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  • Jessica McQuistin

Another Piece of My Story: A Moment of Ripeness

It's been a while since I've opened up and shared what's going on in my personal life, aside from salad-making and garden-growing, and similarly light-hearted (yet deeply delightful) undertakings. Don't get me wrong, I love sharing sustainability tips and mindful musings but today I'm feeling compelled to peel back a layer or two and share an honest snapshot of my life at this very moment.



Have you ever gone strawberry picking? Well, if you have you've certainly witnessed those perfectly plump, ruby red sun-ripened berries just begging to be bitten into. You probably filled your bucket - or several - to the brim and carefully transported your treasures home only to discover that once picked, they start to soften and darken and sweat. The same fruit that was just at its peak of ripeness begins its inevitable decomposition at a startling rate, right before your eyes.


Well, my life feels a bit like that perfectly ripe berry whose days in the sun are dwindling. There's a quote that's been haunting my thoughts lately:


As long as you're green you're growing. As soon as you're ripe you start to rot.
-Ray Kroc

You see, I've struck gold recently in terms of the ever elusive work-life balance. But in the blink of an eye, all of that is about to change.


This past winter, a small (but mighty) dream of mine came true: I finally became a Strong Start (early literacy program) volunteer at my kids' school! I had wanted to do this since Kate was in JK (2019) but couldn't make the time commitment due to the full-time job I had back then. Right when I made the tough decision to quit that job, the pandemic hit and school volunteer programs (along with the rest of the world) shut down, until just recently.


In my role as a Volunteer Coach in Strong Start's Letters, Sounds and Words program, I work with students one-on-one, addressing gaps in early literacy skills through a variety of games and activities. I have absolutely loved every moment of this program! It was very well laid-out so that after the initial training, all I had to do was run the activities for each particular lesson, and interact with the children in a genuine, fun, and encouraging manner. Seeing their letter recognition, phonemic awareness and emerging reading skills grow week after week has been incredibly rewarding! I also had a kindergarten kid who literally did a happy dance when it was his turn to come see me. It doesn't get much sweeter than that!


I was enjoying volunteering so much that after a month, I reached out to Strong Start to inquire about their other programs. They also run Baby Connections, a program for babies and caregivers that I attended with each of my kids, and Get Ready for School (GRFS), a program for preschool-aged children, to build their pre-reading skills, social skills and familiarity with classroom routines. An e-mail, a phone call and a Zoom interview later, I had part-time job as a GRFS Instructor! It happened so quickly and easefully that I was a little stunned at first. My mind went something like: "Did I really just get a job? Just like that, after being unemployed for two years? What exactly have I gotten myself into? Will I even like it/be good at it?" Luckily, this was yet another example for me that not every success in life requires tremendous forethought, effort and struggle. Sometimes things just fall into place with ease. (For a previous example of this same lesson, check out my post about cross country skiing!)


When I say I got a part-time job, I mean very part-time. I committed to two three-hour shifts with the same group of children: six hours per week in total. It was the perfect way for me to transition back into the workforce after staying home with my kids throughout the pandemic. I've taken on some extra shifts when other instructors have been away so some weeks I've worked more than others, but I've maintained my sense of flexibility, which is something I highly value. A relative of mine said, "Congratulations on your new little job! And I don't mean little in terms of significance!" She nailed it.


Strong Start's tagline is "making a difference in the life of a child" and I think this is something I've always longed to do deep down, below my conscious awareness. In fact, when I gave a speech at my mom's retirement party many years ago, I unexpectedly teared up when I read the Forest E. Witcraft quote,


A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank...but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.

I didn't know it then but I'm confident now that my mother's desire to have a positive impact on children (through her career as a social worker and throughout her personal life) has been passed down to me and my tears on that retirement party day were a nudge from my intuition that these words carried a significance to my own journey that I hadn't yet understood.


(Fast-forward back to the present.)


As the school year is coming to a close, this will be my last week of volunteering. Just as I was getting confident with all of the activities; just as some of the kids were really gaining momentum; it's time to wrap it up.


The GRFS program also ends along with the school year so this week I'll be saying a final goodbye to the adorable, imaginative, curious, playful preschoolers I've bonded with over the past few months. Just as the classroom routines are becoming rock solid; just as my imposter syndrome is taking a backseat and I'm relaxing into my genuine personality and silly, creative side with the kids; it's time to send them off to "big school". *Sigh!*


Years ago, before I left my job at Lutherwood, I questioned whether I wanted to work with kids or just spend more time with my own kids. I felt very conflicted about this and couldn't disentangle one desire from the other. Now I know that the answer was always: both.


As Gretchen Rubin says,


The days are long but the years are short.

Kate, Andrew and I, on our first beach/hike day of the season

So when this school year comes to its inevitable end, along with school volunteering and my instructor job, I'll try my best to switch back into full-time-mom mode and savour the short summer months with my own two kids.


And until then, I'll enjoy every minute of this last week of school/work, recognizing how far the children have all come, and feeling tremendously grateful that I got to be a part of their early learning journeys.


Yes

In this moment of ripeness

I'm soaking up the sun

Celebrating growth

And gently allowing my full, bittersweet range of feelings

To co-exist

Creating harmony

Despite leaning in opposite directions

 

If you enjoyed the personal nature of this post, be sure to read the prequel: Big Picture Self-Care: Sharing a Piece of My Story

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