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Volunteer grandma

Ed. note: Obviously, this post was written before the pandemic forced schools to close and families to stay home and visit with friends and relatives virtually. Margo will reflect on the "new normal" in an upcoming post.

There I was, on the floor of a first-grade classroom, my grandson on my outstretched legs and two of his classmates snuggled up beside me, as if we were occupying the one empty seat on the subway.

I spend Monday afternoons in this grandson’s class. As a volunteer grandma -- or maybe I mean as a grandma volunteer -- I answer questions and solve minor problems while the teacher works with reading groups and the other children move among workstations. A couple of the stations are “have-tos,” the others are “want-tos.” A February have-to was making teddy bear valentine bags, a project that involved lots of scissoring, much vigorous pasting, and the angst that accompanies pasting two bear arms upside down on a paper bag. “Don’t worry about it,” the teacher had said, but some students devoted minutes to cosmetic surgeries, carefully peeling off arms or feet and re-applying them. That day, because of the angst, I stayed at the valentine table instead of floating among stations. As the children came and went, they confided their valentine card themes, shared paste tubes and scissors with admirable equanimity, and decorated their ursine creations with crayons.

Meanwhile, at other tables, students nailed down the beginning, middle, and end of the story the teacher had just read aloud, practiced writing new spelling words and -- at last! -- chose their own activity from a selection that included using a Chromebook, reading the weekly magazine, or reading in the library corner.

The library corner has a rule: It may be occupied by only four people at a time. I didn’t know this when I first started my volunteer gig, and I was nonplussed when a child stopped in front of me while I was reading a book to my grandson and two other children.

“Are you a person?” he asked. I paused a moment to think that one over, and my grandson capably took the wheel.

“He means do you count as a person in the library corner,” he said.

“Ah!” I said, swiftly getting up to speed. “No, in this case, I’m not a person,” I told the newcomer. “So there’s room for you.”

This brings us around to the pile on the floor the other day. We were reading Julie Danneberg’s Last Day Blues, and you’d have thought I was counting up the last few votes in a close presidential election, the listeners were that rapt. Although my legs were turning numb and I was having a little trouble holding the book so I could see around my grandson’s head, I, too, was absorbed in the task at hand and didn’t see the teacher approaching with her cell phone until she was in front of us.

“Can I take a picture?” she asked. “This is so cute.”

We all paused to grin at the camera, and then the kids urged me to go on, go on. When the last of the last day blues had been banished, somebody handed me another book -- Kevin Henkes’s Wemberly Worried. I love all of Henkes’s characters, though my favorites will always be Penny from Penny and Her Marble et al. and Mr. Slinger, the teacher from Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I was more than willing to revisit Wemberly, but as I opened the book, the teacher announced it was time to clean up.

“No! Read, read!” my small cluster urged me. Gratifying as this was, I am nothing if not obedient in a classroom. I shooed the kids off to collect their coats and backpacks and found the book tub where Wemberly belonged.

“See you soon, Wemberly,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett wrote, copy-edited, and proofread for newspapers for nearly thirty years and currently does occasional freelance writing and editing. She previously worked for a school book fair company, which offered her the chance to catch up on children’s and YA literature, her favorite genres.

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