Most people don't know that my last day at the Kid's Cafe was this past Friday. I didn't tell a lot of people, I didn't want a big deal being made out of it, and I didn't want to answer the same question over and over: "why? I thought you loved it so much."
And I do. I did when I started, and I still loved it when I left. I'll always love the time I spent there, the people I worked with, and most of all the kids. But, I wanted to walk away while I still loved it.
For about two months now I had found myself struggling, a lot. Certain aspects of the job were really beginning to get to me. I'm not a disciplinarian, I never have been, I don't know how to be one effectively. I felt helpless trying to bring order to a room of rowdy kids, or even just trying to get one kid to listen and mend a poor choice of behavior. There was a level of respect I just couldn't get from the kids. It had a lot to do with my age, my lack of experience, the fact that there was not much I could relate to when it came to my kids.
All I could do was love them, and I did. Every single day. Even on the worst days. All I could do was give them a hug, talk to them a little, play a game or twelve of cards, color a few pictures, ask them to help me out in the kitchen with a special job, just spend time with them. All I could do was try to be as positive as I could be with them, and I was good at that for a long time.
In the last couple of months I found myself getting fed up way too often. I'd come home, dragging all my frustrations along behind me. I couldn't kick it, I couldn't stop feeling like I was helpless, like I was struggling so hard I couldn't manage. I'd be bummed out and miserable some nights. I wasn't happy.
Over the course of weeks I talked it over with my mentor, worked on different techniques to help me through without having to leave. But it eventually just hit a point that I needed to leave before I grew to dread it so much that I'd never want to walk through the doors again.
And I was able to leave on those terms. After the decision was made, I got to spend my last 3 weeks slowly letting go of some of my responsibilities and got back to just being able to spend time with the kids with a lot less yelling and scolding. I didn't have to get up and leave the activity I was doing with 3 or 4 kids, spending quality time with them, to run after the 1 kid wreaking havoc on the place.
I'd say the greatest gift I had there, the best thing I brought to the kids was being able to love them and spend time with them. I'll always stand by that. It's what made me chose the Cafe as my ministry for the first 6 months, it's what made me want to stay on for the second half. It's also what made me want to leave as I saw myself starting to get angry with the kids, losing my temper a time or two, I refused to let it come to that. I knew I was beginning to burn out, and I knew what I had to do.
It was sad leaving. There was no fuss, only a handful of kids knew. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of pictures taken with the kids on my last day. I was able to just sit with a few kids during dinner and talk to them. They asked a lot of questions about why I was leaving, accusing me of being just like everyone else who comes and goes and forgets about them. I assured them that wasn't the case.
The Kid's Cafe had one of the absolute largest impacts on me during my time here. I'll never forget a moment of it, I'll never forget the kids. It's not like I'm going far away, I'm staying in Erie, I'll still be working around in the neighborhood. Someday, in a few weeks maybe, I can always pop in for a little bit on a reflection day, just to visit and see how my kids are doing.
My kids taught me a lot, and I hope I taught them a little too. There will always be a place in my heart for the Kid's Cafe and for the kids who touched my life for 7 months.
Now, the process begins again, I'll spend this week trying out a few different ministries to see where I'd like to spend my afternoons for my last few months. A big part of this year for me has been gaining experience in a variety of places to see where I'm being called as I inch ever closer to beginning a career in social work. I'm so grateful for that opportunity.
While a part of me is sad knowing I won't be going to the Cafe this afternoon, or any afternoon from here on out, I'm also excited to try out something a little different. We'll see what's in store!