Some names in the story have been changed.
After making my way down to the Lower Far East toddler community, I find the children gathered around the tables joined by a few parents and/or guardians, having a cookie exchange. It’s the penultimate day before winter break and although the children may not have a full grasp of how much their routines are about to alter for the foreseeable future, they can certainly grasp the growing buzz around campus as the holiday spirit begins to take hold.
“Todd,” I hear Wafaâ’s voice. “Please come join us, won’t you?”
I take cautious steps around the room finding my way to an empty toddler sized chair, greeting the children that seem to be excited to see me again after spending the previous day with them. I’m seated next to a lovely couple that I gather to be the parents of Gracie, a child with distinct intent to be independent and a wonderful sense of movement in space. Instinctually I feel compelled to preemptively put these peoples’ minds at ease as they surely recognize at this moment that they will be leaving their child in the care of this man they’ve never seen and know nothing about.
“Gracie and I met yesterday,” I volunteer to her mother. Then to Gracie, “Do you remember me from yesterday? Do you remember my name is Todd?” Back to mom, “Hi, I’m Todd the sub.” Back to Gracie, “Hey Gracie, did you know that I have a son about your age that goes to this school, too? His name is Arthur. I also have a daughter named Ruth…she’s in kindergarten but goes to a different school.”
Gracie’s mom grins, “So you spend all day with these kids here, then go home to kids the same age?”
“Around here they manage to mostly adhere to the social norms that go along with general classroom etiquette. You know as well as I do that the rails only start coming off in the comfort of home.”
Gracie’s dad leans in, “It’s incredible to see this right now honestly.”
I look at the group seated around a few tables, enjoying conversation and cookies together. “Yeah, it’s a really great group.” I turn to Gracie and say, “I’m going to do my best to do a good job filling in and I have a good friend and helper in you, right Gracie?”
Her despondent look and lack of response indicates the sugar is perhaps starting to kick in. Well deserved, Gracie.
The cookie exchange will conclude shortly and I will have made sure to instill as much trust into these parents as I possibly can in this very brief moment. The next thing I will have made sure to do for them is present a happy and healthy child at the end of the day. That all did indeed go on to happen and what I concluded was this: a family electing to place the care of their child(ren) in our care is an act of extreme vulnerability, which I believe should be met with the same in return.
Much to the children’s dismay, we move on from cookies but they quickly find satisfaction when the cues begin to indicate that we’ll be heading outside to play, which we do. Then it’s time to come in and have lunch, which we do. Then nap, which we do. And we, which-we-do over the next day and a half until classrooms start dismissing and the days have counted down to hours, down to minutes, down to seconds, until suddenly it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Thank you, Todd Barnhart, Raintree parent and substitute