Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nature Lady

Two weekends ago, I had two programs. One of them was run by a friend of mine who is also a contract employee.  Hers was a rousing success.  The kids had a blast learning about nursery rhymes; they got to card wool, make butter, put together a "Humpty Dumpty" puzzle, and eat crackers in the sunshine.  They even got to meet an awesome little duck, named Opal!

Mother Goose's cousin.... Mother Ducker.
All in all, that program was amazing.

No one came to the second program.

I'm not sure if no one came because it was a nice day out or there were soccer tournaments going on... or if the PR office I've been constantly struggling with never got the posters out so no one even knew about it.
Look at all the people--oh wait.  Those are Mayapples...
As bitter as I am that no one came to that second program, I almost don't care. The day was glorious. The weather was beautiful, the birds were singing, the sky was blue, and I spent the entire day outside. Instead of crying over the fact that no one wanted to come and adopt a tree for Earth Day, I walked around the park that I was at because I haven't been able to do that in a very long time.

Buckeye tree.  It looks like fall, but these leaves are new spring leaves!
I don't much get a chance to go walking out in nature these days. Well, I take that back.  I get to go walking with my friends at two separate parks twice a week, but it's not the same as going out and discovering nature. I like going out and looking at the changes that are happening, especially in spring.  I like finding that one bloodroot flower that is blooming too early....

My favorite part is that the leaf is just so tiny!
Or finding the buds on trees are slowly peeling open...

New leaves and flowers just starting!
 Or the most perfect flower for a fairy hat, the trout lily....

Trout lilies would make excellent fairy garb.

 I found a whole bunch of that as I walked around. I love spring. I say it all the time; spring is the best time of year to do programs. It changes weekly.  Sometimes daily, like how bloodroot flowers only bloom for one day. It changes so subtly that you can't even see it sometimes. One day you'll be driving down the road and there are only redbud trees blooming and then bam! All the trees have their leaves and flowers.

I wandered around taking pictures, and then decided to decorate a tree anyway, even though there was nobody there to do it with me, because it was something that I wanted to do.  All I used was some clay and yarn.  I found the sticks on the ground and stuck them on with clay.

I like that she had a knot that looked like an eyeball!
I had a ton of fun doing this. It was so easy, and I had a blast getting dirty doing it. It called somewhat of a revelation for me because I just knew (I have somehow always known) that I love being out in nature. It's just something that calls to me and something that I really truly love, but I never knew how much I needed it in my life. It's not something that can be distilled and stuck into a vitamin tablet and give it to me. I need that dose of Vitamin N every day. I have to be under the blue sky. I have to be out in the sunlight. I have to be where nature and trees and little animals and flowers and quiet solitude of the woods abounds.

Sometimes I think that I was Thoreau a past life because I just want to go out into the woods and walk and be alone with my thoughts and not have to worry about other people or society. But the most fun that I have is when I take kids out into the woods to see what we can learn outside. That doesn't feel like work to me. I guess what I'm saying is, I need nature in my life, but I feel most excited when I get to share that gift with other people.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


I started a new job recently. This was a job that I thought was going to be a ton of fun, but also a step up for me responsibility wise. I do before and after school care for elementary aged kids. I'd had fun at the beginning of the year being a traveling site coordinator, because I could be a teacher figure, play with the kids, and had the actual site director to back me up. Once I got my own site however I saw how different things are on the other side. There's a lot more paperwork, which I don't really mind; I have to come up with lesson plans, which again isn't a big deal, it's just time-consuming. There's a lot more administrative things too. I have to talk to parents if their kids are misbehaving. I have to fill out the paperwork if a child gets hurt. I have to track attendance numbers, card any adults I don't know who are taking children out of the program, organize my storage closet, gather supplies for crafts. This is a job where I am supervising kids from 7 to 9 in the morning and then from 3 to 6 in the afternoon; not really a lot of time to do all the things I need to do. The time in between? I can do more work, I can go home, I can go to my other job, I can work out at the community center, but that's about it. I leave for work at 6:15 in the morning and come home around 6:45 in the evening. The long hours don't help with the stress of running a difficult site.

But I have found it's it's especially stressful because the program is licensed through the state. The Department of Job and Family Services has a list of guidelines of how to run the site; ratios, safety procedures, basically what were allowed to do with kids. I have to follow those guidelines, or else my site can lose its license. That's all well and good, and I know why things like this exist; it's because they want to keep kids safe... but sometimes safe is boring. These kids are bored in this program. Especially the older children, who have been in the program since first grade and now they're in fourth or fifth grade and they're sick of playing with all the same toys. They don't want to play any of the games, they basically just want to do what they want to do. I have been trying to play new games and get more supplies for them, but it's really hard when these kids push back at all my "new" rules.  They had no accountability for their actions with the previous site director, nor had any sort of team building. If I had my way I would take them to the creek every day. There's a nice little creek and wooded area out back behind the school. I know a lot of kids probably don't like going out and getting dirty especially because their parents are so against dirt (you know, because dirt is obviously is one of the worst things ever)*, but being in nature is such a different animal than being stuck in a school building for eleven hours every day.  With all the research I have done, it would help them to decompress, destress, and generally make them happier and calmer.  But I can't do this, because it's not safe for me to take forty kids creeking.

So what has The Universe done for me instead?  The Universe has been sending me little animal friends once a week, to help me keep my cool. I'm a firm believer that there are always little signs, straight from God or the Universe or whoever, all around you and that it is up to you to interpret them as they pertain to your life. (I don't know what signs led me to this job, if any, but it was a full-time job and my rational mind said, "Take it!" and looking back I should have waited.  But we must play cards with the hand we're dealt, so there's no real point in complaining.)

The very first week of school back after spring break we found a crawdad climbing up the path to the school doors. I have no idea how a crawdad got out of the creek bed, climbed the short rock shelf back there, crawled across the field and came to our school at 8 o'clock in the morning when it's not even warm enough outside for him to be out.  The kids of course freaked out. They thought it was super duper cool. Crawdads, crayfish, mini lobsters, (whatever you want to call them) are awesome little invertebrates. Whenever my coworker kept trying to touch him he would raise his claws defensively and the kids would freak out and run away and come back. It was hilarious to watch. I had more fun on that day, just in those five minutes that we had a crawdad visitor on the playground, than I had in like the entire time that I have been working this new job.

The second week there was a dead bird outside. A little dark-eyed junco that probably flew into the windows of the door and broke his neck. He was right in the middle of the path and the kids of course screamed and worried about him so we buried him and then washed our hands. This past week (on Earth Day no less) we found a frog in the Gaga pit. (Don't even get me started on the bullcrap that is Gaga). One of the girls in the program stopped the game and yelled, "There's a dead frog in the Gaga pit!" He was underneath the wall between the wood and the concrete. He blended in with the rocks, because he was a little gray tree frog. So we gently poked him out (I did anyway), and picked him up and he kept jumping, and every time he hopped the kids screamed. It was the funniest thing that I think I've ever seen. Kids screaming over a frog a frog no bigger than the tip of my thumb; he was (I'm pretty sure) an Eastern Gray Tree Frog and he had beautiful yellow patches on his legs.  I was trying to explain that he was a tree frog when he jumped and promptly stuck to the side of a Gaga pit, to which one of my kids said, "Oh, that's cool!". I took him out back toward the woody creek area, and let him go on a stack of logs.  He didn't try to escape too much from me when I set him down, just looked at me with his big froggy eyes.

I think the universe is telling me that my calling is not working in childcare, because working in childcare is. Fucking. Exhausting.  But doing educational nature programs with kids is so much more fun, because kids can learn and not know they're learning.  The kids in my program aren't there to learn. They're there for school, which is obviously the only place kids can learn,* and they're at the school from seven or eight in the morning until sometimes six o'clock at night. That is a long-ass day for a child. (I know that some parents can't help it and that there are parents who put their kids in this program because they have to work early or later than school hours, which is totally fine. I'm not trying to dog on any parents who put their children in childcare. And thank God we have people who offer these programs because if we didn't there would be nothing for these kids to do there be no help for these parents and there will be a lot more struggling people). My point is this is not the thing that I want to. I want to have nature programs with kids. I want to take kids out in the woods and splash around in the creek and roll down hills, get dirty, duel each other with cat tail puffs and climb trees and basically just learn while having fun, like kids should be doing. I'm pretty sure the universe is sending me animal friends as a sign for that so that I can have my teachable moments with these kids and not feel like I am doing something that is not worthwhile. Because I am. I just have to find the right perspective.

*sarcasm star.  Please read with sarcasm in mind!