The sisters gave me an impossible task on Holy Thursday. I had less than an hour to get all 45 girls (hyper-active kindergartners and capricious teenagers alike) to eat dinner, clean the kitchen, change in to their Sunday best, and arrive smiling in the pews for mass. Oh yeah…and I was completely on my own. As I ran around the hogar screaming over my shoulder for kids to get back in the dining room, huffing and puffing at little girls for constantly losing their socks, and shooting teens annoyed looks for “going to church dressed like THAT” I suddenly could see so clearly how far I was from the volunteer I wanted to be.
Where was the unshakable calm from my teaching time last year? Where were the playful comments that used to be enough for most of the girls to get the hint? Where were the private, compassionate corrections so characteristic of the Salesian way? Where was the girl who insisted that all discipline should strengthen a child’s skills and relationships, not merely scare her in to behaving? That girl was nowhere to be found. Instead, this crazy, red-faced educadora was running around screaming across the hogar, dragging kids by the hand here and there and demanding to know why nobody was chewing fast enough. This is not who I want to be. I was so ashamed and so angry to realize that I see this stranger more and more often as the year progresses.
I think part of my struggle is feeling like there’s too much work, too many girls, too little time, too little consistency to discipline and correct the way I want to. I feel like my primary role now is to meet practical needs, to get the kids organized, and discipline. That doesn’t leave much time to give the kids the attention they deserve when they truly behave, or the supervision that would stop a lot of issues before they started. I’ll be completely frank. I don’t really like my new role as much as I loved teaching and working one on one with our higher-needs girls. There are a lot of things I love about my work still, but there is little opportunity to give the kids a more holistic upbringing when their needs are constantly competing for my time. I hate seeing who I become when the stress overwhelms me, and I especially cringe when I think of the effect it may have on the girls.
I realized last night during mass that a HUGE contributor is the change in my prayer life. I used to spend almost an hour and a half every morning in prayer with the sisters before I even saw the girls. I would end each night with a focused Ignatian examen to look critically at my day through God’s eyes. I was growing. I was grounded. I was filled and ready to overflow on to these little girls. This routine slowly dwindled as I started working as an educadora, until I was praying a distracted and regularly interrupted liturgy of the hours in the morning and chopping my examen down to “thanks for this day. I probably screwed up. Remind me to think about that later. Sorry for whatever. G’night” as I crashed in to bed.
Spending an hour in prayer before the blessed sacrament last night after mass helped me really put things in perspective and see how I could start over again. It was incredible how much of a difference even just that one isolated hour made in my attitude towards these girls the rest of the night and all through the next day. It was also refreshing to see how much more effective my old means of correction and discipline truly were. Even though I know that returning to a more active prayer life will bring me back towards the volunteer I was six months ago, I think I may just desperately need a vacation.
Fortunately, I’ll be leaving Wednesday to spend a few days with some fellow volunteers in Santa Cruz, and then flying out Friday to be with my sis and her family for a week (and my parents for a few days too!). Hopefully it will give me the boost I need to finish this second year with as much joy and love as I started it with.