I Love Other People’s Kids

Sam is eight years old. He loves maps. Instead of showing up with the usual third grade story books, he brought an atlas. When I asked him where he’d most like to visit, without hesitation, he said Madagascar, then quickly flipped the pages to show me where that was. I could see right away this was a very unique child.

He picked out several of his favorite countries and excitedly talked about them. Each page included a detailed map and then short readings about the country along with interesting sidebars that pointed out their unique features. An atlas designed perfectly for someone his age.

He was puzzled that Scotland wasn’t in the atlas. Ah, a teaching moment, I thought. I asked if the United Kingdom was on the list of maps at the front of the book. He knew right where it was and pointed.

I then said that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom. In fact, England, Scotland and Wales made up the United Kingdom and Scotland wasn’t an independent country. Just as this important piece of news was registering in his alert little mind, we were told the session was ending and he had to leave.

He’s a third grader from a nearby school and arrived with his class for the reading/tutoring program in the building where I live.   On an alternating week, I’m also assigned to a student from another nearby school.

Samantha was most excited because she’d heard that on the last day of the semester we’d have a party. I recalled how last year, the kids made a very big deal about waiting on us. I had too many cookies and glasses of punch that day; I didn’t have the heart to say no to their diligent efforts to please me.

First time, each child writes and brings a personalized letter to introduce themselves and help us get acquainted. Sam’s letter told me he liked to play twenty questions and assured me were going to have “a really good time.” Samantha’s letter focused on reading and asked what my favorite genre was when I was her age. The fact that “genre” was even in an eight year old’s vocabulary was surprising. She had no idea what Nancy Drew Mysteries were.

We grandparent types who live in the building are assigned children for the semester. There are about fifteen children in each class and once we get started the room is abuzz as each pair of reader/listeners works hard for a half hour. This gives them an opportunity to read out loud and us a chance for some quality time with someone from outside our usual social milieu.

My job, other than being an alert and supportive listener, is to help with word pronunciation and meaning. Then off they go back to school. This is short and sweet; just enough and I love it. Sam and Samantha are a delight. Last year, Jada and Julia were equally charming.

I have no children. I decided quite young that being a mother was not very interesting. Probably because being the oldest of six, I’d helped my mother raise my younger siblings. I’ve gone through all my life never regretting this decision. I’ve said many times in many circumstances that I love kids, as long as they belong to someone else.

Whether its children of my friends and family or it’s that sad and lonely foster child I worked with when I was a social worker, I find children of all ages to be fun and interesting. I don’t mind being a parent figure. Just not a parent.

In my family I’m “Auntie Karin the Nice Lady” who spoils my nieces and nephews but is happy to send them home. I totally enjoy a short conversation with my girlfriend’s young daughters, catching up about school and life. But then let’s get back to the real reason for my visit, adult social time with their mother.

Raising kids is hard. I respect and feel empathy for everyone brave enough to do it. I’ve said it often, that I love other people’s kids. Maybe that’s why this tutoring experience is so right for me. Just enough of the pleasures of children and then back to my book. Back to my writing. Or my phone call to a friend. Or whatever.



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