The regular school year started, and I thought I was going to be with the 5th or 6th graders again, but this time around I’m with the 2nd graders. I didn’t know what to expect at first. It was an interesting start to the school year.
There was a girl we’ll call “Michelle.” Michelle had a catch phrase that she said all…the…time. It goes like this: “Hiiiiiiii….” she’d say, waving her hand slowly across her face. She’d wait for me to return the greeting then say, “The meaning of ‘hi’ is “hiiiiiiiiiiii,” and wave her hand again across her face. No matter how many times she did it, she thought it was the funniest thing in the world.
There was a girl we’ll call “Yuna.” She said to me, “I’m going to follow you everywhere because I like you.”
“You’re going to follow me everywhere? Gross. Don’t follow me into the boy’s bathroom.”
“Everywhere except the boy’s bathroom!”
The kids like to lean against me and lay their heads on me whenever we’re watching a movie or something. “I get this spot, you get that spot,” they say, talking about me as if I’m a couch. It’s cute, but we’re not supposed to let them do that since it’s important we keep lines between leader and friend, so I have to push them away.
One day a girl we’ll call “Kelsea” came up to me. “I have something for you,” she said. She put down her backpack, opened it, pulled out a picture, and handed it to me.
“You drew this?” I asked. It was a picture of a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream with a cherry on top, along with a cone of vanilla ice cream. (Those happen to be my two favorite flavors.)
She nodded. “Do you like it?” she asked. She signed it for me and drew a heart.
Yuna continued to tell me how much she liked me. “I’m going to follow you everywhere because I like you,” she’d say. “Everywhere except the boy’s bathroom.” She’s very touchy-feely. Most kids are, but she’s particularly so. She’s always trying to grab my arm, hug me, and hold my hand. She’d hold my hand everywhere if I let her. (We’re not really supposed to let them do that.)
“Mis – ter – Ro – bert!” she’d say, banging her head into my side with each syllable. “What are we doing today?”
One time she said to me, “I like you better than Justin Beiber.”
“But Yuna,” I said, “you don’t like Justin Beiber.” She told me before that she doesn’t like him. (“He sounds like a girl,” she said as her reason for not liking him.)
“Yeah. So that’s why I like you better. His hair is yucky. I like your hair better.”
We’re not allowed to hug the kids, and we’re supposed to push them away if they try to hug us. But Yuna has a way of sneaking in hugs. She’s so quick and stealthy about it that I don’t have time to push her away. And she usually does it when I’m preoccupied with other things, so I don’t even know what hits me before she’s gone.
Yuna had attached herself to me, and just as she said she would, followed me almost everywhere. I didn’t mind really. She behaved pretty well, listened better than most of the other kids, and although she made it clear that she liked me, she knew where the boundaries were. It’s fine when kids like you, but it’s not good for them to get clingy. It’s unhealthy. So I’m glad Yuna never got clingy or possessive, she never got jealous or anything when I would spend time with the other kids, and she never had a problem hanging out with kids her own age.
Like all kids, my group loves to ask questions.
“How old are you?” asked Yuna.
“My dad is older than you,” she said.
“I certainly hope your dad is older than me.”
“Do you have a wife?” asked Kelsea.
“No, I don’t have a wife,” I said.
“He’s too young to have a wife,” said Yuna. “He’s only 24!”
“Do you want a wife?” asked Kelsea.
“If God gives me one someday.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?” asked a girl we’ll call “Alice.”
“No, I don’t have a girlfriend either.”
“Do you want a girlfriend?” asked another girl. With the kids throwing so many questions at me all at once, it’s sometimes difficult to know who asked what.
“Only if God wants me to,” I said.
“Who’s the girl of your dreams?” asked Alice.
Gee. Kids are not at all afraid to ask whatever questions come to mind, and boy, do they have a lot of questions. I don’t mind though. They’re so open and honest. I wish more adults would be like that.
“I don’t know,” I said. That last question caught me off guard. But I try to answer all of their questions as best I can since I think it’s a good opportunity for us as adults to teach kids and instill in them good moral values.
“Well… the girl of my dreams will be someone who loves God more than anything. She’ll have a heart to help people. She’ll be beautiful because God makes girls beautiful. And she’ll be someone who likes me for who I am, even when I make mistakes and do stupid things.”
One day Yuna came up to me during study hall.
“I forgot my pencil,” she said.
“Ask one of your classmates if they have an extra pencil you can borrow.”
“…You do it!” she said.
“No, you do it.”
“But I’m shy! You do it for me.”
“You’re not shy. You talk to me all the time.”
“I’m not shy to you or to teachers, but I’m shy to my friends,” she said.
Kids are cute. When you care about someone, it’s easy to get over-protective. You’d give them the world if you could. But you have to have them learn to do things for themselves, or they’ll grow up depending on people for everything.
I called one of the other kids, and I asked him if he had an extra pencil. He said yes.
“Yuna has something to ask you,” I said, bringing her forward. Ha! And she thought she had suckered me into asking for her.
“Go ahead, Yuna.”
She sighed and muttered something.
“Louder,” I said.
“Can I borrow the pencil…?”
“Please?” she said grudgingly.
One day I got a hair cut, and when the kids saw it, they hated it.
“Why did you get a haircut? I liked it much better before…!” they said.
“Your haircut is yucky. It’s gross.”
“You should never get a haircut again!” said Yuna.
Then she added, “Even though I don’t like your haircut, I still like you.”
Everyone except for Michelle hated it. She stared up at me, with that adorably goofy, toothless, mouth-wide-open smile of hers and said, “I like your haircut.”
I think the reason the kids don’t like it when I get a haircut is because they get so used to seeing me one way, and when it changes suddenly, they get concerned, as if the Mr. Robert they had grown accustomed to is going to be somehow different as a result of my shorter hair.
The next day Yuna said to me, “I like your hair now. This is like you had it before. This part,” she touched the front of my hair where I do that little flippy thing. “I like this part. You didn’t have it last time.”
“You’re my number one favorite leader,” said Yuna. “And if I could make a copy of you, then there would be two of you, and you would be my two favorite leaders. And if I could make another copy, you would be my three favorite leaders.”
The kids are cute, but that’s not to say they always act like little angels. They’re noisy during study hall, and have short attention spans, which makes them inept at walking in lines. I don’t hesitate to put any of them in time out when they deserve it. Even Yuna. But kids still like you, even after you discipline them. They’re slowly getting better at walking in lines and being quiet during study hall. It’s a work in progress.
Like all kids, they don’t always listen well, and they do misbehave, including Yuna. She can be demanding and snotty at times. But that’s part of the experience. Everyone has faults, and everyone at times will let you down. If you’re there for a person when they’re behaving right in your eyes, but disown them when they’re not behaving the way you want them to, where is the love in that? God is always patient with us, no matter how often we may fail. Likewise we should be patient with people, even when they’re giving us difficulties.
One day I was asked to help out with the 6th grade, since they were short a person and I was already familiar with them from having worked with them during the summer.
“Why are you leaving us!?” asked the 2nd graders.
“I have to go and help out the 6th grade today.” I told them that another leader would be there with them.
“But we don’t know him very well!” they said, as if this were a very serious concern for them. “We’re not used to him. We haven’t spent much time with him.”
“You’re not used to me either,” I said.
“Yes we are!” When this happened, it was only our third day together, but they were talking to me as if we’d known each other all year.
“It’s just for today. Okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Kelsea got up and hugged me. We’re not really supposed to let the kids hug us (although I’ve seen teachers and even my bosses hug kids on occasion.) I tried to explain this to Kelsea and the other kids.
“This school has weird rules,” they said.
“Well, the rules are in place for good reasons, so we have to obey them.”
From that point on instead of hugging me Kelsea would come up to me and sort of lean toward me while scrunching up her shoulders. It’s her way of hugging me without using her arms, so as not to break the rules. Kids. They’re so creative.
One day when Michelle’s parents came to pick her up, I said, “Bye, Michelle. The meaning of ‘bye’ is ‘byyyyyyyye.” I waved my hand in front of my face, just as she always did. She started giggling non-stop.
“Okay. Go! Your mom’s waiting.”
It’s easy to see why Jesus loves the little children. I love them too.