Monday, October 10, 2011

Beautiful Sunday

Waking up on what might be the last beautiful Sunday for the next, oh, seven months or so, I have to admit that, as I thought about my morning, “spend a shift at the Crisis Nursery with all my under-age-six pals” was not in the top ten on my wish list. Not in the top 100, to be honest, and I tried to avoid thinking about all the wonderful life choices I could otherwise be making with such a lovely day. I attempted to wrestle the self pity to the ground and stuff it into my back pocket, and then I donned my extra-dorky “Volunteer” t-shirt and even-dorkier name-tag lanyard and hit the road to Golden Valley.

By the time I finished my shift that afternoon, Clifton (age 5, going on 50) was sucking his thumb and sleeping. In the next bed, Tristan (age 3, perhaps perpetually) was wide awake and thrashing a counterclockwise perimeter around his tiny twin bed, wearing out a crop circle on the Sponge Bob sheets.

I signed out, turned in my name badge, and headed back into a world that was just as lovely as when I’d walked in. See there? I told myself. And just what would I have done with that chunk of my day, if I hadn’t spent it as a volunteer? I answered both sides of the question:

I could have lounged about. Doubtful. I would have thought about lounging, but would have observed dirt and chaos all around me, then dealt with it, repeatedly. Even the very angry toddler at the nursery who, during a long crying jag, managed to drip quite a bit of, um, bodily fluid, all down her front and generously onto my dorky t-shirt,  was not remotely as disconcerting as a house full of misplaced items and dog hair. 
Point goes to: Volunteering

I could have achieved nirvana in a yoga class. Possibly. But no meditation labyrinth could have been nearly as restful as the slow shuffle I took across the playground field with a very quiet two-year-old. As a bonus, we stopped halfway across and played a rock game of his invention. I still got to enjoy the sunshine while I was opening my waiting palm, receiving a rock, then solemnly closing my fingers around it. Then, and this is the great part if you're two, I opened up my hand and showed him that the rock was still there, ready for the taking. His solemn pleasure at this game, and his diligence in the repetition, had to be better for my body than a thousand upward dogs.
Point goes to: Volunteering

I could have had a long, deep conversation with a friend. Not gonna happen. My friends talk about two things:  how their children are driving them crazy, or how their boyfriends are driving them crazy. (Or, with some friends, both, and that gets a little extreme.)

None of them ever reveals a secret worry that the emergency light in the bedroom will actually do some scary, unnameable thing (Clifton), how the nursery ID ankle band is so tight it actually prevents sleep (again, Clifton) or how anxiety over his mother’s safety kept him up all night (again, my main man, Clifton). We talked about some real stuff in that half hour before he fell asleep for nap yesterday. He misses his mother so much he could gnaw off his arm in misery, and all I had in my arsenal of comfort was a squishy lap, a mom-like demeanor and a willingness to offer some remedy.

So I thought very hard, and breathed very slowly, and tried. I explained about the emergency light, even offering a hands-on demonstration of its safe qualities. I persuaded the staff to provide him with a new ID band that I promised would be “the unscratchy kind.” I told him, over and over, that his mother was fine, that she loved him and that she was coming back for him, soon. I’ve never had a conversation with any of my friends in which we covered that many important topics in half an hour, and I’ve certainly never offered anything close to such direct and sincere relief. At least, not enough relief that they felt comfortable enough to suck their thumb in front of me and fall asleep, exhausted.
Point goes to: Volunteering

So I drove home. Surprise, I still had the rest of a day. And I spent it cleaning the chaos, going to yoga, walking the dog. Not one thing I did was as important as the time I had spent at the nursery. 

My better self was right (she usually is, when I stop whining long enough to listen to her). There will sometimes be beautiful Sundays, but there will always be children who need a little help in letting go of their worries for as long as it takes to fall asleep.

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