Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do something that, when I signed up for it, seemed to be no big deal.
However, as I was doing it, and afterwards, I was struck with the enormity of it all.
I read to four kindergarteners.
Simple, I know. I signed up with the PTO, went to the school at my appointed time, picked four books out, and read to four little kids out in the hallway, one by one.
It was two hours out of my life that affected the rest of my day, and continues to do so.
It was pretty obvious that these kids were chosen to be read to because they need a little extra help in that department. Know how educators are always telling us to read to our kids, from the time they're babies? I don't know if these kids parents were doing that or not. So, that's where I came in. I pulled the kids out of class to give them a little one-on-one reading time, time which the teacher can't spare.
I had picked pretty rudimentary books, most of them at a preschool level. Some of these kids couldn't even read me the "sight words" - and because I had a kid in this school as a kindergartener last year, I know they should be able to read things like "my," "she," and "the" by now.
This isn't a judgment on the kids - it's just a fact. They aren't very fluent readers, but that's why I (and the other volunteers) are there - to give them a little extra help.
And those kids told me some things that revealed a lot about their situations at home, and maybe why they might not be getting that reading practice outside the classroom.
One of the books we read was about going to the beach. I asked the girl if she'd ever been to the beach, and she said she had, with her father - when he lived in Virginia. He now lives in Kentucky, she said.
We live in Mississippi - ergo, her parents aren't together.
Don't take this as a stereotype, but I'm going to guess that her mom is trying to put food on the table (an admirable quest) and may not have as much time as she'd like for reading with her daughter.
Like I said - not a judgment, just an observation.
Another book was about a girl who liked making messes. I asked this student (different from the beach girl) if she kept her room neat, and she said she didn't have a room - she sleeps with her mom.
As does her baby sister.
Y'all, in all Anna Marie's life, she's never had to share so much as a room - even when we had to live with my parents - never mind having to share a bed. My girl doesn't know how blessed she is.
The kindergartener told me later that her mom was going to school, but she didn't know what she was going to be when she finished.
Again, this is admirable - and I told the girl that her mom was doing a good thing by trying to get an education - but it doesn't leave much time for extra reading with your kid.
Most of the time, we focus on unfit parents as the ones whose kids aren't up to par in school - but these two families show that sometimes it's just life's circumstances that don't permit the one-on-one learning time.
As I was leaving yesterday, I stuck my head into the room of one of our town's aldermen, who happens to be a speech therapist at the school. She thanked me for volunteering with these kids.
And then it hit me - Anna Marie had come home the day before with a certificate (and a coupon for a Personal Pan Pizza) for joining the 80 point Accelerated Reader club. That is a HUGE accomplishment for a first grader - and probably due to the number of chapter books she reads, which are worth more points.
I realized I was so blessed that, for all the other struggles I've had with my strong-willed daughter, academics had not been one of them. I don't have to beg her to read - many nights I have to take the books away from her so she'll go to sleep. And many mornings, she gets up earlier than she needs to and I have to take them away from her again so she can get ready for school.
This isn't bragging on myself - I didn't do anything special to get her to this point. I read to her since she was a baby, yes, but her intelligence and love for learning is a gift from God.
So, as I was talking in the speech room, I realized why I needed to do this - I was blessed, so I needed to be a blessing to someone else.
In fact, here is what Genesis 12:2 says about what some folks call "paying it forward:"
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
Our pastor covered this text a few weeks ago, and he said that the original language commands us to be a blessing - to do good to others.
I thought I was volunteering because the PTO said they needed help - but I was really doing it in obedience to God's Word.
How can I not? How can I sit with my daughter, in her own room in her own bed surrounded by so many books that I passed over two dozen down to a coworker's daughter and mine hasn't even noticed they were gone - and not do what I can to help these other kids?
Maybe their parents aren't able to read to them, because of time or other obligations. Lord knows, if I had more than one kid I wouldn't have been able to spend the time that I do with Anna Marie. Maybe they are so burdened down with life's concerns that reading a bedtime story is the last thing on their to-do list.
Or maybe they are taking the time to help their kids with their homework, and they just need an extra set of hands.
Whatever the reason, I walked out of that school much different than when I'd walked in: excited about the opportunity to serve these kids and their parents.
The opportunity to be a blessing.