~This is the 6th blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children. I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.
The hot summer days in Sacramento have proven brutal this week. Imagine if you will that you are homeless. It’s difficult to find relief from the heat both during the day and the night. If you’re lucky, your motel room has a good cooling system. If you’re unlucky, you are living in a car or tent and it’s difficult to sleep at all.
The children at Mustard Seed were, as usual, treated to another field trip yesterday. Having arrived just minutes after they left the school, I chased after them to arrive at the Discovery Museum.
As I walked up, the staff waved to me and I was assigned one child to monitor. He looked at me and immediately started crying. Trying not to let my feelings get hurt, I asked him, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me?”
He looked up at me with big tear filled brown eyes and said, “I wanted to go with Mr. Paul.” I know that what he was really saying is that he wanted to be with his best and closest buddy, Miguel.
I assured him that we would walk with Mr. Paul’s group and that it would be ok.
As we progressed through the museum the boys took turns playing a video game where their body movements controlled a salmon swimming upstream, navigating a series of obstacles. I was surprised at how cooperative they were with each other and how once they either completed the run or failed (eaten by a bear) they simply stepped aside and allowed the other his or her turn. There was no whining or requests to do over. They had a great time and this pattern of cooperation transferred to other games as well.
The group learned to create healthy balanced meals, measure their heart rates, view X-rays of broken bones, play doctor, balance on a timed disk so that they, in fact, were in competition with each other. There was only one instance of upset.
James grew tired of watching Miguel playing with a stethoscope and demanding he turn it over to him. Miguel kept saying, “But I’m still playing with it. I got it first.” James persisted until Miguel having had quite enough, pulled the earpieces off his head and looking directly into James’ eyes said, “Look, I am still using this. I’m not ready to give it to you. It’s my turn. You need to stop yelling at me. It’s not nice and you need to stop!”
James is used to being the more aggressive of the two so Miguel’s statement stopped him in his tracks. I fully expected whining, tears or a plea from James. Instead, he said ok and went on to a different activity. Yay for Miguel! Yay, I didn’t have to intervene!
Eventually, we instructed all of the children to try to go to the bathroom because the next phase of the trip would be in the planetarium where no one would be allowed to leave or enter once the presentation started. The children understood that this rule is based on the need for participants’ eyes to adjust to the darkness and that opening the door would hinder the process.
Once inside the wonderfully cool room (it was about 104 outside where we were waiting in line), I was a very impressed at the amount of knowledge many of the kids had about space. They were eager participants in the discussion about planets, stars, asteroids, comets, etc. As the lights were dimmed to darkness in incremental stages to allow our eyes to adjust I heard heavy breathing. Only three minutes had passed since the lights went to the red stage so I thought someone was pretending to sleep.
As the presentation continued, the heaving breathing turned into outright snoring. I turned to see who was making the noise and saw a 6 or 7-year-old little girl, head relaxed backward in her seat, sound asleep.
When I first started volunteering I was reminded that sometimes kids come to school to sleep. We make them comfortable and don’t wake them because sleep and rest are a priority. So it was with this darling little girl. She slept in the cool, dark room.
The presenter continued without flinching. She expertly engaged all of the children by asking them to count down with her as she changed lighting, or moved to a powerpoint video in the dark. She asked them to point to N, W, E, and S, on the dome so that they could orient themselves to the night sky as it would be last night, on the summer solstice. The children were fully engaged and enjoyed the praise she showered on those naming planets or providing correct answers to a variety of questions she posed.
She transitioned from planets to a discussion of our moon. She asked, “can anyone tell me the name of the first man on the moon?”
From the darkness, a small voice said confidently, “Jason Bourne.”
The adult chaperones snickered. The child was referring to Matt Damon, from his role in 2015 film, The Martian, but got his name wrong.
The presenter kept talking, then as if she finally got the reference, she started to laugh. She couldn’t regain her composure for a couple minutes. We all laughed, but now because she couldn’t help herself. It was a silly, special moment. A moment that caused our sleeping child to wake and stop snoring. Everyone was present, engaged, and carefree for a little while.
I would say, mission accomplished!
Thanks for reading.