finger paintingThere are those who are meant to work with children and those who are not. Unfortunately, I am in the ‘not’ category.

My daughter, Kristen, has a child on her lap, longing to be adopted seconds after being introduced. She is the pied piper of little ones; they trail after her like baby ducks, because she sees into their soul and shows them their beauty. 

Amy is a slender woman with a long braid trailing down her back. She is in my writing group and teaches kindergarten in a Japanese immersion school. She comes to our group with stories of glue sticks, muddy boots, carp kites and little raincoats. There is a tender intimacy in the broadness of her love. 

My sister, Kristen, took her skills from the performing arts and shuttled them into a school library in upstate New York. She makes stories come alive with music, character voices and puppetry. The children think she lives in the library closet and owns every book. They have no idea how lucky they are. Her spirit is gentle, reverent and embracing.

I was not blessed with that gift. My need for quiet and aversion to chaos has limited my desire. But, before I knew that, I applied for and received two grants to work with children as an artist in residence. The first grant came from the city of Portland.

On my first day at school I met a little girl in the hallway and decided to get acquainted.

 Hello Sweetheart, I said, how are you today?

She stopped walking, looked up at me, and kicked me as hard as she could.

I hate you, she said and walked away. That was pretty much how it went.

I got busy creating a theater piece on the stage. I expected the kids I was not working with to be still and watch, instead they began opening the windows and crawling out. I had no idea how to stop them. There were too many and I was stunned. I had to request help from one of the teachers. When I went to school in Vermont, students sat quietly, never moved an inch. It was formal; the boys wore shirts and ties, the young women wore dresses. This was very different.

The next grant was at the Waverly Home for Emotionally Disturbed Boys.

I know, I’m a slow learner, but reasoned it would be better since the children came with room counselors who were obviously trained to keep order. I’d brought large vats of paint in white plastic buckets and lined them along the edge of folding tables for days of creativity and puppet building.

Turns out it was not a painting day for Darren, who was one of the last to arrive, so he picked up a paint bucket and sent bright hues of liquid purple into the air, which landed on the walls, windows, across my favorite skirt and dripped over my apron. That was a moment of significant insight for me. 

In that moment, I knew with complete certainty that my place in the world was working with grown-ups. I wanted quiet people, people who did not climb out of windows while we were working together, people who did not leave my clothes dripping with purple paint, or kick me in the leg when they were having a bad day, and you know what? I’ve never really changed my mind.

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