Last summer, our church decided to undertake a project of mentoring students at the elementary school nearest our parish.
Our hope was to “tithe” the active membership of our church: to involve 10 percent of us in the project. And I will be the first to acknowledge that we all have different interests and skills; mentoring, like bowling and skydiving, is not for everyone.
Mary and I, who seldom bowl and never skydive, decided to try mentoring. And to get to the punch line early, we recommend it.
On the appointed day, we arrived at the school — the same one our own three children attended — and were given a brief orientation. I assume that a background investigation already had been run to ensure that neither of us is morally turped.
And the guidance counselor may have figured that after raising three children and making a good start on spoiling five grandchildren, we probably didn’t need a long list of Thou Shalt Nots.
We were given the names of our two children — a boy and a girl, both fourth graders, the same age as our oldest grandchild — and were told only that they were performing at grade level academically, but could use a little help with socialization skills.
Frankly, at that point I began to wonder if I was really cut out to be a mentor, since I could not even define socialization, but it was too late to back out.
We would meet with our kids during lunch on Tuesdays at shaded picnic tables set aside for visitors.
My little kid, whom I will call Fred, because not a single one of those letters is in his real name, talked a mile a minute. He could talk for 30 minutes without stopping to inhale. He had to be reminded to eat a bite of lunch every now and then.
Mary’s little kid, whom I will call Sunny, for the same reason, seldom said a word, either to us or to Fred, unless asked a direct question.
After a couple of months, we told their teacher that while we enjoyed our visits, we didn’t think we were accomplishing anything. She assured us that we were, and that others had noticed a difference, too.
I don’t know if this is the definition of socialization, but Fred now eats about half his lunch without being reminded, and is beginning to tolerate my ignorance of the electronic games and Saturday cartoons of which he is an aficionado.
And as I listen to Fred, Sunny chats cheerfully with Mary, pausing occasionally to turn to Fred to discuss an electronic game in which she, too, has an interest.
This week, Sunny rushed through her lunch, then got out a notepad and drew Mary a picture of an owl. It is Mary’s favorite creature, and we have dozens of owl photos, paintings and sculptures around our home.
We don’t even know how Sunny knows that.
Sunny signed her name to it, and labeled it “To: FrizzBeez.”
It was the first time Mary and I realized how much this job pays.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Today’s lunchroom fare is far better than what he remembers from his childhoo d. He never developed an affinity for stewed tomatoes.)