Once a year, a group of dedicated volunteers gather early in our church yard at the pavilion and start the fire and breakfast together. They fellowship and laugh as they fry fish, potatoes, and hush puppies for all the rest of us and whatever friends and family we can gather in after worship service in our village church. Yesterday’s weather could not have been more perfect for such a fall celebration. If the large crowd and the abundance of side dishes and desserts were any indication, the affair was a great success.
Earlier Gerald and I were working with the preschoolers during the worship service, and we had six small children in our care plus Tyler, a third grade helper who comes in once a month. Our hands were full with Drew, a two-year-old present for the first time, and Caleb, a three-year-old who knew about the play ground where all the cooking was going on and wanted to be there immediately without waiting. Our helper Tyler is both challenged and also challenging, and I was so pleased that he showed special effective concern to the new child, who responded well to him. Drew also adored Gerald and would sit happily on his lap, while my efforts to comfort when he first realized his father had gone from the room did not help a bit. With Tyler and Gerald’s attention, he was soon playing and participating happily again.
To some of the other kids, I was explaining--not particularly successfully-- that the Bible says to be kind to the stranger within our gates and so we needed to be particularly kind and sharing with Drew, who was just getting acquainted with us. (This was in response to someone not wanting to share a toy with him. Grabbing it out of his hand, in fact.) As you watch the children squabble over toys or the limited space beneath the blackboard tripod where you wished they had not crawled, you sometimes think the worst of human nature shows up early in little ones. They can be snippy, snobby, and selfish with each other. Yet these same children can be sweet, sharing, and concerned for another child just a few minutes later. We try to re-enforce those qualities that bring about peace and happiness. Children seem to have a built-in sense of justice that is easily brought to the surface most times. Of course, if they are cranky and tired as every child is sometimes, then they may not be rational nor capable of understanding fairness. Or if they understand it, they may not want to be fair anyhow.
It is exciting to see small children learn to play beside each other and eventually with each other as they age. It is so rewarding to see them learn to enjoy routines and order. When play chaos is suddenly replaced with coming together at the snack table for water and graham crackers and then complete silence happens spontaneously as a brief thank you prayer is said, all a teacher’s efforts are worth it. (Forgotten is the work required to take turns washing our hands and then more struggle lining up at the hall water fountain—a great joy to children who like to fill their own cups—and then getting everyone back in the room at the table after their fascination with baby Boone in the room by the water fountain—an attraction that caused considerable straying.)
After the snack and more play, we gathered a second time at the table. When the red leaves collected from our little maple tree were showered down on the table, the oldest child knew what season it was and soon little hands made them fall again, They liked gluing them on a piece of paper to take home.
Later as we ate fish and the children swarmed the play ground equipment, Gerald and I were grateful parents and grandparents were once more in control of their children’s happiness and safety. Yet I could not help feeling satisfaction that little Drew was climbing and playing as if he had known everyone forever.
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