When we went back to the US in December, I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “what do you do all day?” This is a painful question for me, being a work-oriented person after all. Here I am again, an expat wife and without a job. A homemaker, a shopper, a member of the international club. But you know me, I’ll figure it out. And I’ll find positive things to do.
I asked a lot of questions about volunteering, and a couple of great people finally responded. And now, every Wednesday, I get to spend the day with eight smart, cute, active, energetic, cute, rambunctious, cute kindergarteners. Jimmy always finishes his work, never sits still, and likes to hold my hand when the class is in line. David surprises by one day acting shy and the next day wearing his Mr. Incredible costume to school. Amy loves to sing, is so good at math, and is the one I would take home at the end of the day. Luis amazes me with his English sometimes, and has an endearing raspy voice that I love to hear. Ruru is smart, cute, privileged, and knows it. Christina learns fast, ignores the boys, and loves story time. Sunny was new to the class in January, and finally spoke to me two weeks ago, in English. Tom understands everything I say to him, absorbs new words, and, as the teacher says, “cannot control himself in class”. Chinese is the primary language of all of these children, but their school day is in English, for the most part. Their teacher is Mrs. Wang, and there are two assistants, Miss Anna and Miss Grace. And on Wednesdays, they have Miss Julie too.
I take the bus with other students and teachers on Wednesday mornings, arriving at the school about 8:20am. The kindergarten spends 20 minutes doing a simple activity like theme coloring. Then they have a “morning meeting” where they sign the “Good Day Everybody” song and talk about the days of the week and the day’s date. And we’re off to Chinese class, where the 8 of them learn and I learn too. This is their only class in Chinese all day. After Chinese, RECESS!, where I relish the sounds of “Miss Julie, chase me please.” And the American monster chasing giggling, screaming children around a playground. They have a class called character building where they learn about patience, friendship, etc. I’m not sure how much of the patience lesson they absorbed, but it will get there. The music class, math, then lunch. Ah, eating in the school cafeteria … brings back memories. Coincidentally, Wednesdays are usually Western food days, with a rotating menu of spaghetti, pasta alfredo, and sloppy joes. I didn’t think I would ever see someone eat a sloppy joe with chopsticks, but I have now and they do it amazing well.
After lunch, they have play time then nap time. (Let me pause here and advocate that play time and nap time be a part of everyone’s day, not matter if they are in kindergarten or sitting in a cubicle somewhere.) When they wake up, it is story time. This past week, I read them The Cat in the Hat (to honor Dr. Seuss day) and they were captivated by the pictures and my ability to read in rhythm. One week in January, Mrs. Wang sat down to read them the story, and Jimmy asked her, in Chinese, why Miss Julie wasn’t reading because she reads more beautifully. I understood his compliment, and tried not to smile too big. Then we’re off to language arts class where a wonderful South African woman is their English teacher. I help out on my days by organizing the letter of the week craft. R is for rainbow. U is for umbrella. O is for ocean. Imagine the possiblities. After English is math. Why a school would give kindergarteners a math class at the end of the day, I don’t know. School is dismissed at 3:20, and I stay around to do an afterschool program on more English. They have some play time, then we begin. I manage to teach them new words, speaking in some short sentences, and teaching left, right, up down, despite the 4:00 energy level in a 5-year old.
By 5:00, I’m glad I don’t volunteer every day. I’m glad I’m not their full time teacher. And I am so glad that I was given this opportunity to be with them, teach them, learn from them, and make a little difference. For those who really know me, you know that I was probably destined not to be a mother. But children and families are what my heart lies. It was fate that I became Miss Julie.