I hardly ever feel like a grown up. Even during grown up activities, like grocery shopping or making car payments or going to the bank, I mostly feel like I'm pretending. I spent the majority of one Saturday afternoon at the library a couple of weeks ago, and while this is not unusual or particularly grown up, I felt it; that weight of responsibility that sometimes feels like it might crush you, like, say. . . a giant crushing stone that was designed to crush you with its crushiness CRUSH CRUSH CRUSH. You see, I was at the library picking out children's books about grieving and loss, because people actually trust me to NOT ONLY take care of their children twice a month, but to help them talk about death and their feelings. Those who know me know that this does not come naturally to me. I can count on one hand (OK maybe two) the number of times I've cried in front of someone else. I'd claim that my heart is cold and black, but that's Kat's territory.
I decided to start volunteering with grieving children almost on a whim. I wanted to start volunteering somewhere so I didn't feel like such a waste of space, and CONVENIENTLY one of my coworkers told me that the place she volunteered was looking for new people.
"What kind of volunteering is it?" I asked.
"Oh, it's with grieving children. They come to group and talk about the person who died."
"That sounds depressing," I said.
"Oh," I said.
Going through training was brutal. I got suckered out of two whole Sundays, six hours each, and a handful of weeknights, and was made to rehash past losses and THEN learn how to transform close-mouthed children into feeling-talking machines. We were given a book of instructions and activities, split into three different age groups, and I knew right away I wanted to work with the Littles. Mostly because I'm afraid of teenagers, but also because the activities for the Littles involved a lot of coloring and boy do I like to color.
Last year was my first full year of volunteering (with the Littles!) and I worked with a seasoned volunteer named Amber. Since it was my first year and I didn't know what the hell I was doing (shh, don't tell), and Amber was so experienced she'd actually presented at this big, important grieving children conference (yeah, that's not the name of it), she led the group while I sat back, stayed quiet, and tried to learn. On the last day, right before summer, Amber told us she was moving, which meant (dun dun DUN) I would soon be in charge.
Take charge I will, I decided, only I sounded less like Yoda in my head. The first night consisted mostly of introductions and going over the rules, and the kids ran WILD and my head was spinning and it was a lot like the first day of school. I felt like a grown up, for sure, but a bad grown up who couldn't even control a bunch of six-year-olds. Which is why I ended up at the library to do some grown up research and some grown up planning so that next time, I'd show those kids who the grown up was.
It turns out the kids don't really care who the grown up is. They just want someone to listen to them, whether it's a kid talking about how he misses playing basketball with his dad, or the little girl telling me that sometimes her brother kicks her in the nut (true story). And it is sad. There are nights I get in my car after group and immediately burst into tears. But, and I suppose you'll have to trust me on this, it's not depressing.
Last week at work, we were looking at a huge pile of printouts, every one with the same typo (go figure). We couldn't use them, obviously, but rather than throw the pile away, I offered to take it, explaining that the kids at volunteering could use it for scrap paper.
"What kind of volunteering is it?" a coworker asked.
"It's this place for grieving children," I explained. "They come every other week and talk about the person who died."
"That sounds depressing," she said.
"Oh," she said.
I wonder if I can sucker her into giving up a couple of lazy Sundays. I mean, what's more grown up than that?