So far 2016 has been…bananas. I came back from the holidays and hit the ground running – my old roommate moved out, my new roommate moved in, I started doing my new job while still doing my current one, and in between all of that tried to spend quality time with friends and family – with some sleep and exercise maybe thrown in there (emphasis on the maybe).
I’m not complaining – I’m enjoying 99% of what I’m doing – it’s just a lot – like, A LOT. I didn’t realize how overwhelmed and stressed I’d been feeling until I woke up in a cold sweat the other night – I’d had a stress dream that I’d lost my friend’s baby. Lost as in misplaced like you do a pair of glasses or your car keys. In my dream my friend came to pick up her two year old and her baby and I was like “well, I can tell you where 50% of your children are!” Turned out her baby was just chilling under her crib – totally unharmed, just tucked out of sight amid the dust bunnies with – I’m not making this up – an old gummy worm candy stuck to her forehead from rolling around on the floor. I find this dream both hilarious and depressing – if it were a movie I’d file it under “tragic comedy.”
This past week was no exception to the bananas theme, with some key changes – I decided skimping on sleep and exercise was making me miserable and wasn’t worth it, and did some reality checks that the world would not end if I came into work 45 minutes later because I went on a run. I took some deep breaths and made peace with the fact that I can’t do everything right away and perfectly, and that if I drop a ball or two it won’t be the end of the world – which is literally the phrase my boss said to me, which shows you that 1) I have a really wonderful and supportive boss and 2) I need to chill the heck out (that’s a constant work-in-progress).
I also started volunteering this week, which I’ve really been looking forward to – I’m tutoring a second-grader at a local elementary school through Reading Partners, a wonderful organization. This week I met my student, Martin**, a shy, soft-spoken 8-year old, and we spent our first lesson doing “get to know you” activities, including tracing our hands and writing fun facts about ourselves.
After Martin colored his hand and scrawled in his fun facts, I asked him to tell me about them – his first fun fact was “my home” and he started sharing about his brother and his mom, his grandparents and uncles. After a few sentences he would pause and ask “is it ok if I talk abut my brother now? Is it ok if I talk about my Grandpa now?” Something about his asking permission to share broke my heart a little. “Yes buddy,” I replied, “Of course – I want to hear all about them.”
One of the reasons I love talking with kids is how honest and unedited they are, and some of the things Martin shared with me – about his mom, brother and himself sharing one bedroom in his grandparents’ house, about how his parents are separated, about how his favorite video game is a “grown-up” one – Grand Theft Auto (don’t get me started) – were really hard to hear. The way he kept shyly asking me for permission to talk, to share about who he is, his life and the things he loves (Star Wars, legos and his PS4 are all high on the list) – something about it broke my heart. We spent the entire 30 minute “lesson” with Martin telling me about his life, while I asked a few questions but mostly just let him share, feeling great about ignoring the book we were supposed to be reading – we can work on phonetics next week, but giving him time and space to talk felt much more important.
There’s no way for me to know what Martin’s home life is actually like, but based on what he told me – a single mom raising two kids, 5 adults and 2 children crowded into one home, two uncles who “yell at him all the time” – I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin doesn’t get too many chances to have an adult’s undivided attention, to be asked questions about who he is and what he loves, what he thinks and feels, and to be affirmed and encouraged to share more. After Martin left, the Reading Partners site director told me that she’d never heard Martin open up so much, and that she was so glad he seemed to feel comfortable with me.
I drove away from that school almost in tears and I thought “That was the most important thing I did all week.” Not the emails I sent, not the things I checked off my to-do list, not the bills I paid – sitting with Martin and creating a safe space for him to share a bit of who he is – that is the most important thing I did all week.
I can’t wait to go back next week and read more books, work on sounding out letters and most importantly learn a bit more about who this kiddo is, what his hopes and dreams are and to encourage him in those.
My dad had a paperweight on his desk that now sits on mine – it’s a rock with a quote from Mother Theresa etched on it’s surface – “Do no great things, only small things with great love.” I struggle on a daily basis with this feeling that I “should” be doing great things, big things to make my life count and have an impact on this world. It’s hard for me to remember that sometimes the smallest things are really the most important, that doing those “small things” – ordinary, everyday, non-glamorous things, with great love is the apex of a life well lived. Sitting with Martin in tiny elementary school chairs every Thursday afternoon, listening, teaching, encouraging – that is a small thing that I want to do with great love.
**Martin isn’t his real name