I used to not like kids. They’re loud, they talk too much, they’re messy, they’re needy, and overall just generally sticky miniature people. But after this summer, I realized that what I felt as annoyance toward them really is just a little misunderstanding.
This summer has changed me in many ways. I spent six noisy weeks with close to 100 students, ages from 4 to 14 years old, at my work’s summer camp. Half of those camp-goers are the sticky miniature people. Although I never really had any difficulties connecting with tweens and teens (maybe because I still act like one), the little kids were the ones who terrified me the most. I remembered feeling so overwhelmed the first couple of days: The young ones wiggle too much, their attention span shorter than the smallest person in their class. They ask too many questions and they seem to always want to hug people after eating flaming-hot Cheetos, and they babble (a lot!).
At one point while a kid was telling me why he pushed his classmate, I was like, “Jeeze, how long does it take to get a sentence out of this kid?” Making conversations were difficult especially when they do it half screaming while snot bubbles out of their noses. Half the time, I thought to myself: “Please don’t let me be the one to mess up this kid’s head.” I’ve never had to break things down to the basics just to explain to a 4-year-old why he can’t go to the cookie party (it’s our incentive to kids who excelled in good behavior).
However, at one point during the camp–not sure when but probably somewhere in between yelling at kids to sit their butts in the chair, picking up crumbs off of the dining room floor (really, these kids eat like they have holes in their chins, I thought), and drying a soaked little girl under a hand dryer–I realized that these kids had touched my heart and I didn’t even see it coming. They wiggled their way into my cold heart and stayed there, probably with shoes untied, eating Cheetos with their butts hanging mid-air and knees planted on the chair.
I’ve also become more patient and understanding. Spending an entire morning almost every day telling a kid not to do cartwheels and jump on the couch would teach anybody that sometimes it’s alright to repeat yourself many times and sound like a broken record. Explaining to little kids that just because someone said something mean to you doesn’t give you any right to hit that person or say mean things back would make any adult realize that, hey, it’s OK to walk away and be the bigger person. At the end of the day, we have these little kids in each and every one of us.
I survived my first-ever summer camp. Kids are all of those things I mentioned earlier — loud, messy, needy and sticky, but hey, I know some adults who are all these things too. Kids are also full of wonder, curiosity, joy, and they have infinite love to give. And for that, in a lot of ways, they’ve taught me to love life even more.
As I waved goodbye to their school buses, I got a little teary-eyed. And all I wanted at the time was another tight hug from someone shorter than me.