I had an interesting weekend. I sometimes work for companies that provide child care at conferences. For instance, sometimes there are conferences for parents of children with a certain illness or disability, where the parents go to different educational sessions during the day and then maybe special family events in the evening. While the parents are in sessions, we would be the ones taking care of all of the children.
I don't always like working at these conferences because the days are really long, and the pay is not much. Also it sort of irritates me that many of the companies, when bidding for the contract to provide child care for the conference, will promise a structured program with games, music and movement, and more. One brochure put out by such a company offers different themed days. A cowboy-themed day is supposed to have a schedule that consists of crafts, face painting, and hunting for gold in the morning, followed by story time, games, and bubbles in the afternoon.
In reality, there will be a bunch of battered board games with missing pieces set out, along with some old, broken Dollar Tree crayons and dried out markers, and a zillion sets of crafts from Oriental Trading Co, mostly involving putting foam stickers on various objects. It is pretty much just all set out for kids to use when they want to, and they just run amok all day with no actual schedule or structure. There are no organized games, story times, or anything else, unless the child care workers come up with something on a whim. Which is fine... I mean, the kids are safe, and they always seem to have fun... but it just isn't what is advertised, and that always bugs me when people advertise one thing and then do another, especially in child care settings. But that is just my vent, which I had to get out of my system! Moving on...
This weekend I worked at a conference for members of the military and their families. The purpose was to help families cope with deployment and returning from deployment. It was pretty cool because the conference actually provided a lot of activities for the kids. For instance, a guy dressed in 1940's era army clothing came in and showed the kids all of the different things he carried with him, such as his helmet, which could also double as a bucket or shovel, and his mess kit, and he let some of the kids try the camouflage face paint. (Fun fact: If you are ever trying to emulate that look for a costume or whatever, we learned that there are two shades of green, one darker and one lighter. The dark paint goes on hard areas of your face such as your chin, nose, cheekbones, and forehead. The lighter stuff goes on the squishier parts of your face. I'm not sure if it is still done that way now, though, because on Google images you can see people wearing it in all sorts of random patterns, including stripes. Kinda odd. But again, I digress...)
There also was a counselor who spent part of every day with us and did some therapeutic activities for the kids, about understanding their feelings when their parents are deployed for long amounts of time. This part was kind of sad. I was working in the room for kids between the ages of 2 and 6. Several of them had a parent who is deployed right now. A few actually had two deployed parents, and they were living with relatives. All of them had experienced their parent being deployed in the recent past... some parents had just come home. The kids would say things about missing their parents, and wondering why their parents had to go so far away and be gone for so long. And there were really no good answers for them. There was a puppet show with a message along the lines of, "Your parents are doing an important job, so please stop complaining and just help us out here!" Okay, it didn't literally say that. But it was about understanding that your parents are doing a very important job, and trying to look on the positive side by, for instance, complaining less and helping out more.
There was also a story about how parents might come home with severe injuries, such as a part of their face or one of their arms and legs missing, and that they were still the same people as before and that they still loved their children just as much.
It is hard for me to understand how or why parents would want to be in the military. And I am not saying this, like, in a judgey way. I have a lot of respect for anyone who would be brave enough to be in the military, and I feel like military parents are making a huge sacrifice by missing out on time with their kids, in order to help make the world safer for those same kids. If there was a monster standing outside trying to get into your house, would you go out and fight the monster to protect your kids, even if it meant you might die in the process? Or stay home and stay as close to them as possible, trying to protect them that way? It is a difficult choice. I literally wonder how parents find the strength to do it, and how their children and other family members find the strength to cope with it.
The moral of this story is, I had a great time this weekend. (Even though yesterday I was still recovering from my wicked cold, and I ended up coming home at the end of the day and collapsing and sleeping for almost 11 hours straight.) The kids were so sweet... they loved meeting new friends and playing together, and they randomly gave different staff members some of the crafts they made (I got a wooden snake!) and were full of hugs and smiles. Little kids are the kinds of people who will genuinely love you on the first day that they meet you, even if they will never see you again after that weekend. And it is pretty easy to love them back.
I also have a new found respect for members in the military and their families. I mean, I always did have respect for them, but it is one thing to think it in sort of a universal, hypothetical way, and another thing to actually meet people who are going through it. I sometimes think of members of the military the way I think of celebrities. You see them on TV and read about them, but they aren't exactly real people, not in the way that your own friends and family members and neighbors are real. But meeting some made me realize that they are real, and they're not superheroes... I mean, they are heroes, but they are human beings with feelings and pain and families, and they have chosen to do this with their lives. It is admirable.
Whenever you see someone in the military you're supposed to go up and thank them for their service. I didn't do that because it seemed a little awkward, considering that basically every single person in the place was in the military. But for real, if you're in the military, or you have a family member who is, and you're reading this... thank you for your service!
OK that is all. I really need to start coming up with snappier endings for these posts. Goodbye.