I dropped my kids off at 8:30am to start their day, walked to get coffee, then went back into the school for my assigned volunteer time of 8:45am. I said good morning to the security guard who is also a fellow mom and went to get my volunteer pass at the school office. I was playing it cool, but inside I was doing cartwheels. The truth is, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.
Just the day before, I had gone in for parent-teacher conferences and let me tell you if I ever stop crying at those things, you will know I’ve lost my gratitude.
A normal person may not have teared up as they filled in their name on that Chicago Public Schools volunteer pass for the first time, but this lady did. Back when school started we had to do a full background check, fingerprints, tb test to be cleared to volunteer at a certain level within the school and on field trips. Sure, it was a pain, but I am so glad they do it. My concern was my past. I mean, I always think, they’re going to know who I am. But the truth is, they know who I am. I know who I am. I don’t hide my truth. My past. My story. I once was lost but now am found. My past doesn’t define me. It’s all a part of my story, but it’s not nearly the whole story and so much has happened in almost two decades of sobriety that my worry was not warranted. I am awesome.
I am a volunteer. I get to be in the school and help and give back. I get to be a helper at my kids school and outside in the world. This is everything I’ve always wanted but didn’t know it yet.
Ten years ago I didn’t want children. I didn’t want them until I did. And then I couldn’t have them because of infertility. It was an incredible challenge to have them but have them I did, and now I get to volunteer at their grade school and I am filled with such privilege and hope and gratitude that my volunteer name tag may burst right off me and explode into fireworks in the sky. The heart kind of fireworks – you know the ones.
Just being in the school itself gives me chills.
I volunteered for the scholastic book fair and this is what I saw.
I saw snowboots outside the classrooms lined up just so by the lockers with all the names on each one. I walked by my kids kindergarten classroom and while the door windows are now covered, I could just imagine what was happening inside and it made me smile big.
I saw the moms (and one dad!) with coffees gathered there by the Scholastic Book Fair shelves all smiles and pride in our children beaming like rays of sunshine. I saw a couple moms with their bags of change that they brought from home to donate to kids who didn’t have quite enough or needed a little extra for that darn tax. That is angel status right there. I have to remember that for next time.
I saw the cast of the school musical at the end of the hallway by the auditorium in their fantastical costumes getting ready for the previews they were giving all the students at the school on this day. The hallway was a buzz! The music teacher and director is practically glowing.
I saw so many staff members – harried yet with smiles and greetings for all of us – rushing to their kids and spaces to meet the day. I saw the Principal walking the floors as she always does in killer shoes and with an air or confidence and kindness and pride in her school.
I saw kids. So many kids. Every shade of skin kids, tall kids, small kids. Kids with glasses, kids with hall passes, kids rushing to the bathroom, kids lagging behind. Kids in line, kids standing still. Kids joking around, kids too serious to tell.
I saw the instrument teacher in the corner of the hallway – there isn’t enough room in the school for a dedicated room – tucked way back by the door where it was gently snowing big fat flakes teaching piano and guitar to student by student as they arrived with their sheet music.
I saw staff cleaning the bathrooms and the hallways and leading the kids out to recess and to lunch. Headed to the library or to the gym, up the stairs and down again.
I saw MY KIDS. It was like a rock star sighting I swear to god. I saw my girl and then my boy. Our faces filled with joy of recognition and waves and hugs and high fives ensued with so many kids in their class that know me as their mama. What an honor.
As they walked down the hall and then again later the same thing happened. Bless these 5 and 6 year olds coming and giving me hugs and therefore their trust because they don’t know how that built me up and filled my heart.
Then they came to the book fair. They came and they came. The little ones are adorable and need help figuring out what books they can buy. They show me their baggie or envelope with the money from home and we find what they can get together. Some talk, some are silent. All are excited in their own way because OH MY GOSH THE BOOK FAIR.
The ones who really got me were the older kids. The ones on the verge of becoming teenagers. They know what they want. They come in their sweats or their leggings and uggs and sweatshirts and pony tails and too cool for school attitudes but when I spoke with them they were all so polite and GOOD JOB PARENTS AND TEACHERS because I was super impressed.
I saw a little boy carrying a handful of stuff come to the register and when I asked how much money he had, he whipped out a leather billfold and said, “don’t worry, I got it covered” and I became a ghost and flew away.
I saw the school Librarian – one of my favorites, go figure – happy that the fair is there and so excited that so much is selling and in particular happy that the older kids were buying so much. Encouraging and sharing her love of books always.
I saw this one girl – probably about 8 o 9 years old – say she was buying a book for her teacher because she heard her teacher really wanted it. I had to rise from the dead to ring her up because she made me cry and die all at once. She then bought an animal rescue book and I almost followed her away.
I saw the kids with braces and the kids with hat hair and the kids surrounded by other kids and the kids standing away from the others.
I saw these girls with their YA books so ready to dive in – just teetering on wanting to be older yet still wanting to be little girls with the stickers and the posters and the bookmarks….oh my heart.
I saw a group of older kids asking to borrow money from one kid in particular because he seemed to have the most and he was happily sharing what he had.
I saw so many kids happy for each other and encouraging and kind and funny and sweet and smart. So so smart in their conversations.
I saw some kids wanting to tell me how excited they were for this particular book and how they had read all the other books and they couldn’t wait until they could read this book and my heart cannot take it.
I saw a few kids so set on a certain book and the fair was out and I never want to disappoint a kid like that again but such is life but also no. He wanted that one book and he should be able to get it.
There was rarely a moment when the hallway was quiet. Motionless. It was electric and full of possibility. Just like these kids. Just like all of us.
To say I feel like a member of our community in our school is a HUGE thing for me. Sure, I’m just starting all this and we have 8 more years in this fantastical place, but I’m filled with hope and excitement for what all those years will bring.
I realize I am new. I realized when the afternoon moms came in to volunteer and seemed a bit been there done that that my positivity and “too much-ness” can rub some folks the wrong way. CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP.
The world can seem like a giant dumpster fire anywhere you look – but in this school – and likely yours too – these kids and teachers and staff are killing it with kindness and joy and excitement for what today holds. I want in on THAT. I want to pay attention to THAT. I want what they have, so I’m taking it and adding to it.
Is the book fair magical? Yes. Is it too expensive? A little. But is it something special we will look forward to every year? YES WE WILL. We are library folks and spend 2-3 days a week loitering at our library and getting all the books – but for book fair, we will buy books. OH YES WE WILL. And I look forward to the opportunity to volunteer and meet all your kids and encourage their passions and love of reading and counting of money. I am in heaven. I am in bliss.
If we are made up of our surroundings and our community, I want to spread love and acceptance and joy and kindness around. To all our kids. I want to be someone who is looked upon with respect and looks upon these kids with respect. Because for the most part, they’ve earned it. Many adults don’t behave nearly as respectfully as these children do. I want to be part of this new wave moving forward and I get to be. I GET TO BE. I cannot think of anything better than all this.
Sobriety and these kids have given me opportunities I never thought possible.
Sometimes hope comes at the book fair. What am I talking about? Hope ALWAYS comes at the book fair.