By Jordan Carter • March 09, 2015•Writers in Residence
A few weeks ago, I proclaimed that I needed to get a hobby. With law school ending and my busyness level hitting a decade low before it inevitably spikes up again in the fall, only to steadily increase until I retire and/or die from overworking, now is the time. My plan was to try several new things and see which one stuck. After a couple of duds -- the library ran out of its book club book, I bought the wrong kind of cross-stitching thread -- I knew I needed something I didn't have to procure or create. I needed something that already existed in its full and natural glory:
I began volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. On Wednesday afternoons, I transform from Law Student Who Sits In Chairs, Reads, and Thinks About Serious Legal Things to Child Wrangler and Entertainer Extraordinaire. The afternoons are fully booked -- we race from activity to activity, starting the minute they get out of school for the day. We go outside, we play games, we do crafts, we eat snacks, we dance, we do homework, we watch movies, we run around, and then we collapse into a heap (okay only the adults do this part -- the rascals are still full of energy). I have only been doing this for a month or so, but already I see all the ways in which these tykes have got important life skills figured out that we mid-lifers seem to have forgotten.
Kindergarteners do not feel self-conscious. They get questions so incredibly wrong and then just crack up when you tell them they're wrong. They trip and fall down while running and then crack up. They get their feelings hurt, start bawling, and express all their feelings to anyone in the vicinity. Then they bounce back, forget it ever happened, and crack up again. They embrace our gym dance parties by doing all sorts of bizarre solo dances without worrying about what they look like. They do what they want to do at all times without fear of judgment or ridicule. How nice would it be if we were our authentic selves at all times?
Kindergarteners feel great joy at life's little moments. When we tell them it's time to make a lei, they jump right in and immediately start planning what color arrangement they'll use. When we tell them it's time to practice math flashcards, they all clamor to play the teacher role and relish the power it gives them. When we tell them it's time to play gym games, they literally scream with excitement. It is a kind of unadulterated joy I have not seen since the last time I was with kids, and even then, it was middle-schoolers whose idea of joy is somewhat colored by the fog of angst and hormones that accompanies them through puberty. Kindergarteners LOVE LIFE. And it's contagious. How nice would it be if we woke up genuinely excited for the small events in our daily lives?
Kindergarteners are loving. They latch onto people quickly and wholeheartedly. One second I was a complete stranger who just showed up to boss them around and join their activities. The next I got hugs and high-fives and probing questions and gifts and hair-touching. On my first day, a little guy gave me a handmade bracelet. One kid told me my art project (literally concentric circles in various colors I drew in about 10 minutes) was amazing and beautiful and begged me to give it to him. I did, and I was super flattered, and then he immediately traded it to his friend in exchange for something they'd been negotiating for all day (they would not tell me what it was). I couldn't even be offended because it was brilliant gamesmanship. They want to sit on my lap (frowned upon because in 2015, that is just a lawsuit waiting to happen). They want to know my middle name. They express their genuine enthusiasm at spending time with people, without wondering if their affection is reciprocated. How nice would our world be if adults expressed their love to each other, too?
My time with kindergarteners has been delightful. Partially this is because it's the one stretch of time I cannot check my email, cannot check my to-do list, and cannot get distracted by real people or real problems. I am required to play Duck Duck Goose, color, and drink chocolate milk. But it's also because kids at that age are just genuinely awesome. They are hilarious, honest, and sincere. They make me question my career choice and contemplate a last-minute switch to teaching. Of course, then I remember that three hours with six-year-olds is more emotionally and physically draining than a three hour law school exam, that teachers are underpaid and overworked, and that Kansas teachers are being royally screwed over by our tyrant governor, and I have to rethink this plan. But man, do I appreciate teachers. And man, do I love kindergarteners.