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Grace and Power

As a followup to yesterday’s post, I wanted to link to a very important message: the parents of Lieby Kletzky have released a statement.

A very powerful statement that confirms the beauty and character of the human race in the face of events too horrific to be believed.

Read the statement here.

Blessings to Lieby’s parents and the memory of Lieby.  Thank you for your words of Grace and Power.

Giving up the Shoulds

Yes, I’ve said it again and again.  The key, not just to working with children and youth, but to life, is the art of being present.

This morning, I found out (again) just how hard that is to do in the face of “shoulds”.

You know those shoulds… children “should” act a certain way, co-workers “should” do this and not that, the daily schedule “should” be followed, parents “should” parent their kids this way (and not that)… the list goes on forever.

Fortunately today, I ran across a blog post that says it all… “Don’t Should All Over Yourself“.  Yes, the title of the blog is the “Art of Manliness”, but don’t let that put you off (if the play on words hasn’t already).  This message is for everyone.

How it came about is this: I came to work on the opening shift (6:45 a.m.) running on a touch more than four hours of sleep and two cups of French Roast.  Almost as soon as the doors were swung wide open, in walks one of our “Patience Angels” (so named because it’s a more useful framing of behavior-challenged kids: “God heard you were a patient teacher, so he sent you this patience angel to find out!”).

Almost immediately, he begins touching everything he’s not supposed to, irritating and criticizing the four or other so kids who have also arrived early, finding everything under the (7:00 a.m.) sun that there is about which to tattle, rolling over the back of the couch, sitting on furniture… well… you get the idea.

And I forgot.  I forgot to be present.  I forgot my taoist training to “observe and feel without judgement”.  I forgot to look inward and find something I could give upnothing new can be created without giving something up.

It was 4:00 p.m. before I realized that what I forgot to give up was the “shoulds”.  How this child “should” behave.  How smooth a day “should” begin.  Only by giving up those “shoulds” can I be present, look deeper, and understand the all-too-human, all-too-insecure boy before me that is seeking attention, approval, and an outlet for his naturally intense behaviors.

And by giving up these “shoulds” (even 9 hours later!), I can finally see the angel that was sent to me.

It Happened Again

Recently, I was reminded about how far our profession has to yet travel to be “professional”.  It seems every0ne in the field is clamoring for After-School Care to be considered a “profession”, but this won’t happen until some basic wage and staffing structures are changed to reflect an ethical value placed on retention and the fair consideration of the importance of the work in which we are engaged.

We have been lucky enough to have an aide that has been working with us at our site for the past three years. In fact, Danny reminds me very much of… well, me, twenty years ago. Funny, irreverent, a musician… like having a cartoon hanging out at your site.

Oh, yeah… did I mention? Danny has that innate (and I’m starting to believe that it’s inborn and not learned) talent to relate with kids on a very fundamental and real level.

So, for the past three years, Danny has been with us at our site.. a definite favorite amongst the kids and staff alike.  Along the way, he’s brought a world of comics, music, humor, PMA, and good times with him.  Because he feels hamstrung by a learning disability, he has resisted college at every turn- even if it meant a promotion to teacher for garnering some Early Childhood Education units at the local junior college.

But, units or not, Danny is exactly the kind of person you want to have with your kids every day after school.  Caring.  Funny.  Interested in what kids are saying and thinking.  Creative.  Involved.

But, for a 21 year-old, eight bucks an hour and twenty hours a week isn’t going to cut it in the real world.  Rent still needs to be paid.  Food still needs to be purchased.  And then there’s the issue of health care.  He found a job at a local sporting goods store that was willing to pay him a few cents more per hour, offer him insurance, and schedule him for more hours per week.

As the middle manager in the situation, unable to alter what the company would offer Danny, all I could do was thank him for his service, hope and pray that he would change his mind, and limply wave goodbye as he walked out the door that last day.

When I was an aide in the early 1990’s, still finding my way, my voice, I was fortunate enough to work for Palo Alto Community Child Care, an organization that believed enough in the profession to offer even its part-time employees health care (among other wonderful benefits).  Had benefits not been a part of the scene… I probably would have been another Danny – gone.  Instead, someone or many someones there at PACCC recognized the importance of retaining staff, especially those with the inborn relatedness to kids.  And they tried to retain them in any way possible.  And they had a great record of keeping staff on board- especially staff that has that key ability to connect with kids and provide positive leadership and guidance for them.

But, in today’s reality of After-School Care, “minor” players such as Danny seem to be discarded and discounted as the “rule”, and only the truly longsuffering (or parentally supported) will survive the crucible of poverty and (probably more important than money) denigration through corporate devaluation of their personal and professional worth.  Or they could get lucky enough to work for one of a microscopic minority of companies or organizations that truly and creatively conspire to honor the importance of the work done in the profession of After-School Care.

What is so sad is that, while we all pay lip service to worthy wages, staff retention, and professionalism, the harsh reality of the current climate in After-School Care will continue to discard the Dannys and the thousands of others like him without thought, reflection, or remorse.

I, of course, wish Danny well, and do not begrudge his difficult choice of sacrificing a work-life of meaning for a work-life of self-sufficiency.

To support worthy wages for After-School Care workers that have touched your life, please visit:

Don’t Co-Opt Out-of-School Time!

Out-of-school time is that wonderful time in the life of kids where they are allowed to become, explore, and practice self-growth.  Perhaps you remember some of this time from when you were younger.  Depending on your age, you may have been at home baking cookies with mom and exploring the backyard; you may have been with an after-school babysitter, playing with the neighborhood kids, you may have been a “latchkey” kid exploring TV and other (sometimes not so healthy) options alone, or you could have been in an out-of-school-time program doing arts, crafts, music, and hanging out with friends.

Either way, the point is that you were not (at least my guess is MOST of you were not) enrolled in school-after-school.  I’m guessing that you didn’t spend every waking hour that you weren’t in school (remember, we’re talking K-8 grades here) doing homework, studying, and worrying about school.  I’m also imagining that, even though you had quite a bit of free time, your life has not gone to hell, you’re not a blithering moron, nor a drug-addled slacker.  But if you listen to today’s hysterical hand-wringers, this is just exactly what is happening now to our current generation of kids. 

Our kids have far too much idle time on their hands, according to our current alarm-sounders.  They don’t spend enough time studying and learning outside of school, and, lord knows, if they continue down this pernicious path, they are all sure to grow up to be imbeclilc, drooling,  meth-addicted prostitutes, or, at best, burger-flippers at In-N-Out. 

Which brings us to the latest governmental idea, touched upon in the last post… schools, school districts, and the government co-opting the mantle of after-school time that has traditionally been held by the proponents of the Youth Development philosophy.  Even with a defecit, the government still has the money (thank you all you drooling, decrepit smokers who obviously didn’t spend enough time on your studies while you were in elementary school).  And with the money, government is able to break through one of the dilemmas that has bedeviled CBOs and Non-Profits involved in the out-of-school-time game: how to break even.  In this culture, money is still power.

Enter government as a Jesus-figure: a savior to come in and save the after-school world.  But, alas, something is rotten in the state of Denmark (if not Denmark, then, at least California).  Because, honestly, government, and, specifically, their moral-wielding minions, the school districts, on the whole do not support the tenets of the Youth Development movement.  More time for social learning?  BAH!  How could that possibly be of any use to the child’s future employers?  Funding for music and arts?  HAH!  We’ve already axed them to the bone during the school day- why would we bring them back after school?  Worthy wages for after-school professionals?  HEH!  As long as we can pay $0.25 more per hour than the local mini-mart, we’ll get eager workers, even if they only stay for a short time.  More resources for character development? WHOO!  Now, that’s hilarious.  Where is that section on the standardized tests?