How to Find Joy in the Mess

There’s 60 five to ten year old kids in the program where I work. I teach extracurricular lessons, make at least 700 bracelets and fortune tellers a day, run after-school clubs, play LOTS of board games, referee kickball…it’s pretty awesome. I love my job. It’s so fun and nothing can make me happier than those little rug-rats. As fun and hilarious as my job can be, some days, like today, I can’t shake the burden of having 60 little pieces of my heart off running around in the world. My students mean the world to me, and somedays, it’s tough. 

How can I be thankful on days when I know you’re picked up by your social worker, because your parents aren’t capable of taking cared of you? When you got suspended last week and now you’re hitting and screaming...because there's maybe abuse at home and  you have no idea what functionality looks like? When you’re sobbing in my arms because you forgot which parent’s day it is to pick you up and you are so weary of having to live in two houses and you just wish Mom and Dad were still together?  

When you ask me for seconds and thirds of snack because you’re hungry and don’t know when the next time you’ll eat is? When you tell me you slept in the car last night because you had nowhere to go? Or that your dad has been in jail for 3 years and he couldn't be at your birthday party again this year? 

How about when you have tears in your eyes and won’t let go of me because you’re autistic and your brain may work differently, but you can still be autistic and feel the sting of rejection by your classmates and being told that you’re different and weird and left out all because of a mental disability you had no say in having? 

How can I be thankful in these days, when I didn’t know the words of nine year olds can be so cruel and awful? They didn’t tell me I couldn’t be in their club...but they told you that and how in the world am I supposed to smile and be thankful when I have a sobbing mess in my arms? 

What is there to be thankful for here? I know this room of children is full of hearts that have seen and felt far worse things in their six years than I ever have in this life. I know as they grow older, things will only get harder. Some of them will turn out well-adjusted and happy and successful. Some of them will turn out angry at the world, numb to their feelings, depressed, anxious, rejected. How I am I supposed to fold my hands and bow my head and say, “thank you” at the end of this day, when the future is so bleak for the ones I care for everyday? 

All is grace. Everything is good grace. Everything is a gift. 
I must stop and breathe and start to make a list of thankful things, of hope things. 

I am thankful, for this short time, I might be able to give at least one of these faces a happy elementary memory, an encouragement, a hug, a smile, hope, to hold on to in the future, when things are darker.

I am thankful for crayon drawings, the mess on the floor at the end of the day, the glue stuck to the table. I am thankful for hugs that I have to stoop down to receive, for lopsided pigtails and Velcro shoes, for stories from boy scouts and mispronounced words when they read to me at the pace of a tired snail.  

I am thankful for when I get to hear about your day and the science test you didn’t do well on, and the birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese last weekend, and the anxiety of not knowing how to do times tables. I am thankful for four corners and Uno and the times you don’t realize I am letting you win because the look on your face when you put down that last card is priceless and I don’t think life has let you win too often.

I am thankful for the jokes you tell me and the words you mess up and the funny things you say. I am thankful for the way you call me “Ms. A” and the way twelve of you run and hug me when I walk in the door. I am thankful for a head start in a career that I adore.  am thankful because how crazy is it that someone is giving me money to let me be in your life and care about you. I am thankful that I know you have one person that cares immensely about you. 

I like to think I have control over this life of mine. But in actuality, I don’t. I only have a façade of control, and that makes me feel nice. But when I lose control, I tend to freak out, grasping for anything to hold onto to soothe my anxious thoughts. The truth is I can’t protect anyone I love from sad things but I can walk into this moment, right now, this day I’ve had and accept this day for what it was. I don’t need to worry about tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that because it’ll worry about itself. I can say thank you for the crazy, silly mess that today was. I did my best and I'll do it again tomorrow.