Today we bring a new era on the blog by welcoming our very first guest post! Please welcome Canadian father, Jamie Schmidt, from the blog A Crock of Schmidt!
It happens without warning. Usually right about the time I’m rounding up the kids I’m supervising on a field trip in order to get them to a scheduled classroom session, to the designated lunch spot, or to begin the walk back to school. I call out their names, which I’ve hopefully gotten straight by now, and like a kindly but firm drill sergeant, shout their marching orders.
“Alright troops, time to go. Let’s boogie!”
Then it happens. A small hand belonging to someone else’s child, a child I may have just met for the first time that very day, will reach out and take hold of mine in order to walk with me hand-in-hand to wherever we are going. They don’t ask nor do they hesitate, they just do. With a warm smile on their face and happy skip in their step. This simple act of friendship is without a doubt the greatest reward of being a parent volunteer.
This has been a watershed year for me when it comes to involvement in my kids’ lives. Now, hearing me say that might cause the raising of a few eyebrows considering I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for the past eight years, but there is some truth to the statement.
This past September marked the first time that both of my children would attend school full days, a moment I only half cheekily referred to as the greatest day of my life. No longer constrained by having the younger sibling under my care at home, I was finally free to equally avail myself for volunteer opportunities in both my son and daughter’s classrooms. This was a long time in coming, as I’m sure my daughter, the eldest, would swiftly affirm.
Not one to inch my way into the deep end of the pool, okay that’s not true but it makes for a good, albeit clichéd, metaphor, I dove headfirst into as many volunteer opportunities as I could. So much so, in fact, that I’m now the room parent for my daughter’s class which means I assist the teacher by finding parent volunteers for various in-school and off-campus activities. It’s the surest way to guarantee I’m always picked for the field trips I want to go on. What, you thought I was it for altruistic reasons?
My new-found vigor in volunteering even extends outside of school as I am also, for the first time ever, a volunteer assistant coach on both my kids’ minor hockey teams. This particular avenue of volunteering (and meddling) in my kids’ lives is one I’ve desperately tried to avoid. I’m all too wise as to the pitfalls of parents coaching kids. I don’t think I’m one of “those” hockey parents, nor were mine, I just know that my kids, like most, myself included, respond to the guidance of non-familial coaches far better than dear old dad. Never let it be said I don’t learn from history. But this year I was asked to help by my son’s coach who urgently needed extra parents on the ice and my son eagerly gave his approval. Of course, once I committed to his team it took but a single forlorn, watery-eyed look from my daughter before I was committed to her team as well.
The results have been exactly as expected and also the complete opposite. Yes, my kids hate when I “coach” them on the ice but we’re all having a blast being out there together. What’s even better is how much I’ve enjoyed bonding with all these other kids I’m now interacting with. I didn’t see that coming. Much like I didn’t see the same thing happening with the other children in my kids’ classes either. It’s not that I dislike youngsters, I just sort of assumed they’d see me as yet another crusty adult enforcing rules and other indignities of childhood.
And yeah, I am also scared of their unceasing energy and tendency to mob any poor sap who mistakenly exhibits a willingness to engage them in play or possess a natural and uncontrollable magnetism that attracts children like cherry stains to picture day attire, but I do like them. Just, you know, in moderate, scientifically approved doses. Hey, don’t judge me; I once licked a kitchen floor to “entertain” a seven year old!
Five months have now passed since that infamous “greatest day of my life” and in a way that great day has never ended. I’ve made enough classroom appearances that all the kids now know who I am. I regularly get friendly hellos at the playground or when passing on their way to the bus taking them home. I’ll even get some mischievous looks followed by playful punches to the gut or a roguishly accusatory pointing of the finger. My kids love this recognition too. They’re the ones with the (reasonably) cool dad. For now, at least, I’m a source of pride to them which is pretty cool too.
And then there’s the hand-holding. Sometimes I’ll even get a hug. One hundred percent initiated by the children, boys and girls alike, with no forethought or reason; just honest, spontaneous demonstrations of kindness and appreciation. The same thing happens at the hockey rink. Except the hand-holding, of course, because, well, it’s hockey. On the ice, kinship is shared via staged fisticuffs and change room ribbing. The means may be different but the message is the same. All are perfect little moments for me. It’s like experiencing the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes each and every time.
So yes, it has been a watershed year for me. An eye-opening one and a heart-warming one as well. In a world drunk with selfishness, intolerance, and ego; where unpleasant people monopolize our attention and the nice ones seem ever fewer in numbers; where our fears too often trump our compassion; and where the simple, human act of physically expressing fondness is wrought with wariness and openly discouraged, I have been fortunate to experience the sweetness of kids. Gentle, honest, terrific kids, not yet sullied by the harsh realities of life or tempted by the darker urges of humanity … well, usually.
I’m lucky to be getting to know them and earning their trust and friendship. They haven’t a clue of the joy they’ve given me this year. All thanks to a simple holding of a hand.