I have to work up close and personal with kids.  The kids I work with are rather small, even by my standards of height.  I view my world from a solidly 5’0″ tall vantage, and these kids are shorter yet.  And when they’re sitting down?  Forget it.  This is a job to do when one has young knees and has not yet developed vertigo. 

I have to get in their faces for many reasons.  The ones I work on articulation with need to see my face.  Not to sound boastful or anything, but my face has cues they need to see.  Little kids struggling to acknowledge that our language has final consonants need to see my lips come together at the end of “cup” or they’ll be asking for a “kuh” forever.  Another reason is that kids understand better.  And kids who understand just fine, listen better.  “He won’t listen,” I hear people tell me.  Well, if you’re yelling at him from across the room, he may not even know you’re shouting at him, let alone detect the message you’re hollering.  If there was one “technique”, strategy, or trick I could offer to many of the teachers I work with, one simple action they could do to increase interactions with their students, it would be to Get up.  Go over to him.  Talk to his face.  On his level.  And to stop asking him why he hit the kid.  Kids can’t answer “why” questions at that age anyway, but they might be more likely not to hit again, if you get up from your chair and go tell him to stop hitting.  I’m not asking you to give him a discourse on “friendly hands” or use a “problem-solving suitcase” or even change your words from “share” to “let’s take turns”.  But  please.  Get up off your ass and give the child the privilege of your immediate presence.  Adults don’t often have conversations standing more than 3 feet away from each other; why do we expect kids to listen to us when we’re halfway across the gym?

This lack of face-time I have observed has led me to name another phenomenon I have seen in daycares, head starts, church basements and the like: Daycare Butt.  A close cousin to Dispatch Butt, which 911 operators and EMS dispatchers get from a steady diet of inactivity and fast food, Daycare Butt evolves from perching an adult-sized body on a child-size chair, stationing oneself at a viewpoint from which one can see most of the children, so one does not have to move, and, accordingly, not moving.  All day long.  And you thought you had to be fit, flexible, and fleet of foot to work with small children!

However, all is not hunky-dorey when I’m face-to-face with a small child.  While I am increasing the likelihood they will be able to listen better, follow directions better, and imitate my speech sounds better, I accordingly increasing the likelihood of other, less than desirable possibilities.  There is risk of a drive-by hair brushing, using the hairbrush that’s been in the dress-up area for 16 years, and has brushed the hair of 275 children and countless dolls.  With lice.  There is the risk of the subsequent beauty parlour treatment,  which may or may not include curlers, a broken blow drier, a curling iron, and a shower cap.  With lice.  There is the risk of other numerous dress up crowns, tiaras, construction hats, hair nets, and headbands.  With lice. 

If you are down at a child’s level, working face-to-face with a child, you will get sneezed on.  Coughed on.  Spit on.  In the face.  Not just on your arm, in your vicinity, in your general direction — in the face.  And you will feel that puff of air germs come your way, and you will go home and check your last paystub for your sick leave, because you will be needing it.  You will blow noses.   You will touch sleeves that were used as tissues.  And used tissues that were curteously put back into the tissue box.  And you will use your sick leave.

Mealtime contains endless hazards.  Food that was previously in a child’s mouth will be in your mouth, on your glasses, your cheese, your chin, your hair, and most definitely your clothing.  Today, I am wearing oranges, guacamole, peaches, pasta, sauce from meatballs, green beans, and milk.  I am only responsible for contributing the oranges and guac.  Positioning can help to avoid some larger issues.  Angling oneself away from the spill-prone child, and having lightning reflexes can help one avoid having an entire quart of milk dumped on one’s lap and shoes.  Usually.  Ask me how I know.

Then there are the wardrobe malfunctions.  I’ve become very instinctive when I sense a glasses-grab or a hair-pull on the horizon.  And I’ve even learned a maneuver which can help to free those items from a child’s deathgrip.  I don’t wear earrings, and I’d be afraid to. Kids seem fascinated by my watch, grabbing and pulling at it without regard to the arm it is attached to.  When they start wrangling my arm, I’ve taken to chiding, “That’s my body!”  

And there are still other dangers.  Errant art supplies have left me covered in marker (Why do they even make non-washable markers for kids?  Does anyone know this?), pen (usually my own), pencil, paint (same question), play-doh, shaving cream, glue, and sand, dirt, and dust from the “messy table”.   And as the well meaning adults are cleaning off the tables from the children’s latest artistic endeavour, bleach from the diluted cleaning solution will find its way to my favorite shirt before the table has completely dried, leaving festive dots or streaks.  This will all happen.  All this and more.

I’m finally understanding why people who work with small children in non-healthcare settings feel they’re entitled to wear scrubs.  It has nothing to do with their desire to dress up in unicorns, pastels, and polyester fabric.  It has a lot to do with the elastic waistbands and loose-fitting tops.  It must have at least something to do with the disgusting, germy messes that end up on my clothing after a day’s work.  But I can’t do it yet.  I can’t give up.  I can’t go to scrubs. 

The tipping point will come, and I’ll either be driven to wear a biohazard suit, or to work with a population who knows how to cover their coughs, and blow their noses on a tissue.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?