My eight-year-old daughter and her classmates had one of their six summer swimming lessons yesterday at the local pool. I volunteered as a parent helper to assist in the change rooms and to make sure the children were safe on their walk there and back.
I like volunteering as a parent helper for school/kinder excursions, incursions and in the classroom. It allows me to better understand what my children are learning, see how they interact with their peers and teacher and shows them the importance of participating in a larger community.
I’m in a fortunate place where I am able to volunteer my time, and I’m grateful for it. Not all parents are able to do these things for their children.
As the class started their journey towards the local pool, I found myself supervising the children in the middle of the walking line.
One of the boys sidled up to me and asked, “What do you think of being a vegan?”
How do you answer that? You can’t exactly be upfront and honest with young impressionable children who aren’t yours! What if I said something that was contradictory to his parent’s beliefs or opened a can of worms I wasn’t meant to?
So what do you do when you’re like a deer caught in the headlights by a tricky question from a kid? You deflect. “Um, what made you ask that? Do you know what a vegan is?”
“It’s when you don’t eat eggs and meat,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I just wanted to know.”
“Well, I guess you could give it a go if you’re interested and see?”
Obviously, I need to work on my deflecting and diplomatic skills. I should have told him to ask his parents or given a non-response. They could be meatatarians for all I know, and my flippant comment on trying veganism could really anger them.
I had inadvertently dropped a think bomb. Trying to limit the damage, I moved away and left the boy to ponder his lifestyle choices.
I noticed a couple of girls walking behind me and slowed down to talk to them. “Hello, what are your names?”
The girls were terribly shy. They reminded me of when I was a young girl and would reply with one worded answers and refused to make eye contact. I started to feel bad when one of the girls unconsciously moved further and further away from me and ended off the footpath. I realised I was making them feel uncomfortable with the questions and so I moved away.
I wondered how I would have reacted to an unknown adult giving me attention as a shy child and came to the conclusion that I’d have done the same.
By the end of the journey, I was near my daughter and her buddy at the front of the walking line. Yes, my daughter hadn’t wanted to walk with me. Apparently, I’m embarrassing. Oh, have I mentioned that last week she took a proverbial axe to my heart by declaring she was too old to give me goodbye cuddles at the school gates? Yeah, that happened.
My daughter’s buddy decided a walking line was the perfect place to pounce on an unsuspecting parent.
“Can I have a sleepover at your house? Or maybe Mandy can come to my house?”
“Maybe. We’ll see,” I answered, not wanting to commit to anything because like elephants, children NEVER forget promises.
“Do you work?”
“Can we have a playdate during the school holidays?”
“Could you organise a sleepover?”
“Mandy and I would really like a sleepover.”
My daughter was suspiciously silent throughout the onslaught, letting her buddy steamroll me.
“Mandy wants a lot of things but it doesn’t mean she always gets what she wants,” I replied, hoping her buddy understood nuances. But like most eight-year-olds, they hear what they want to hear and it wasn’t a firm no.
“I’ll get my mum to volunteer next week with you, so you can both talk.” The kid gave me a stern look. The teacher and I made eyes, and I’m pretty sure she was giving me a sympathetic look that said ‘Welcome to my world’.
As I was leaving the school grounds, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to predict a child’s future career using their personality traits and temperament.
The boy asking about veganism seemed inquisitive and thoughtful. Maybe he’ll become a philosopher or an activist. Perhaps he’ll become a scientist.
My daughter’s buddy was assertive to the point of aggressive and possessed debating skills that would make her a great lawyer. God help her parents in the meantime, though.
While it’s easy for us to imagine or predict a child’s future career based on obvious personality traits, it’s not as straightforward when it comes to shy and quieter children. No one pays attention to the shy kids, who are often unseen and unheard, let alone being noticed long enough for someone to predict their futures!
These shy girls might not have much to say now, but I hope that with time they’ll learn to believe in themselves and find their voice. Maybe it’ll happen soon or maybe like me, it’ll happen later in life.
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