My change of heart came when early into this past semester, I found myself in need of a job. Desperately. I found myself in financial ruin, and had the strangely overpowering urge to fill my free time with a more productive activity than sitting on the couch all day watching old "Laverne & Shirley" reruns.
After my fruitless pursuits of menial, food service work, my desperation became such that I finally (though reluctantly) succumbed to applying for the Mililani YMCA's A+ Afterschool Program.
Stationed at Hale Kula Elementary School at Schofield Barracks, my job was to keep a wary eye on a rowdy bunch of third- and fourth-graders after school while their parents were still at work. I had to make sure that they had all their homework done and stayed out of trouble until their parents came to pick them up.
The only word that I can come up with to accurately describe my first week of daycare hell is "chaos." Due to my complete unfamiliarity with any kind of child management, the little devils just walked all over me. All of my instructions were completely ignored, and anything I said or did was immediately followed by some snide, disrespectful comment.
The fact that the person I had replaced was some kind of inhuman "super leader" didn't help my tortured matters much.
One evening, as I lay in bed picturing the white hairs that must be sprouting amok upon the scalp above my never-ending headache, I decided then and there to finally take my stand against the little hooligans that I so passionately wanted to strangle. I decided to replace the word chaos with the word "assertive."
The next day, I didn't take nothing from nobody. The kids couldn't understand why I suddenly turned into Mr. Grinch. One of the other leaders even jokingly labeled me "The Grill Sergeant." But in no time at all, they finally began to take my instructions seriously. Their attentiveness improved, and to my amazement, they had discovered a genuine respect within themselves for Mr. Lance.
WHAT amazed me most of all was my change of attitude toward this new job. I found myself actually looking forward to work everyday. Now, where there was once a constantly pained grimace, a bright beaming smile spread across my face each time a child greeted me with a "Hi Mr. Lance!" and a warm hug.
Yes folks, I mysteriously found myself enjoying my job. and by the end of the school year, I had become genuinely attached to each and every one of the children in my group. I knew them all in their likes, dislikes and mannerisms, both good and bad.
The last day was especially sentimental for me as I gave all of my kids one last high-five before they ventured into a shiny, new summer. The conclusion of the school year did not, however, mean the ending of my career in adolescent education.
I now work at Mililani YMCA as a swim instructor. I spend five days a week expanding the horizons of childrens' lives by making them amphibious. And I will not hesitate to say that I love every minute of it. I can't even begin to describe the unbelievably warm, gratifying feeling I get each time I transform a bawling child who is terrified of the water, into a smiling, confident swimmer.
Yet I know exactly how that child feels.
You see, a group of elementary school angels once showed me that happiness and confidence can sometimes be found in the things that terrify and intimidate us the most. It's all a matter of getting your feet wet.