Thursday, July 31, 2008


Volunteered tonight at a children's center.

What a heart-wrenching experience. What a chaotic mess. You can tell that the staff are trying to do the best they can but whoever is in charge really needs to re-think the procedures. I am no expert at child behavior, but isn't it obvious that having 15-20 toddlers in one main room is not going to be conducive to getting them in a calm state of mind before bedtime? Wouldn't it be better to separate them into small groups? They have the staff for it. About 1 staff for every 4 or 5 kids. Shouldn't we NOT give them candy before bed? Shouldn't we NOT play (at a very loud volume) a slightly scary kid's dinosaur movie before bed? Can't we have some routine part of the night that is calming and soothing in some way instead of just jerking from one activity to another and then suddenly to bed?

We play with them and read to them as best we can in the big main room. It is pretty loud the whole time and there is nothing calming about it. At one point a staff person leads the kids in songs. Most of them sit right down in front of him and join in with the singing. They seem to want this kind of structure. We sing about 5 or 6 songs. Then they hand out candy. It isn't a large amount. The kids get to pick out one piece each - a little roll of sweet tarts or a small lollipop. Then they turn on the movie. The movie is just turned at some point in the middle of the story. There are dinosaur and monkey friends who watch the world end with a big explosion and then are trekking across burned out wasteland and start to be chased by a gang of smaller, evil, biting dinosaurs.

It is time for bed before the movie is over, so they just turn it off. The kids are told to go to their rooms and we volunteers will read to them. I go into a room with three little boys, M, J and another kid whose name I didn't get. Another volunteer is reading to him. I try to read to M & J. M isn't that interested - he's about 5 and playing with a toy truck. J gets into it - he's about 3. He points at the pictures and makes comments.

Earlier in the evening J had asked me something about his mother. I had a hard time hearing him in the noisy room and it can sometimes take a practiced ear to decipher the words of a 3-year-old. But he said something to the effect of "Where is my mother?" I said something like "I don't know honey, maybe you'll get to see her later." I tried to distract him with a book and it worked.

At bedtime, in their room, I'm reading to J and a staff person comes in and tells the boys that they all have to be in their beds laying down or we can't keep reading to them. M gets in his bed, but J starts saying "I need my narm, please." He kept saying it, "I need my narm, please." Even the staff person didn't know what he was asking for. I tried to figure it out.

J, is it a stuffed animal that you play with?

I need my narm, please.

What does your narm look like?

I need my narm, please.

What color is it?

I need my narm, please.

Is it something you put in your mouth?

I need my narm, please.

Is it a bottle?

I need my narm, please.

When a second staff person is asked and doesn't know what it is, I try another tactic.

J, I don't think we can find your narm. Is it okay if just for tonight you keep this with you? (handing him a soft, stuffed ladybug.) He'll stay with you all night.

No! I need my narm, please. (Now he's getting more upset each time he says it.)

J, I'm sorry but we can't find it. This guy will stay with you all night. (the ladybug). He wont' leave you.

No! I need my narm. (Now with tears filling his eyes, he throws the ladybug aside.)
The staff person decides that nothing more can be done and says "Just lay down and go to bed. It is time to sleep now." Even in this small room with just 3 boys it still feels chaotic. The no-name kid is crying his head off because the volunteer who was reading to him has just left. The staff person is in the room trying to just tell them all to go to sleep.

I have to leave this 3-year-old boy with tears in his eyes looking so lost and becoming more and more frantic, knowing that he is not going to get what he needs. He's not even going to get a gentle, comforting person to sit with him and hug him until he feels better or falls asleep. He's only going to get an overworked staff person who is thinking about all the other kids he has to get to sleep and has decided that he is done trying to figure this one out. And I have to leave.

I try to give him some comforting words before I go, but I am starting to cry. I leave him sitting on his tiny bed with the staff person in his room.

I get in my car and bawl my eyes out the whole way home. I say a prayer that this little boy will find some small comfort tonight and that his parents will get whatever it is that they need in order to be able to bring him home.

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