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Between the preschool and volunteering in Simon’s class, I spend a lot of my time around other people’s children these days. They almost always amuse me, but the occasional child is particularly endearing.

These days, I’m especially fond of little Raja and Kalli (names changed). Raja is a spitfire who I suspect causes the occasional problem in class. She’s smart and feisty and has taken a liking to me, though not always for the right reasons. Last year, just before spring break, I gave a lesson to her kindergarten class. Mr. Sowder was out for the day, and in his place was a very pretty African American woman who wore a traditional west African head-wrap and was, in the parlance of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Club series, of traditional build.

This matters because at the end of my day, as I was packing up and the kids were getting lined up for buses, Raja could no longer contain herself. She broke out of line, ran to where I was sitting, and blurted out:

“I wish my mom were skinny like you, but instead she’s as big as my dad!”

This was accompanied by hand gestures to demonstrate exactly how large her mom and dad both were. I was a little mortified and a lot amused. Here’s what I said:

“I think you are trying to compliment me, Raja, and I appreciate that very much. But it’s important to remember that people come in all shapes and sizes, they can all be beautiful, and that you have a terrific mother.”

The traditionally built substitute teacher could barely contain her laughter, then told me that she thought I handled the comment well. For the record, I think what Raja was really trying to communicate was that she identified with me. She’s darker than I am, but we both have heavy-lidded eyes and dark hair, and she has the same small frame that I do. Unless she has aunts or cousins in town that are built like her, I’m closer to her in that regard than her family is. Honestly, she reminds me of my niece Olivia more than a little.

But that’s not why I like her. That’s just why she got my attention. I like her for the exact behavior that got her clip moved down on the behavior chart a few weeks back. She’s in Simon’s book-club on Thursdays, and Simon and Apurv (the group’s co-leaders) are having a heck of a time getting the rest of the group to focus. One day, the week before I started volunteering, Simon reported that book club was a mess. Elijah was flicking pencils and not paying attention, and Raja and Jack were fighting the whole time. In fact, Jack interrupted Raja every time she tried to say something, and Raja got so frustrated with him that she started hitting him with her book. Jack got moved down one space on the behavior chart; Raja two.

Frankly, I’m on Raja’s side on this one, and she’s now an absolute favorite. She and Simon are due to have a tennis and lunch date soon, and I can’t wait to hear what she has to say in a smaller group.

Then there is Kalli. Kalli wasn’t in Simon’s kindergarten class last year, so I’m just getting to know her, but she’s already made my day once. Kalli is in the same reading group as Addison and Maggie. Together, the three girls are the class’s top readers, and when I’m with them I enjoy seeing how far I can push them in their analysis of text.

For our first meeting, we discussed the story of Persephone. They could re-tell the story beautifully, so I focused our time on discussing why such a story was written. That discussion was a stretch for them, but I sensed they were close. So for our next meeting, we read a slightly dry piece on myths—what they are and why they were written. The article ended with a brief discussion of the Theogony, which was way over their first-grade heads, and a description of creation myths.

I sensed that the best way to explain what they read was to discuss creation stories they might be more familiar with. I asked if anyone could tell me a story about how the word was created. As I suspected, Maggie (who Simon adores and calls “a version of Caroline”) jumped right in with the account of creation from Genesis. Excellent! “See,” I told her, “the ancient Greeks had stories that explained how the world was created just like we do now. Every culture has a story like this. Does anyone else know a story about the word being created?”

At this, Kalli got very excited and began jumping up and down in her seat. I was happily anticipating that she would tell us a Hindu creation story.

“My Dad and I watched a video about this one day,” she exclaimed.

Excellent! Her account will have visuals from Hindu mythology. How awesome will that be? She continued:

“These rocks smashed into each other. And the one rock broke into lots and lots of tiny pieces. But then, because of gravity, the tiny pieces started to come together. [This is all accompanied by fantastic hand gestures.] At first it was a lumpy and not round at all. But after a while, because of gravity and all the swirling, the rocks became round!”

In case the story and hand gestures weren’t enough to be adorable, there is also the fact that the entire story was told with a lilting Indian accent. My cousins sounded like their Chicago-born mother when they were little,  so I know this accent will fade away before long. But in the meantime, it added to the over-all adorable effect.

“So tell me girls. Does that sound like a story or like science?”

They were split on this question, too. I have no idea what Ms. Thomas has planned for them next, but I do know it’s sure to end up giving me cause to smile.


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