Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Laborer is Worthy of His Wages

It's started raining in earnest, so we are knee-deep in kitchen helpers. Being in out of the rain at recess is what most of them are after, but there can be more material rewards for helping as well.

Our school uses "chance tickets" as a reward for good behavior. Any staff member can give out these raffle tickets at his or her discretion. The students write their names on the back and enter them to be drawn for prizes.

Becky (our kitchen lead) has very specific ideas about the dispensing of chance tickets. Students are not supposed to ask for them. "I like to surprise you," she tells the new helpers.

I think our differing approaches to the tickets perfectly sums up the difference in our personalities. I feel terrible not giving any tickets to the kids, mostly because each one is turned away at least five times before he or she gets a chance to help. When it's up to me, I carefully dole out five tickets (that's what Bob the custodian gives to his helpers who sweep the cafeteria) to each child.

Becky, on the other hand, has no problem sending kids off with a wave and a "Thank you for your help!" And when she does give out tickets, which is far more often then not, she unfurls an arm's-length strip and hands it over. No need to check if the two helpers got the same amount, just "Here you go!" It's good for me to be around Becky.

When her own kids were little, Becky ran a home day care, so she has a pretty good idea of what makes kids tick. We serve dessert once a month, and we usually have some left over at the end of lunch. On those days we sometimes let our kitchen helpers choose chance tickets or a dessert. Not everyone takes the dessert, but it's so fun to watch the kids' faces who do. The portions are tiny, but that doesn't matter. It's just such a special, insider-y thing to get an extra dessert.

One of my favorite helpers (the one who offered to loan me a book the first time I met her) always turns down the chance tickets, so I was happy that she happened to be in on a day we had dessert. "No, I can't have either one of those," she said when I asked her which she wanted. I was sad until I remembered--we had one hat left!

Yes, the best thing about fall and winter in the kitchen is that Becky's 85 year-old friend knits hats for our helpers. We don't have an unlimited supply, but she restocks us periodically. Last year the hats weren't very popular, which I believe may have had something to do with the colors she was using.

This year they're going like hotcakes. My little friend was thrilled to take a hat. I won't lie, I really wanted one of these. I went so far as to try one on. It turns out I don't have a kid-sized head.

Maybe it's because I grew up somewhere too warm for hats, but it seems to me like the most quaint and wonderful thing that this sweet lady knits hats for our kids and they take them and wear them. One girl actually asked about the origin of the hats and ended up bringing in a thank-you note to pass on. I hope her parents are very proud.

On the other hand, I had a new second-grade helper in for the first time this week, who had probably asked to help twenty times before she got a turn in the kitchen. When her time was up, I asked her if she wanted chance tickets or the last hat we had on hand.

She looked at the hat and screwed up her face. "Could you make some scarves?"

She took the chance tickets.