In high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard. I had learned to swim at an early age and competed on my high school swim team, so it was a natural fit for me when I needed a part-time job as a teenager.
Little did I know that I was also skill training for a short-term, very part-time, minimum wage, mom-job during a pandemic.
It’s a lifeguarding thing known as the 10-second scan. It’s how you maintain consistent awareness and make sure you see a drowning person in enough time to save them. But apparently it also is how you adequately monitor 50 elementary aged kids at recess.
How it all began
When I quit my job as Director of Communications at our church last June, it was an impulsive decision. I didn’t have a specific reason for quitting. The opportunity presented itself and I took it. I just thought If not now, then when? I didn’t put tons of thought into it. I just wanted to create space. (Apparently the joke was on me. I also did not know that I would be a homeschool mom for the next year.)
As the months wore on and I struggled with the unstructured life of an unemployed parent, I started jumping at opportunities. My sister asked if I could help her with her small business web site. YES! A friend from church running a small networking startup mentioned they needed some admin help. YES! I emailed a few local non-profits to ask if they needed someone to write for them. YES! I signed up for a contract blog content writer gig.
So when I got a series of repeated emails over a couple months from the elementary school our kids attend seeking a Lunchroom Aide/Recess Monitor, I (again) impulsively emailed back and said “YES! I can do it.” I (again) didn’t put much thought into the decision. They had a need. I had the time. So I raised my hand.
After jumping through the ridiculous amount of bureaucratic hoops it took to become an official employee of District 11, I finally started a couple months later.
Exactly one day into the job, I thought Oh no. What have I done? I’ve made a big mistake.
Working at a public school is tough. Working at a public school during a pandemic redefines the meaning of tough. (Side note: if you know a teacher, please do something really, really nice for them. Their job SUUUUUUCKS this year.)
Two days into the job I went to the principal and told her I’m sorry but I wasn’t the right person for the job. Even though there were only a couple months left of the school year, I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t want to spend 1.5 hours a day yelling at kids. I didn’t want to have to use my Mean Mom Voice in public. With other people’s children. I didn’t want to tell kids who already had so much taken away this year that they couldn’t run to recess or couldn’t climb the fence or couldn’t play catch with a water bottle from the lunchroom. I couldn’t be another “no” or “don’t” or “stop” in their daily lives.
As I talked to my husband on the evening of that second day, he gently said “Babe, I’ll support whatever decision you make. But just remember that we tell the kids they cannot quit something they’ve committed to just because it gets hard or they don’t like it.”
So I put on my big girl undies, understood that I’d hate my life for the next 8 weeks, pulled my orange mesh vest and whistle over my head and went back the next day.
How things began to change
You know what’s weird? Day by day, my feelings started to change towards the job. I still don’t yell. I don’t often use my whistle. I don’t use Mean Mom Voice. But I got to know the kids. And that changed everything.
I now know which kids will likely ask to go to the nurse regularly for a mystery ailment.
I know which ones will probably start a fight with someone.
I know which girls will start drama with each other.
I know which ones will come up and hug me every day.
I know which ones will talk to me about anything, desperate for someone to listen to them.
I know which ones will get sent to the social worker weekly because they cannot regulate their emotions.
I know which ones to make eye contact with when they’re about to do something they know they shouldn’t.
I know which ones will be the first to tell me when another kid is doing something they shouldn’t.
And as I’m standing at recess, doing the 10-second lifeguard scan, I see the small details of elementary school life.
I see the details of MY kids life.
I watch fourth and fifth graders (including my fifth grader) messing with each other in their teasing, awkward, pre-teen I like you but I don’t now how to express it kind of way. I watch third grade boys (including my third grade boy) test their strength with races and pull-up contests. I watch second grade girls dance and do handstands. I watch first graders pick dandelions and play tag.
And I realized just how much I’m getting to experience my kid’s worlds simply because I’m there.
Now when I’m walking my kids home from school and they’re talking about stuff that happened, I know the kids they’re talking about.
Now I can ask specifics questions about school.
Now I can know which kids to pray for by name with I’m praying with my kids at night.
This job may only be for eight weeks. But that suddenly doesn’t seem nearly long enough to do all the lifeguarding I’m meant to do.