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Army of Kids
Sniff. I looked up from the blue and yellow mat, where I was helping a little boy named Trevor put together a 100-piece car puzzle. Searching around for the source of the muffled sound, my eyes met those of a little girl in a lavender dress, half-hidden behind a shelf of stuffed animals and Lego bricks. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying, and her sleeve was already damp from tears. Glancing at her nametag, which read “Lucy,” I recognized her as one of the kids who checked in earlier that day.
In the summer of 2011, I volunteered at the local YMCA Kids’ Zone. Three days a week, I was exposed to the silly stories, cunning tactics, and creative make-believe games that only an army of forty children could conjure up. Up until that point, I had mostly worked with kids who stepped through the door every day with wide grins plastered onto their faces as they rushed toward their favorite activities in the room, including the indoor jungle gym and the arts and crafts table. Their excitement was contagious, and I found myself laughing along with them as we played Chutes and Ladders, built marble mazes, and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Despite their quarrels over knocking down each other’s building blocks, and the occasional question of “are you a kid or a staff member?”, the children were for the most part an extremely friendly group who mingled well with one another and with the staff. I did not know of anyone who disliked their time at the Kids’ Zone, but Lucy proved me wrong.
“What’s wrong, Lucy?” I sat down next to her and patted her on the back.
“I want my mommy,” she sobbed between hiccups.
I quickly assured her, “Mommy is on the treadmill right outside. She’ll be done in no time!” I was surprised that Lucy sat alone in the corner instead of enjoying various activities with the other kids. Even in large group games like Red Light Green Light, she continued to sit there miserably. Did she not feel welcome? I could not wrap my head around the idea that nothing in the room could comfort or entertain her.
But the more I thought about Lucy’s situation, the more I could relate. In a sudden flashback to first grade, I could distinctly remember sobbing on the playground on my first day of after-school daycare. It was rainy and windy, and I did not want to build muddy sandcastles outside with the other kids as we waited for our parents to pick us up. I had wanted to go home, just like Lucy did.
I knew I could not let Lucy cry for the rest of her time at the Y like I did in first grade. I was a volunteer there; I was supposed to help make everyone feel welcome. I grabbed several books off the shelf.
“Green Eggs and Ham.”
A few kids nearby turned their heads to watch as I began to read aloud.
“I am Sam. Sam I am.” I smiled as Lucy began to wipe her tears away.
“Do you like green eggs and ham?” Lucy stared at the illustrations intently, and the kids nearby had sat down next to me to listen as well.
“I do not like green eggs and ham.” As I continued, I was glad I had taken the time to comfort Lucy. By the end of the book, she was smiling and urged me to read another. Seeing the gratitude in her eyes made me feel accomplished, as if I were capable of making a difference, no matter how small. Spending the day surrounded by little kids had opened my eyes once again.
“I do so like Green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am.”