From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Engraved on the Pages of Life

My youngest child was entering school. It was time for me to branch out. I felt I needed to be more than Bill’s wife and the mother of our four children. It was time for me to find a job.

I was at a point in my life that I needed to contribute to the expansion of myself, to the family income, and perhaps to the future of the next generation, beyond my own children.

I would find a job from which I could be home when my kids were home from school. I wanted to work, but not jeopardize my family’s happiness. I could do it, I was sure.

Like any woman on a mission, I took a brush-up course in typing, then applied for and became a library clerk in the grade school system.

Books! I would be carding, checking, labeling, shelving, reading, and stacking books. My job would be to help children select and check out their selections. I would be in charge of bulletin board displays, enticing youngsters to read books their teachers deemed enjoyable, entertaining, and educational.

Reading selections to the youngsters as their classes took turns in the library would be another responsibility I knew I would enjoy. I would help educate the students while they were in my charge by putting them in contact with the printed pages. I was to help expand their minds.

Those would be my duties.

“Your job category also includes lunchroom duty,” I was told.

“Lunchroom duty?” There was not one book in the lunchroom, not one!

I soon learned there was more to the job than checking out books and stopping food fights in the cafeteria.

There was the child who always hung out at my desk, the kind of child who needed to know that you knew he or she was there.

I often wondered and worried about some of the children’s needs. Some seemed to require more attention than the average child. What were they lacking in their home lives? Was there any way I could provide what they needed?

There was the child who hunkered in the corner and tried to disappear, not speaking unless spoken to, and then only the words that were necessary. What issues is he facing in his life? I wondered. Was there any way I could help him escape from his shell?

There was the boy who talked loudly, continually disrupting the class. It must be the only way he could attract attention, I surmised. I wondered why. How could I help him quiet down without snuffing out his spirit?

I’ll never forget the little children who, I was sure, came to school without bathing, day after day. My heart ached for their needs. What must their circumstances be? That and other questions traveled home with me every night.

When I bathed my own children before putting them to bed, I couldn’t help but think about the needs that must be in other homes in our community. How could I help fill the void in other children’s lives created by neglect without stepping on their pride, their self-esteem, and embarrassing them?

Then there was the emotionally disturbed class that descended on me for their time in the library. They were sometimes accompanied by their teacher, and other times not.

Many of these children had difficulty with self-control. And it was not always easy for me to control them. I often found myself thinking about them and their problems, long after suppertime, when I talked with my secure children about their day at school.

There were so many children with so many problems. I did not have the knowledge to allow me to delve into their minds. Only my heart qualified me, and it, too, seemed inadequate as I embraced all that my eyes observed.

There was the youngster who was large in his build, lost somewhere in his mind; it was impossible to reach him, though I tried. What mysteries lay hidden inside? I wondered. Would he ever be able to escape? When I reached out to help, he seemed only to withdraw all the more. I, too, grew lost trying to find him as he hid behind the mask he wore.

There was the little boy who was mischievous, always in trouble, but everyone liked him. I talked to him, trying to encourage the wonderful lighthearted side he possessed. My reward was his smile. He, too, touched a special place in my heart. But I worried about him. Would he rise above the place in which he found himself? Would this little African American boy get past the race issue he so often faced? I knew he’d always be confronted with those who could not see the fact that hearts do not possess the color spectrum. God made hearts all the same color.

After a year and a half, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and reluctantly gave up my job. That was more than thirty years ago.

I will never forget the privilege I had working with children. I was honored and blessed, and I hope I made a difference in some child’s life, including my own children, during the time I spent in the school library.

In the years that have passed, I have occasionally met some of those former pupils.

“Hi, Mrs. King,” they say, with a note of recognition. Yes, some do remember me.

While I worked in the school system, I handled many books. I don’t remember many of their titles, but each child is forever engraved on my heart and my mind.

I believe it was I who was taught during the time I worked in the school library. Among other things, I learned how much my children needed a good mom, whether I worked outside the home or not. I also learned how some children have stay-at-home-mothers throughout their lives and still do not receive the love they need. Some things I learned broke my heart.

I learned how important every parent is in the life of his or her child; my children and I were all better off for my having worked outside the home, if even for a short time. We all appreciated one another more when I returned, having viewed life from a different perspective.

Knowledge and wisdom are often not found in books, but are engraved on the pages of life.

Betty King

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