were respectful & no, she wasn’t sneaking off to run off with—gasp—a boy! I realize that, as a teenager who will be legally learning to drive soon & is a perennial honor student, that she probably feels entitled to some level of freedom. Acknowledged! However, as a part time caretaker who is barely a week into this new, more involved role; I can’t always let her do things exactly the same way her Mom does—yet. If anything I have my own butt on the line & I feel an obligation to play it as close to the book as possible. In time, I can make adjustments as needed but during my “conditional employment period,” I need to play it close to the vest. Score one for the teenagers! And score one for my savvy people skills earned in the trenches of occasional stints in MIDDLE MANAGEMENT. Yeah!
And now, to the lil’ uns. It amazed me how kids that young are just automatically friends with each other upon first sight, whether they had been they had been previously introduced or not.
“Hey Lilly. Who is that girl you were playing with on the swings? Is she her classmate?”
“No. I’ve never seen her before.”
They looked as happy as twin sisters who did everything together just minutes ago; but come to find out, they didn’t even know each other’s names. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration but I’m trying to keep this brief!
Probably an even more amazing development for me to witness was the friendliness between the parents of said kids. If the kids “wouldn’t know a stranger from the man in the moon,” the adults watching them became equally receptive to strangers. I used to live in a city. I watch shows like “The Walking Dead.” I’m conditioned to see adults as fuming mad, fussing & cussing locomotives at full throttle with a “Don’t talk to me. Don’t look at me. Just get out of my way” attitude. Heck, I have 13 year sales/ customer service! I’ve seen the worst in people! That’s just how adults are supposed to be; angry &, at the very minimum, suspicious of others. But when there are kids involved, you find a sudden openness among adults that I scarcely see develop so quickly elsewhere. “Hey, how old is yours? Is he your only one? I just got my daughter a bike. Your girl can ride it if she wants to. She’s about my daughter’s age.”
In the presence of kids, especially young ones who still need you to push them on the swing or watch them go down the slide—small groups of individual families somehow lower their shields & unite to form a community. I’ve tried to replicate this same sense of instant community building at other venues in the past—Happy Hour; dog parks for fellow pet owners; Church; etc. But nothing creates the sense of community the way that taking young kids in your care to a local park can. In the spirit of Easter which quickly approaches, I was reminded through my revelations of something that I learned long ago but I tend to forget often. The more we do for others, the more we benefit ourselves without even realizing what’s happening. I don’t think anyone ever finds happiness when their aim to do so is self-focused. Sometimes, we just have to be willing to help someone who needs a hand, no strings attached. Then one day we just wake up, & realize that we’ve been happy without having had said it out loud.
Happy Early Easter! And if you don’t celebrate Easter, Happy Weekend with your loved ones. Now, where did I put that sports cream? My back’s sore.