A few weeks ago, Warren and I took a couple of kids to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The kids are brothers: Jorge and Luis (not their real names, but what I call them), finishing up 4th and 1st grade, respectively. Jorge was in my class last year. He is an incredible, intelligent, beautiful child who has the misfortune of being the most responsible "adult" in his family. His father is somewhere else and his mother is generally either in rehab, jail, or living with whoever her current boyfriend is. His grandmother is officially taking care of him, but she's pretty hands-off as far as child raising (and by the way, is only 40 years old - grandmother of an about to be 11 year old). She also doesn't speak any English and is illiterate in English and Spanish. Jorge is the oldest of four children.
All this means that Jorge is in charge of signing all forms (his grandma can't write her own name), dealing with everyone over the telephone, getting his brother and himself to school and through school, and often feeding himself and his siblings. He carries tension that no 10-year old should have - you can see it in his face and how he carries his head and shoulders. He also worries about his mother. I think she was 15 when she had him and he adores her, and also feels responsible for her. One day he told me he had stayed up all night because she had gotten in the car drunk and not come home, and he didn't know if she was hurt, in jail, sleeping somewhere else, or dead. He tried all night to figure out if he should call the police or if that would get her in more trouble. I told him to memorize my phone number and call me - any time of the day or night - if he's ever in a dangerous situation and needs a way out. He's the only child I've ever told that to - partly because I know he'll only call if he really needs to, and partly because something just makes him different for me.
Anyway, we took the two of the to the Exploratorium and it was tons of fun for all four of us. Two adults to two children is the perfect ratio, especially because the two boys moved at such different paces. The 7-year old wanted to run from exhibit to exhibit (which he called "games") and the 10-year old wanted to spend time at each exhibit, asking questions and determining how each of them worked. I mostly stayed with the little one, while Warren patiently explained things to the older one - I think they were pretty equally intrigued by a lot of the exhibits.If you've never been to the Exploratorium, they have all kinds of things - light, sound, engines, cows' eyes, weather, water, colors, optical illusions, everything a kid could ever want to play with and learn from. We stayed there until we were all completely saturated.
Then we fed the ducks outside (these kids don't get to do fun kid things much, so everything is new and exciting for them). After that, we decided we wanted ice cream and went in search of that. They were easy to please - Jorge wanted vanilla and Luis wanted chocolate (which he pronounced carefully with three syllables: "Choc-o-late). We ended up at Mel's in San Francisco, where they got their ice cream and I got a chocolate Coke. (All three boys decided that it was a weird girl thing to want chocolate Coke.) They learned to use jukeboxes, and got to color all over the paper placemats with the crayons provided.
It's my bedtime, but I'll continue the story tomorrow because it was a really special day with these kids!