This school year has been a gift.
Back in September, God dropped an opportunity in my lap, and I’m so grateful for the chance to help out at my daughter’s elementary school. I’ve volunteered in the past, but this year I began working every day with a fourth grade student (as well as subbing now and then, library work, and miscellaneous other stuff).
Many aspects of the job felt like a gift, but perhaps the biggest gift was laughter. What can I say? The end of the school year brings out the funny.
A couple weeks ago, the teacher was handing out math worksheets. One little boy pushed his worksheet back towards the teacher.
“Do you know if this paper was made from oak or maple trees?” he asked. I was working with my student across the room, but the boy’s question caught my ear (probably because it sounds like a Portlandia sketch).
The teacher seemed reluctant to engage yet remarkably patient. Sliding the paper back across the desk, she said, “I really don’t know what kind of tree was used to make this paper.”
“’Cause I’m very allergic to oak and maple tree pollen, and I really hope this math sheet isn’t made of those.” At this point I’m in awe of the boy’s creativity and cracking up.
He knew that paper was made from trees, he knew he was allergic to certain trees, and he really didn’t feel like doing another stinkin’ math worksheet. The kid’s an unsung genius!
Also, is it summer yet?
Another day that week, I subbed in my usual fourth grade class. Although I knew all the kids well, the afternoon felt a bit hectic. They have a special talent for keeping me on my toes.
At dismissal time, a boy told me he’d left his Spider Man lunchbox at school last week and wanted to go check the lost-and-found box for it. He came back a few minutes later with the lunchbox and a sheepish look on his face. I asked what was wrong and he said, “There’s something in it.” I peeked inside and saw a thermos.
“Ummmm, is it an animal?” I asked, not sure if we were playing Twenty Questions or what.
“I . . . think so,” he said slowly.
At that moment, I hated being the grown-up in charge. Hesitantly, I unzipped it all the way. Under the thermos were five or six roaches of different sizes – a family of roaches staring up at me. I zipped it up as fast as I could and asked, “Do you really like this lunchbox?” He looked confused, maybe a little scared.
I told him there was a whole family of roaches inside – Mama, Daddy, Bubba, Baby Sister, a cat-roach, a dog-roach, a hamster-roach. I was in shock, not sure what to do.
“Maybe we should burn it,” I said, half serious.
“No, the school. Down to the ground.”
That sweet boy couldn’t tell I was joking. I wasn’t quite sure, either. That’s when his friend stepped in, the tiniest girl in class, and said, “I’ll take care of it!” She took his lunchbox outside the double doors and turned it upside down. Out fell Mama Roach, Daddy Roach, and the whole family, which she stomped to death with her pink Chuck Taylors. It was like a tap-dancing recital right there on the blacktop.
A thing of beauty, really.
Meanwhile I stood inside with the other kids, squealing in disgust. It’s a wonder they still ask me to sub. I’ll never forget how my little friend saved the lunchbox, the school, and the day.
These are just a couple things that made me smile, but there are bursts of joy in every day. One day it might be my student discovering the handicapped stall has great acoustics for impromptu math songs. Another day it might be the sheer exuberance of a second grader with a sequin glove moon-walking in the year-end variety show.
Or it might be hearing twenty-six fourth graders try to sing along with Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Yes, I think to myself . . . What a wonderful world.