Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Button Giver

So since all the cool blogger kids are taking hiatuses... hiati?... I thought I would join in too. So I have left you all for new adventures. But I am back filled with stories to tell you. Okay... one story.

I've been in the woods of late. Not figuratively. Literally. Each year the entire fifth grade at my kid's school heads off into the wilderness to learn about nature for 2.5 days. They bring along a few "chosen" parents... mostly ones without criminal records who can actually PROVE that they have no criminal records. At any rate, Monday found me bouncing along to points north on a yellow bus of 10 year olds. My son had deserted me to sit with friends, so I was sitting with the kid with a lisp that apparently no one else wanted to sit with. He announced each sign that we passed, and then asked exactly how far that was to our destination. Finally after an hour we took the exit ramp which caused him to jump up and announce, "Look kids, we're getting off the interstate." but sounded sort of like Sylvester the Cat "look kidthhthh, we're getting off the interthththate." I wanted to point out to him that the reason that he was sitting with me might have had something to do with his use of the word "interstate"... or his insistence on calling them all "kids". But arrive we did. And after unpacking a bus full of bags, including one Gucci bag that I could had fit my entire wardrobe in, the kids were off to meet their leaders and the chaperones were off to learn how to lead.

At this meeting a parent from each group was given a bag with buttons in them. They were special buttons to give to the kids for "special" things they did.. like paying attention, volunteering, and not jumping off cliffs. I was given the bag for our group of twenty kids because the other dad was too busy trying to find cell reception and coffee. Our duties consisted of escorting the kids here and there... entertaining them during breaks... generally staying out of the way of the guides... and handing out buttons. I figured that the kids would find the buttons patronizing as I did. But the dynamic was interesting. The first few badges garnered little attention and I assumed that they mostly didn't care. There were 16 badges and 20 kids... so I tried to watch each kid for a bit and select some special moments. The other father took a few and handed them out like lifesavers if the kid could answer questions like "what is your name?" and so forth. At dinner... badge winners were asked to stand up, and be recognized before returning their badges for the next day. Mostly they rolled their eyes at having to stand up. But kids are sneaky with what they care about... and by day two there was an undercurrent of needing to be recognized.

On day two of our adventure, some mysterious suited men showed up at lunch. "Suited" as in double breasted suits, with $400 loafers. I asked the student teacher sitting next to me at lunch what was up and she whispered that one of the parents in one of the other groups was "crazy..." and the school administrators came to "check in". This, of course, raised my hackles... because the logical conclusion was that someone had called me crazy again. This fear was confirmed when one of the suits followed my group out into the wilderness after lunch. The 20 ducklings, the student teacher, one environmental leader, and me and Mr. Gucci Shoes. The student teacher caught my eye and conspiratorially told me that I wasn't crazy... but Gucci was following because his daughter was in our group. She pointed the girl out.

She was a tiny pixie and in the first day I never saw her without a smile. But when I looked at her now she looked like steam was coming out of her ears. I have never seen a face more full off anger than on that little pixie face. The student teacher filled me in. "The parents are separated... she doesn't like dad much." They didn't teach us about this part in the chaperone training. We marched along through the forest path with Mr. Gucci Shoes trailing us by about 20 yards. While his daugher pushed her way to the front of the line to be as far away from him as possible. It was heartbreaking. From both sides. I have no clue what had gone down between them. It didn't really matter, I suppose. Her perfect world had been shattered. And he was to blame. Rightly or wrongly. And now here was a public reminder of it dogging her adventure in Italian leather. He stayed back and listened to part of the next session, and then when the kids were getting ready to do their learning, he leaned in for a whispered goodbye. She didn't even look at him and he followed the path back to camp. The pixie was still trying to recover several minutes later. She was listening to the wind in the trees, and the chipmunks chipping, and the wood creaking, and studiously copying down these finding into her current exercise, writing the song of nature. But it was hard to hear with all that steam in her ears. I could tell. I was watching her. And the joy of the place was gone, washed away by hurt feeling from the past.

I went and knelt beside her eventually and asked her to tell me her song. She rattled off the sounds and I asked her if she heard the bird in the distance. We both listened for a bit in silence. And the steam began to fade. And as I got up, I handed her a blue listening button with a smile. And suddenly, her smile was back. She pinned it on and showed her best friend who smiled too.

If only it were that easy. I would give buttons every day to everyone I met. Wouldn't you?

18 comments:

  1. Yes, if it were only that easy. But we can always try to bring a smile to others...I don't recommend buttons though...unless you want to be called crazy *again*. :D

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  2. @MK... Friendship is recognizing the blog-worthyness of each other's stories.

    @HE... I can hear them... "Hey.. here comes that creepy guy again with the buttons".

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  3. if I had a button...i would give it to this story.

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  4. "...look kidthhthh, we're getting off the interthththate." Sometimes you are so wrong, but you are always so right. Today you get the funny-charming-sweet-sensitive-welcome back we missed you button.

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  5. I'm so happy to see this that my face is it's own smiley button.

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  6. @Just LD... that was a smile evoking comment.

    @Pina... that was too. You guys are good.

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  7. There is a beautiful authenticity in your words...children are so complex--and so many miss that.

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  8. @Chantel- thank you... yes... they are complex... too complex for me sometimes. parenthood is a continual adventure in not stepping in it... but the definition of "it" changes hour by hour.

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  9. I'm gonna guess the "I missed you button" is going to be passed out quite a bit to you...

    Between you and Mandy both being gone - I haven't had anyone to read!! :-(

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  10. @Linday... well, I like that button, so you can never have too many.

    Mandy is just storing up her stories for a rainy day. She's cagey like that.

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  11. Sounds like someone's Mommy has been spewing venom within earshot of a naive mind. Then again - who wouldnt be embarrassed to the point of anger to have a dad foolish enough to trek through the woods in dress shoes?

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  12. @pc... I don't know what the story is... but it was indeed awkward having him tagging along.

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  13. You got me with this one. In a very good way.

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  14. pick me! pick me! Ok. I feel better now. I never did that when I was a kid. Never got picked - but it's not like I'm bitter or anything. Little moments like this one with this child can change a kid's life. And then to top it off, they give us much more in return :)

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  15. You mean I get more than a button? I can't imagine what could be better... :)

    I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't pick you.

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