As of yesterday, I have already been in Argentina for four weeks (*tear*), working at Centro Comunitario Esperanza and exploring the country. Undoubtedly, during the course of these four short weeks, I have learned so much about myself, about life, about Argentina and about the world. And who are my teachers? Ten little kids who call me “seño.”
That’s right, the adorable, snot-nosed babies that I have been working with have taught me a boatload of things. Through their unconditional love, boundless energy and clumsiness, my eyes have been opened more and more to how the world works. Here are some of the lessons I have learned, as taught by 10 toddlers.
1. Love is expressed in weird ways.
At one point last week, three little boys had me pinned to the ground and were licking my forehead. Why? Because they were zombies who had to eat me, and apparently zombies kill by licking their victims to death. Sure, it was disgusting, and it didn’t last very long, but I knew that this was their strange way of expressing their friendship and their sense of security. To go from them being completely terrified of me (tall, pasty girl who doesn’t speak a ton of Spanish) to them referring to me affectionately as “seño” and constantly hugging my legs is a huge accomplishment. So whether it be the gift of a soggy, half-eaten cookie (thanks, Joaquin) or a beso blown in your direction, try not to take those moments for granted. Love shows itself in the most unexpected of ways, you just have to look for it.
2. What doesn’t kill you makes you cry a little bit.
Kids are unpredictable, kind of like puppies. When you’re surrounded by a big group of toddlers, you have to be on your A-game. One day, I was playing with some of the kids, when little Celina suddenly whipped around and smacked her face on a chair. Of course, the tears started flowing, and Celina went from being the happy-go-lucky little sister from Despicable Me (“IT’S SO FLUFFY!”) to a typical sobbing 3-year-old. Eventually, the tears dried, and Celina was playing again – albeit very wary of any chairs – because although children may be like puppies, they are also like goldfish. They have a non-existent attention span. She had completely forgotten about what had happened. I still felt horrible about it, but I guess karma had its way: the next day Celina threw her head back and nailed me in the face, giving me a small black eye. Admittedly, I teared up a little bit. Kids have really hard heads.
3. Sharing sucks, but it’s a part of life.
If you have ever interacted with children, you know that sharing can be a very difficult concept to grasp. Alex hits anyone who gets near his toys. Luca and Agostina cry if anyone tries to play with their Legos. Celina is known to snatch somebody’s toy and run around screaming like a madwoman. Several times a day at the center, I find myself pleading with the kids in Spanish to please share and to please stop hitting anyone who even thinks about touching your toys. I am constantly met with a firm “no” and a grumpy expression, but I always persist. I persist because the kids who never learn how to share grow up to be the adults that no one wants to be around (we all know that guy), and it’s important for these kids to learn a little bit of generosity and compassion early on, even if they are only three or four years old. Guiñazu, the barrio where the center is located and where most of the children live, is a really poor neighborhood, so in the environment that these children are going to grow up in and be surrounded by, it’s essential that they develop selflessness and learn to love their neighbor. No matter where you live or what your life is like, a little bit of selflessness is very important.
4. You never know what someone is really going through.
Because I work in an impoverished neighborhood, I have encountered some difficult things: kids who come to the center in the same clothes every single day, kids who obviously haven’t been bathed in a long time, or kids who are prone to aggressive behavior. It’s really hard to look at these children and know that they face hardship as soon as they step outside of the center. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and give them an easier life. However, I can’t do that. So for the two hours that I am allotted every morning, I make their happiness and healthiness my priority. I abandon my age and I let kids lick my forehead because they are zombies, I chase them around, and when they growl at me because they have turned into a tiger, I growl back. Being covered in dirt and snot is the price I pay to ensure that they have at least two worry-free hours of fun and proper childhood. And I am more than willing to pay that price because once the kids leave the center, I don’t know what they go through, although I like to think that all 10 of them go home to warm meals, warm beds and loving parents. You can never really know what someone is going through, so show them love. Be a friend.
There are so many more lessons that I have learned during my time here, but this post would be never-ending if I wrote them all down. I guess my point is, yeah, children may not be able to form coherent sentences and they may be clumsy and stinky, but there is a lot to learn from them. Pay attention. In only four weeks, 10 children have changed the way I look at the world. I hope that by the end of this experience, I have given them six weeks of friendship and consistency and a lasting, positive impact. Because they have definitely impacted me.