Note: I’m feeling under the weather and can’t volunteer today. So I’m writing this because I’m going to miss the kids haha
Every weekend I volunteer at a reading center for children with special needs and learning disabilities. Technically we help them learn to read, improve their comprehension, or encourage them to enjoy reading. But I feel our work with them goes beyond that — I actually consider it reading therapy.
I don’t know if that’s a thing or if I completely made that up, but I feel like that’s what we do. Children’s books have a lot more depth than many might think. You encounter issues such as bullying, anxiety, feeling unloved, death, and racism in their pages. Whenever I read books with these themes, my emotions are on a 5-minute roller coaster ride (because these picture books are short! Haha). One minute I’m depressed that we live in a world where people, especially children, have to go through these negative experiences so early in life. The next minute, my heart is swelling because the protagonist in the book is shown kindness, love, and friendship in the end.
What distresses me the most is the fact that the kids I work with actually experience these negative things at such a young age. Nobody (at any age) should be made to feel unwanted, unloved, or disrespected. (Also why I love and sympathize with old people so much too.) Sadly, whenever I hear their stories about bullying in school or how they have no friends because people think they’re “weird”, my thought always is: why are some kids so evil?
It really makes me sad.
These kids I work with are the sweetest, most thoughtful kids I’ve ever met. Yes, some of them come on strong. Yes, some of them are socially awkward. Yes, they drain my energy for an entire day with a one hour session. But these kids don’t deserve to go through what they do. Nobody does.
I think I empathize with these kids a lot, because that could have been me in their shoes. In the first grade, I was “bullied” for about a week until my mom talked to her mom and we became best friends. I was part of the group in school that was well-liked and never bullied. I’ll admit now though, that’s probably because we were the bullies.
There was one kid in particular I remember. He was nice, but slightly annoying. He came on too strong and so my friends were mean to him. I tried not to take part in any of the mean things they did or said, but I didn’t try to stop them either. That’s something I regret a lot.
We had to transfer schools in high school, and though we all ended up in the same school, I was in a different class. For the first few months, I’d go out of my way to eat lunch with them, but eventually I stopped. I didn’t want to be part of the popular group of girls who were nice to me but not nice to everybody. I made new friends in my class with girls whose values were more aligned to mine, and 15 years later, we’re still best of friends — a decision I never regretted.
You may be the nicest, friendliest, most well-liked person in the world, but the minute you are genuinely mean to someone else, I lose respect for you. (Yes, I do realize that sounds mean haha but that’s just one of the things I cannot stand.) It takes a lot to make me angry, but social injustice is one of those things that just topples me over the edge.
It’s not easy for me to make friends and socialize. I’m a major introvert and not the friendliest person at first. I just got really lucky that the universe sent such a good group of people into my life. So I empathize with these kids I volunteer with. I can imagine what my life would have been like, and it’s a sad thought.
When we read these stories and process them together, I feel their anxiety. I hate that. I hate that they have to experience this at such a young age. When I’m with them, I just try to be their friend. I want to show them that someone is invested in them and just wants them to be happy, carefree children. I truly do.
It makes me happy when they enjoy a book we read together. It reminds me that there’s still a place for stories and the printed word on planet Earth. There is always a place for books that broaden your world view and show you that you’re not alone — something that these kids desperately need. That’s why we need more diverse books in the world. Books that tell stories of every kind. I hope that one day, there will be a book for every child’s experience out there.
And that’s why I want to publish more books. #latebloomerdiaries