the breakfast club

There is an alternate dimension at school. A tide pool which I step my foot into every Wednesday and Thursday--and it is called Aftercare.

I will tell you that I signed up for aftercare for the reason anybody on the planet signs up for aftercare: to make extra money. I'm sorry that that's not glamorous, but it's true. Nobody signs up for extra duties for fun.

But I am here to tell you, most sincerely, it is almost my FAVORITE part of the week. And here is why--beyond the safety of those involved--there are zero expectations at aftercare. You are everything and nothing at aftercare. It is a mix of kids across the grades that would never see each other at all, and oh how they enjoy each other!

The older kids, without their cohort, are a wonder! They are so, so charming with the little kids. It is fundamentally adorable. In every way. To watch an unrelated 6th grader sit on the floor by a sad kindergartener and make him feel better. To watch a 5th grader play basketball (and miss on purpose) when a 2nd grader tries to get the ball. But...BUT...mostly they play hard. And let me tell you those kids learn more from some aftercare-street game of basketball with someone better than them than you could even imagine.

It's a mix. It's a shake up. Of class. Of personality that is...I know I sound ridiculous...but it is SO refreshing.

We play Guess Who? I would beat them at cards if I was so inclined. It is just my perfect version of kids. They are heartier than they think. Funnier than they think. And in my opinion, tougher than the world around them lets them believe.

And I also get to take off the "Mrs. Mudd" role a little in aftercare. There is nothing to accomplish. So I ref the kickball game from my seat at the door. (Hey! I'm tired...it's hours 9 and 10 of my day!).

I tease the players, get in teeny tiny shouting matches with teeny tiny kindergarteners. I try to learn to reliably make a basket and I get lessons from the older kids.

"Aim better" is the prevailing advice I get, but it's working! I won't let myself bring a basketball in from the gym without making a basket. And I am doing so well!

"Hey, sorry dude. You mess with the bull you get the horns, you know?" I tell a little guy who picked on older brother and got away with it once--but not twice.

"Mrs. Mudd? Can I have a cup? I'm thirsty." It's our lone 7th grader and he knows I have extra cups.
"Yes, let me get it from my secret hiding place..."
"It's not a secret anymore, I know where it is--"
"SECRET HIDING PLACE!" I insist, louder, and he rolls his eyes. I can't help it--the joy I find in persisting that no one knows but me is so entertaining. And I love nothing more than to be a marginally ridiculous human being.

I grade papers while I ref. I look at art they have made, help with homework, and get to know kids I spend zero time with throughout the day and year.

There is a secret world at school, and it is called Aftercare. We don't really talk that much in the halls, in passing. I for sure know the kids don't interact. It's an odd phenomenon. Like the Breakfast Club.

The 8th graders had their last day today. And like so many life moments, I think we all in a little way mark our distance from those moments when they were our own. Like a child making marks on the wall as they grow taller.

I can remember my own 8th grade graduation. Vaguely, but. It's there. I mainly remember that I--who had no real social capital to speak of--decided to ask if I could sing a solo...but that's a story for another time.

Anyway. I remember the pomp and excitement and awards. The feeling of accomplishment. And I had that day once...but I have spent the rest of my life living out the other side of it. What happens after.

And what happens after--is that a new page turns. We all go back inside. We get swallowed back up into our world inside this world. The day ends. We go home. We go to aftercare. And tomorrow will find us still there. Another day in paradise.

And that's a comfort to me. To know that we will still be where they left us. That we stand, sentinel. Their foundation.

I wrote of my own children, at the end of Slack Water:
"It is said: "Your children will be who you are, so be who you want them to be." I want them to be filled with compassion. I want them to believe in leaps faith. To befriend the lonely, to understand the broken-hearted, to believe that goodness matters. And when the time comes for them to leave the safety of home, I want them to believe in the good they can do in the world. So for them, I leave. I go before them and show them how it is done. But also for them, I stay. So that when the leaving is done and it's time to come home. They have a place to come home to."

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