My first grade twins took a field trip yesterday to a metro-park. The plan was to spend the whole day outside, where the class would “observe signs of wildlife and visit farm animals.” In January. In the upper midwest.
We received detailed instructions from the teacher on how to dress our kids–in two pairs of socks, turtlenecks, long underwear, snow pants, waterproof boots, etc. As I was preparing my kids’ clothes the night before, I realized that not every child in their class would likely arrive at school adequately equipped for the long, cold day ahead. There are children in their class who do not seem to own snow pants and who are often without gloves and hats.
So, I prepared a bag with extra gloves, hats, fleeces, warm socks, and turtlenecks. And then I emailed the teacher to let him know that I would come in with extra clothes and help him make sure everyone was properly dressed. He was grateful for the assistance. (Not even teachers enjoy dressing twenty children in snow pants and making sure everyone has on warm socks.)
Every single item I brought was put to use. I re-dressed one little girl in a fleece who had only been wearing a t-shirt under her light winter coat. When I asked one child about the quality of the socks she was wearing inside her too-large, high-heeled leather boots, she said simply, “I’m not wearing socks. So, I helped her put on the thick wool pair I had brought. Another child needed my extra snow pants. After my supplies ran out, the teacher sent a couple kids to the school Lost & Found to hunt for extra winter gear.
Please understand, these kids’ lack of preparation was not about parental forgetfulness. It was about poverty. Throughout my middle-class town, there are families struggling to make it. There are children who go without meals when school is not in session. There are parents who (anonymously) give the school social worker a list of their children’s Christmas wishes so that the rest of us can chip in to meet those desires.
There are probably families like this in your town. Have you ever tried to spot them? They often hide in plain sight. The longer my kids have been in public school, the better I have gotten at recognizing the signs–kids who have nothing to eat at snack time, parents who don’t list an email address in the directory, families who rarely come to curriculum night or school social events, coats that look old and ill-fitting.
Our school does a good job providing for these children’s needs in institutional ways–free tickets for the ice cream social that are handed out privately, scholarships for Rec & Ed activities, cash from the PTO to spend at the book fair. The principal, staff, and PTO cannot provide everything that impoverished children need to thrive in the school environment, though. Attention to details like warm socks and appropriate costumes need to be picked up individually by the parent community. It’s going to take a village.
To be part of that village, I try to think through other kids’ needs as I work on my own. When I am preparing something for my kids–costumes for the 100th Day celebration, gear for a field trip, Valentines cards–I try to turn an eye to others in their classes whose parents may not be able to do the same preparations.
Truthfully, I only succeed in this about half the time. If I am rushing to get my own kids ready, the needs of other kids escape my attention.
By American standards, I am not wealthy. (By global standards, I am.) We can only afford snow pants during end-of-season sales. Most of my kids’ toys and clothes, as well as mine, are second hand. We have one car that is twelve years old.
Nonetheless, I am usually able to find a few extra items to share with kids who need them. If I’m shopping at thrift stores for hats and gloves, I can easily pick up a few extras. Our family has acquired enough dress-up clothes that it is simple to leave a few costumes in the school office for any kids who come to school on Halloween without one. I know families who include a little extra when they send in their field trip payments to help cover kids who cannot pay.
These are small efforts. They are far from heroic. No one’s world will be rocked by such modest kindnesses, but a few kids may be briefly blessed. I figure that’s as good a place to start as any.
© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2016