I look back at the baby that Jalen was the first day I carried him into the Toddler 1 classroom. Sensitive, shy, uncomfortable around strangers. I remember the fear in his big blue eyes as I put him into Ann’s arms and left him there. I was sure that he wouldn’t understand his new surroundings and that they wouldn’t understand him. By the end of the first week, Jalen was learning the new routine, eating lunch at the table with the rest of the kids, and bringing his cup up to the sink when he was done.
Jalen learned how to follow rules at the Boys and Girls Club, clean up at the Boys and Girls Club, use the toilet at the Boys and Girls Club. But more than that, Jalen learned how to play with others, control his emotions, and be himself at the Boys and Girls Club.
In the past, I worried about Jalen. He’s so very sensitive. So lonely. So unsure of himself. Each of these traits, which seemed so easily managed and counteracted at home, seemed impossible at school. When the teacher’s would tell me that Jalen would cry for no reason, or that he wouldn’t play with the other kids, or wouldn’t sit with the group; I’d explain to them how he’s desperate to be like his older brother, that he’s afraid that he’ll not live up to his brother’s expectations, that he’d rather not do something than do it poorly. But, I felt like I was making excuses for him, that the staff couldn’t see what I saw in Jalen. That they couldn’t see how socially aware he was, how funny, how mature.
Then Jalen moved up to the K1 classroom. The same classroom where Xavier learned everything he knew. The pride on Jalen’s face as he moved up to K1 was unmistakeable. He was finally where he wanted to be. He could finally be just like his big brother.
As much as everyone has tried to help Jalen see his own strengths, he’s much more interested in being just as good as Xavier. And, if he can’t be as good as Xav, then he might as well not do it all. He’s stubborn and reticent about trying new things. Melissa and Caroline, the K1 teachers can see Jalen the way I see him. It was Caroline who first told me how funny Jalen was. It was Melissa who first noticed that he wasn’t just, finally, playing with the other kids, but that they were taking his cues. When I would get upset at him for not participating with the group, they’d tell me to be patient. That he’d come along.
And, he has. This year has been nothing short of miraculous. Jalen has developed into an incredible responsible young man. I know, he’s five, but he’s mature and self-aware and there’s something very manly about the little guy. He’s independent and extremely capable of voicing his opinions and leading the classroom in activities. The kids in the classroom look up to him as he’s the oldest student in the room. He has taught them how to make comic books, and make up lego stories, and make musical arm farts.
I’m so grateful for the role Boys and Girls Club has had in this transformation. Melissa and Caroline know my little boy and know my family. They supported us when Ed was struggling with colon cancer and they supported us when I left my job this year. They’ve listened to me complain about our busy life and has celebrated the changes that we’ve gone through throughout the years.
As Jalen prepares for his last day at the Boys and Girls Club, we all look upon it with trepidation. The teachers will miss his contribution to the classroom. I will miss my daily opportunity to sit down and share with the staff. I will miss all the little people that I’ve watched grow throughout the years. And the staff will miss my frequent baking jags.
But Jalen, Jalen’s ready to go. He’s proud of his accomplishments and ready to try something new. He knows that he is a good student and is great at making new friends. He knows that he is like-able and able to try hard and accomplish new skills. He’s come such a long way in the last four years, and again, I am grateful for the role that the Boys and Girls Club has had in that change. I couldn’t do it without them