The little people are a big part of my life here in England (I don’t mean fairies, though).
I’ve never spent this much time around children – especially of so many different ages – before. I spend nearly all day Thursday with children. There’s the mums and tots group Thursday mornings, where I have a couple special little friends. Little Ayna, who won’t leave her mother’s side but beams at me most mischievously from sparkling dark eyes and giggles madly and bats my hand away when I reach out to tickle her.Two little ones – I don’t know their names – who are hands down the most gorgeous children I have ever seen, with huge blue almond shaped eyes looking out of faces the color of coffee and milk. They stare and stare when they see me, but lately there have been glimmerings of a smile twinkling in the girl’s face. The little Pakistani girl who with her mother keep almost totally to themselves, but will stop and talk to me. Even the Pakistani matriarch who comes in with her two grandchildren (one of whom is always screaming) complimented me on my skirt and asked me why I didn’t speak Urdu or Punjabi (Well…).Or the girl who always shows up in dresses and insists on bringing me a toy phone so I can call my mom (“Mom” never fails. There were purple elephants in the backyard last time.)
Then it’s to the ESOL centre. Class has become so jam-packed that we moved down to the lounge to accommodate everybody, but for the month or two previous I had charge of little Nabikh, who is 18 months old, I believe. His parents recently came as refugees from Pakistan and are busily engaged in learning English. The first time, he behaved – cried, of course, but quieted down when I picked him up and walked around with him – and when a child starts falling asleep on you, it’s kind of hard to stay frustrated. Sadly, it didn’t last. Now all I have to do is walk into the room for him to start crying. Sigh. He’s not a bad kid, but these children usually go through trauma coming as refugees and aren’t used to being separated from their parents at all.
After that it’s lunch at the ESOL centre (usually cooked by volunteers, and they make the most AMAZING ethnic dishes. We’ve had Angolan food, several kinds of Brazilian and Colombian food, and I forget what else, and it has all been amazing.) Then a sewing class, during which I do childcare with another lady named Jeanne. Nabikh has been my primary concern, but we have had other delightful children. There’s been Asher, who is the most amiable little man I have ever met. He can only just sit up on his own, but with his blue eyes and fat cheeks – and constant giggles and smiles – he is eternally kissable =D. Or the four Sudanese children. The three girls played furiously with the 7 or 8 baby dolls in the toy box, changing their clothes and taking them out for shopping and to see their friends. Their little brother, the youngest, watched sleepily from where he was cuddled up – either with me or Jeanne – until he decided to venture out to join them.
There’s Friday mornings at a local primary school with 27 4 and 5 year old children. It’s completely different from anything else I’ve ever done!! For one, I was homeschooled all my life so this was my first experience with that many kids in one place. For two, the noise! It’s chaos, but organized chaos – I am in AWE of primary/kindergarten/elementary school teachers now. If I’ve learned anything during my time in England, it’s that I’m not meant to be one of them. There’s the teacher (a gregarious young blonde that all the kids adore), the teacher’s assistant (less gregarious but no less loved), and a university student doing her placement there (she’s a bit austere, but we’re making progress :). It is amazing to watch the three of them maintain discipline. Miss G will break the kids up into groups and have each of the adults look after that group while they’re doing whatever activity. The other three operate like clockwork, while with me it’s a constant litany. “Keep going! What are you doing? Look where you’re going! Are you okay? NO STOP THAT! Get back here! Look how far everyone is ahead of you! Keep in line! Don’t cut! What? What? Don’t hurt yourself! Keep going. Keep Going. KEEP GOING. Why have you stopped? Go. GO! Was it an accident? Say you’re sorry. Get up! No, it’s not your turn yet. Hold on, I need to help her first, she was waiting before you. No, I’m not done helping her yet. Don’t be silly. STOPPIT!”
Life goal: learn how to maintain discipline among a group of little ones. College teaching is looking better and better.
But the kids are so cute. I love watching them. “Miss Mary,” they call me, and most of them have the darlingest Pakistani-British accent hybrid. Or just “Miss,” if they forget the Mary part.
Every time I see Sohaib, I want to grab him and kiss his cheeks. Or Hayder, who has a crush on meek little Hafsa. He planted a Hello Kitty sticker smack dab in the middle of her chest on the playground the other day, and they held hands the rest of playtime. Or tiny Maria, who giggles with mischief when she sees me and grabs my skirt. Or Vanessa, who is Romanian, doesn’t understand English, and thinks it’s a hoot to make the teachers chase after her in the playground. Or Darakshan, who is a crack reader. Thomas and Gabriel, who are two inseparable strawberry blondes. The other day, Thomas was distracted when Miss G was calling class to order. To save him from getting into trouble, Gabriel grabbed Thomas’ head and turned him to face the teacher. And of course, well-behaved, solemn little Mollie.
My favorite thing to do with them is practice their reading. Most of them are already reading, thanks to phonics time in the morning. I wouldn’t mind doing that – literacy stuff. But that’s a given.
I also am spending time with preteens/teens, who are a different element altogether. I teach preteens in the US, but here it’s more about being friends with/mentoring them, and that’s weirdly different. The family I’m staying with has four kids. The oldest is immersed in schoolwork, so I don’t see a ton of her. The third one, the only boy, and I get along fine, and the youngest is all around adorable. I’m probably closest to the second one, who is 13 (which is funny because I think she took the longest to warm up to me. Now she scares me by creeping up behind me.)
Not too long ago, I offered to look after the kids, and invite some friends of theirs over, so their parents could go to a conference together. I planned to make pizza with them and watch a movie – but they arrived and I realized with a jolt: I have no idea what to do with you all! Somehow we got through the day in one piece and with minimal boredom 😛
Later, at a Tough Talks session, I had lunch with the preteen I’d looked after and ended up being her sounding board on some relationship issues she was trying to navigate. Suffice it to say, I had no idea there could be so many nuances to take into consideration when it comes to “liking a guy but wanting to be friends first but being pressured by x and y and z” and etc. and etc. and etc.
Twelve. I’m twenty-two and I have never had guy problems like that. How the heck did I get here? And then, her parents are going to kill me.
On top of that, that same day I badly unsettled another eleven-year old who joined our table by telling her I’m twenty-two. “I thought you were our age!” she kept repeating dazedly. The twelve-year old tried to reassure her, but she finally just left the table altogether. I kept catching her staring at me from across the room.
Sorry, kid! I’m sorry!!
I definitely want to be a mom someday. But – not yet. I’m in no hurry, hahaha.