Monday, August 17, 2009

New Crop of Kids

I started a new camp today. No, we can't actually call them camps, because of legal regulations that make a "camp" a "camp." Instead, we call them "awesome activity weeks," which to me just conveys the super-duper happy funtime of it all, and if it's not awesome, then... well, you're fucked with claims of false advertising.

Anyway, I have a 75-minute commute to work this time around. (ASIDE: With the AAWs, you train in one theme (we have several) and then you go wherever that particular theme was scheduled. I'm trained in three different themes and my shortest commute has been 40 minutes.) It's really very difficult to wake up at 6 AM when you're dealing with the tail end of a flea infestation and some aggressively cuddly cats who leap up to snuggle in bed and don't know the meaning of the word "No" and a toss onto the floor. I took one of my kittens off the bed thirty times (I counted) between the hours of 4 and 5 AM. Exhausted, I showered, woke up the girlfriend so she could call the vet (she sleeps until noon much of the time and wanted to call at 8). I dragged a 50-pound bin out of my third-story apartment and set it into my car, then made a quickie drive to CVS for pretzels and apple juice and cups for the kids to snack on in case they didn't have the fortitude to bring a snack (something I don't get reimbursed for because it's my personal choice to do this). For myself, I grab my bottle of No-Doz and a Starbucks Doubleshot for the drive there. I have a real problem with nearly falling asleep while taking a nice cozy drive through the boondocks. Unfortunately, caffeine seems to have no effect on me. You'd think after popping a couple of caffeine pills and drinking a coffee-flavored energy drink, I might be a little bit buzzed. You'd also think that after learning that despite doing this, my eyelids still droop a little, I'd learn to quit the useless caffeine habit, but to no avail.

But I digress.

By the time I arrive at my destination, I am totally awake (because I am no longer driving----it's driving that triggers it, which quite frankly terrifies me and makes me go to bed early). I arrive early, but the building is locked. I call the Parks & Rec Dept, my contact number for the AAW, which... is at another location. The girl on the phone hears a man with a leaf blower over on my end and tells me to ask him for keys. He does, in fact, have keys, and I'm allowed in. Room is set up, A/C is put on, all crises and panics over "OMG WHAT IF I AM NOT ABLE TO GET INSIDE" have subsided.

For this AAW I have seven kids----seven boys, ages 7-13. Now, the AAWs I do are marketed to ages 7-12. Normally, I do AAWs for ages 5-10. A lot of the material is way too complicated to kids under 7, but that's my normal age bracket. Once you get up to age 10, they get a little too jaded and a little too Know-It-All for my tastes. Surly, above-it-all, and fucking obnoxious. So you can imagine that a thirteen-year-old is just the epitome of all of this. I'm stuck with the challenge of keeping things grown-up and complicated enough for a thirteen-year-old boy who needs to be impressed, and making things fun and simple and magical for a seven- or eight-year-old.

Seven boys. I'm imagining boys climbing on walls, screaming and playing shoot-em-up tag with imaginary guns. Rolling on the floor, stacking Crayola markers end on end and having sword fights with them. I'm imagining having to curtail escaped monkeys at the zoo.

Weirdly enough, they're well-behaved. They're scarily well-behaved, to the point where I'm convinced their bored out of their minds. Boredom, however, tends to have the opposite effect: kids get restless and all hell breaks loose. And yet, the kids don't seem all that interested in what I'm saying or what they're doing. They're complacent and quiet and calm and though I've often dreamed of a group like this, I quite honestly don't know how to handle it. It makes me nervous. If I'm not spending 30+ total minutes of a three-hour day disciplining wild summer children, I run out of stuff to do! I specifically plan my lessons with the idea that a massive chunk of time will be spent on reeling people in! Thankfully, this is a truncated AAW (three days instead of five) and I can afford to cram in as much activity as I can.

The only trouble comes from the thirteen-year-old, who thinks he can touch my things on the table, roam around, and be generally obnoxious. But despite that he's quiet. I hope things are noisier tomorrow or else I'm going to explode from all of the nervous tension. It's like they're plotting my demise.


I grew up with the Traditional American Family. Mom and Dad married thirty-one years, younger brother, suburbs, white middle-class. Dad worked for an insurance company, mom stopped work to stay at home. My upbringing had its snags and grows less traditional as we all grow older, but as a kid, I lived that American Dream that's mostly nonexistent in reality. I tend to assume that other kids, particularly those growing up in the nice WASPy scenic-farm-and-town area, do too. And for the most part, they do. Most of the kids that I teach are kids who grow up with two parents and siblings and dogs and a lot of Stuff, which was why I was so jarred by one kid's storytelling session.

Billy (name changed) is eleven years old. He's a Supernerd in the most adorable sense. Tall, lanky, hair like straw, big eyes behind bigger bifocals. Wearing really badass temporary tattoos on both arms (adorable). He has siblings who are jocks and he's the nerdy kid who loves science, and he did nothing but profess his love of this AAW for the whole day. I was making conversation, asking if everyone lived in this town. Billy lives in the next town over and says the town was a lot better when it was all farm country, but there's been a lot of development. He then says he has two dogs and seven fish, and proceeds to list all of the pets he had while living on a farm (chickens, dogs, a super awesome goat), and says he wishes his house hadn't burned down (killing one of his dogs). He then proceeds to talk about his dad and the things his dad used to do with him, and then mentions that his dad doesn't live with him anymore and his parents are getting a divorce----but for "good reasons," he says with a sage nod. I say that it's probably best if it's for good reasons, not prying. Billy then tells me his parents are getting a divorce because his father was "very violent" toward his mother and "seriously injured her, and so they're getting a divorce." And that his father was into drugs and he and his mom both ended up in jail for a while (if they're still in jail, I don't know). He now lives with his grandmother.

Totally casual and sweet and nonchalant, perfectly willing to share this information like it flowed naturally from "I have two dogs and seven fish."

I just... holy shit.

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