It has been six years since I’ve been in elementary school. Six. Long ago were the days of sharing cookies at snack time, yelling and screaming on a playground, saturated in mulch and the occasional spilled Capri Sun. No longer do afternoons consist of running outside to the beat of my imagination or laughing at childish T.V. shows or even the anticipation of the first day back to school. Elementary school feels more like an old dream now than a reality that was once mine.
And it’s sad really.
Elementary school is the kick start in your education that can really help determine your feelings towards academics in general for the rest of your life. We are taught our first basic lessons about not only scholarly things like mathematics or literature, but also valuable social lessons on how to cooperate, share, and act as a community of people.
I had been convinced for a while now that I had left the realm of elementary school style learning, moving out into the world of high school and college level lessons, with complex social meanings and deep critical style analysis on basic bodies of text.
However, these thoughts faded the moment I returned to act as a camp counselor for Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the sixth year in a row, and was assigned the task of being part of the Kindergarten team.
Now, this wasn’t my first year working with Kindergarteners. I’d worked with them for the previous year as well; chasing small children around a church for three hours, while also letting them climb all over you like kittens, fighting for a sliver of your attention. I’d never thought anything more to the idea of taking care of these four and five year old kids outside the realm of trying to understand their high pitched, slurred, little voices, and making sure that they laughed when I tickled them, or trying to figure out the best way to carry three kids while still letting one grab onto my hand; perhaps until today.
In my group, there’s a little girl named Reice. She’d been incredibly active since the first day of camp when I sat beside her and she began a very active discussion on her dog Coco and her cat that didn’t have a name. I listened intently, making sure that I nodded and smiled at all the right moments, until she was eventually quiet and decided that she wanted to run around the church chairs instead of staying seated. I swore Reice had the energy of four different five year olds all meshed together to create one super five year old of unlimited energy, and had decided that my cardio work for the day would be counted as “chasing hyperactive five year old around a church for three hours”.
As the afternoon settled in, the final activity for the day was watching a short movie about sharing. It was cheesy, with odd sound effects and a lot of bright flashy colors to keep the kids engaged with the screen as opposed to thinking about their noontime desires for lunch. Reice was finally sitting still on my lap, after having fought with me for a good fifteen minutes about wanting to go sit in the pastor’s chair on the stage. I watched her as she stared up intently at the screen, listening to the story about a boy whose family had been hit by hurricane Katrina and had to live in a shared home for a matter of months. The boy discussed vividly how thankful he was for the family his family moved in with sharing their toys with him, and helping him to feel a whole lot less like he’d lost everything.
“This is for you.”
Reice was poking me in the side, big blue eyes wide. I looked down into her small hands to see that she was holding a small plastic red gem.
“For me?” I asked, taking the gem from her and looking it over.
Reice nodded. “Because it’s shiny. And I like it. So you’ll like it.”
“You don’t have to give it to me.” I laughed. “Don’t you want something shiny and pretty to take home today?”
Reice shook her head and wrapped my fingers around the gem, enclosing it in my hand.
“No. I gave it to you. So you have to keep it now. Because it’s special.”
She then went back to watching the rest of the short movie, before squirming around a bit more until her mom came and picked her up; waving goodbye to me and running out of the chapel. I held on to the little gem in my hands, before eventually slipping it into my pocket.
I think that the older we get, the more we forget that sometimes the most precious things come in the smallest of packages. When we continuously get caught up in the notion of this big world, it makes it easy for us to forget that we are in fact still part of a smaller one just the same. The smallest interactions we have on a daily basis matter just as much as the large scale impact that we hope to one day finalize in ourselves. The people we are, meet, and become, are truly a part of something magical, and overlooking it takes away from so much magic; so much magic that we knew as young, fresh-eyed kids, and lost in the blind transition to teenage and adulthood. We’ve learned so much since our early days, and have come such a long way, but some of the most valuable lessons come in those tiny packages and small notions.
They might come in kindergarteners.
Maybe even in red plastic gems.
Poulson is an editor for The Millennial Times.