03.01.2013 - 28.02.2013
There’s something magical about sitting in a tree house exchanging secrets. It’s a safe place, a creative place, where you’re allowed to dream dreams and tell stories. There, you can escape from chores, avoid homework and be in charge of things. Being welcomed into that special world as a kid is a privilege, but being an adult and getting an invitation is a rare allowance.
Although I frequently indulge my “child at heart” and behave childishly enough to drive some adults nuts, I don’t have that unforced, easy going ability of immediately connecting with children that others possess. Given that I speak fluent Spanish, sometimes I feel a duty to step in and be another “adult” hand or voice. Many times when I volunteer with children I end up trying to keep order, the peace or whatever else needs to be ruled.
I was never free of that self-imposed responsibility until I started volunteering at Comunidad de los Niños, one of Casa HOY’s more recent childcare projects for elementary aged boys from low-income single parent families. There are two things that make Comunidad a unique place to volunteer: number one, the staff is beyond fabulous. Although they have 10 kids at once vying for their attention, they always find time to say hi to volunteers, to sit down and help a child with homework, or to answer a question or give a hug. Volunteers that work at Comunidad know that mayhem will reign several times a day, but the staff will take care of it. Number two, they’re boys. I grew up with two sisters, so people might argue otherwise, but in my limited experience dealing with boys is so straight forward. There are still tears and fights and friendships broken and fixed. But drama is short-lived, contained and usually settled right there on the playground.
Or in the tree house.
Today I was given a special chance to hang out in that tree house world for most of the day. I played chess with a four-year-old who unabashedly took out my queen with his pawns that jumped all over the board. I challenged a six year old to a matching game that he had done so many times everyone thought he was cheating. Lost that game, too. I spent half an hour at the lunch table with two boys talking about who could eat the most. I held hands and walked an eight-year-old to class, learning the strategies to Gears of War and other video games that I will never, ever play. And at the end of the day, I went back and hung out in that tree house just a little longer, hearing ghost stories about the old woman that lives in the ravine next to the house.
Those that often volunteer with children will know that those tree house moments aren’t everyday occurrences. And if you’re a new volunteer, you might have to work to find the child in you, to remember seeing animals in the clouds and giving your siblings wet willies and playing with the same ball for hours on end. Casa HOY has several childcare projects, and they all offer fun and challenging experiences. What is so refreshing and stimulating about Comunidad de los Niños is how easy the friendship of a child is to come by. You might finally stop saying “kids these days” and actually join them in being one.