Lisa: (tugging at Homer’s hand) I’ll do it! I’ll babysit!
Ned: I dunno, Lisa. You’re awfully young and the boys can be quite a handful. Todd’s been pinching everyone lately! –The Simpsons
Yesterday I had my first volunteer shift at the crisis nursery. It’s not like a daycare, and it’s also not for wards of the state. The families bring their children there voluntarily. The kids stay for a minimum of 24 hours while the parents sort their lives out. For some parents, it’s a once a month break when they have no other family or friends to watch the kids and they are on the verge of a breakdown themselves. For others, it’s because a parent needs to through rehab. There are children of recovering addicts, nearly homeless, very poor families and more.
My job as a volunteer was simply to play with the kids and assist the staff members. I was pretty nervous since it was my first day and I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were two staff members working in the kitchen, and two other volunteers on the playground with the little ones. The staffers were kind of grouchy, which I could understand. They have a tough job and it’s tiring. At the same time, they gave me only limited instruction and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. The training I received was mostly, here are the exit signs and emergency routes to take. There wasn’t any lesson on how to deal with children, like if they need help going potty, or if they have a tantrum. So I walked onto the playground a little bit freaked out. I don’t have a lot of experience with children other than brief encounters with my friends’ kids and my family members. It’s been at least 2 years since I last babysat, and that was just one baby, not a roomful.
So the volunteers were grouchy, but hopefully as they get to know me they’ll warm up, and as I learn what to do they will like me. I could tell they were annoyed with having to teach someone new which was a shame since I was there to give my time. I got the impression that they also thought I was a lot younger than I am, probably because I look like I’m about 18. 😉 The volunteers were really sweet and helped me learn the ropes which I’m grateful for.
The best part about my first shift was playing outside with the kids. This sweet little boy of about 2 came toddling up to me, grabbed my hand and led me off on an adventure, looking for “ant houses”. Then we played a pretend game where he was a little pig and kept oinking. Then he was a monster and we played hide and seek in one of the playhouses. I think my favorite was when he grabbed a basketball and placed it in the bushes and whispered to me, “It’s a dinosaur egg”. Oh how I loved his imagination!
Later in the day a sweet little girl with braids in her hair came up to me and just simply asked for a hug. Her little brother was also super cuddly. My ovaries hurt with the cuteness factor of these little ones.
Not that it was all sunshine and roses. There was a little girl in the group that the staffers and volunteers said was quite a “handful”. This was putting it mildly. I think she learned the manipulation skill at a very early age and boy did she use it! She convinced the volunteers that she had to go potty, and poor unsuspecting me, I took her. The minute we got into the nursery she went running over to the tissue box and just started flinging the tissue on the ground and laughing. She said she didn’t have to potty. Turns out she just wanted to be inside. Later during nap time she refused to lie down and rest and instead pouted and loudly screamed that she didn’t like the book I was reading. I ended up having to get help from a staff person.
My heart is sad for that little girl because I could tell she was acting out because of her situation. I can’t imagine that it’s easy for a toddler to be in such a different environment. I don’t know what’s going on at home but I can bet she’s not getting enough attention, so she seeks it out any way she can, even negative attention. I think it was good for me to be exposed to this kind of behavior, because I know even the sweetest children will have their handful moments.
All and all it was a great experience, and I’m sure next week will be even better. I just felt awkward and unsure of myself because I don’t know all the rules yet, and my experience with children is so limited. I wasn’t sure how much I could say no, or if I was allowed to leave Handful alone for a minute to get help from staff members. I’m sure as I learn the ropes I’ll get more confidence. And hopefully the staff will have more confidence in me.