Each group leader was given a bag full of all the supplies we supposedly would need for each day: a baggie with wet wipes, a folder with the boys' names and sign out sheets, a sheet of stickers, a short rope with knots to be used as a way to guide our group to/from their activities, 7 plastic sun-visors with each boy's name inscribed in black sharpie on it, name tags for ourselves and the boys, a baggie with bandaids and other basic first aid supplies, seven "work-books" for each boy (ostensibly to be worked on during any "down time" we might encounter - a feat that we never did accomplish) a baggie with a gold wristband for the one who was allergic to peanuts, seven gallon-sized ziploc bags labeled with each child's name to be used to hold their daily "take" and taken home at the end of the week, our daily schedule and a folder in which to place any random papers/sign-in/out sheets/etc. Given our supplies and shown to our greeting area, we were optimistically naive about what was to come our way.
Don't get me wrong, each one of "our boys" was absolutely adorable and lovable and smart in his own way, and we grew to love the little rascals before the week was over. And taken individually, or even in a group of 3-4, I'm pretty sure we could have handled them just fine. But before the first day was over, our group had established a reputation of being "The Wild Group" due to the combination of one boy who had a lot to say and even more energy spewing from his little body, another who was intensely independent (but an absolute cuddle-bug when he decided he liked you) and had to be cajoled into fully participating or even walking with the group; another little boy whose sparkling brown eyes and impish grin bespoke an intelligent child full of mischievous adventures who needed to be re-directed whenever he flashed that grin, along with another boy who, by himself would have been energetic but fairly easy to manage, but within the confines of our goofy group, could be led into all sorts of hi-jinx and antics. Then there was my friend's little boy who decided to be shy that week and wouldn't leave his mama's side and two others who could be described as quieter, thinker-types but who could also surprise us with some of the hilarious things that came out of their mouths on a regular basis.
The first day we attempted to use the rope to lead the boys from our greeting area to the worship center for the group sing-along and gathering. That lasted about 30 seconds before it became a tug of war between the leader and the caboose, with the boys in the middle being jerked along between the two. We were given a "flag" to carry to all our activities as well; who knew that carrying a pole with a paper drawn with our group's representative animal ("Pat the Bat") would cause so much strife between our boys? Or that it would be used as a lance, a sword, a means to bat the hanging decorations on the ceiling or other kids? After experiencing several battles between activities (making us late to just about every single one), the second day we established a flag-carrying rotation that worked somewhat. During the first song of the day, two of the boys escaped our row and proceeded to break dance in the aisle, including doing the worm down to the front of the church. We managed to corral them for part of the program (skits and videos) and keep them within the confines of our row for the final song, but couldn't get them to not stand on their chairs or stop wiggling. We ditched the rope after the second activity, opting instead for an unbreakable "friendship chain" where the boys held hands as we walked down the halls together. That, however, had to be ditched after a few of the boys refused to hold hands with some of the other boys resulting in hurt feelings and a mild kicking-fest between two of the boys. We then went to forming a sort of a conga-line, with the boys in single-file, each with his hands on the shoulders of the boy in front of him. That worked for about two more activities, but also had to be discarded when the energetic chatterbox boy got angry that the other boys were making steam-engine sounds when he preferred the sounds made by a diesel engine (personally, I really had no idea that there was that distinct of a difference in train sounds).
By the time our final activity, "games", rolled around, my BFF and I were exhausted and ready to let the boys run rampant on the playground as we sat tiredly on a nearby bench trying to keep an eye on our charges. After about two minutes, I noticed that brown-eyed boy had disappeared, so went on a search to find him. I found him in the ONLY mud-slick to be found on the church-grounds, happily smooshing mud up all over his Crocs. Finally, I got him out of the mudslick and had him wipe his shoes on the grass before we had to round up the boys for the end-of-day program in the worship center. Like herding cats, we somehow managed to get them all the way through the church and to our row of seats, with BFF at one end and me at the other, with the boys in between, thereby locking them in and preventing any more break-dancing routines.
The VBS week coincided with my son's Driver's Ed class, which also happened to begin and end at the exact time of VBS but was a 10 minute drive from the church. So, each day I had to leave BFF alone with our wild group to go pick up my son. According to my BFF, as soon as I left that first day, the boys escaped the row and proceeded to run around the church while BFF vainly attempted to get them back into our row. She said that other "Leaders" gave her the evil eye and one asked her why she couldn't get the boys to stop until finally one of the VBS leaders quietly came and told her that our boys needed to leave right away and go back to our greeting area. Our boys managed to get themselves kicked out of church!
By the time I got back to the church with my son in tow that day, BFF was more than ready to leave. We got home and marveled at the fact of how VBS gave us a strong urge for a mid-day drink (which seemed incongruous with VBS) while marveling at the "wisdom" of putting all our boys in one group together and envying the other Leaders' groups, all of whom seemed to be mild-mannered, sweet, quiet little girls with a few generally easy-going boys sprinkled in here and there. Filled with a strong desire to quit on our volunteering commitment, we chilled on the deck that afternoon and finally decided to persevere and finish out the week.
Some of the more entertaining situations that occurred were:
- Energetic Chatterbox Boy telling the Bible story class about hiding his mom's donut and how she wasn't sad, she was MAD while his red-faced mama sat in the room trying to hide her snorts of laughter with the rest of us literally ROFLing with her.
- The discovery that the back of the church was experiencing the Frog Plague from Egyptian times - hundreds of baby frogs were hopping all over the shaded part of the lawn, giving the kids endless amounts of amusement.
- Losing Chatterbox Boy. Yes, we lost our most energetic child and had to alert the VBS leaders that even though they had given us a college-aged helper which put our child-teacher ratio almost to 2:1, that we had lost one of our kids. Fortunately and much to our relief, he was discovered with another group at our next activity area.
- Watching as one of our boys stepped on a baby frog (by "accident") in front of the sweet snack lady who was appalled and told him, "We don't kill God's creatures!" Which made BFF crack up as she recalled the many deer, turkeys, ducks, fish and a bear she and her family hunt and kill each year. (Her husband is even a taxidermist - immortalizing "God's Creatures" every day.) Comments were made about "The Circle of Life," but sweet snack lady was still not amused. (According to Sparkles, daughter #2, one of her co-VBS attendees actually stepped on a baby frog because she wanted "to see its heart." That must have really freaked the snack lady out!)
- Playing "Butterfly Tag" and watching the kids and Crew Leaders lay on the ground, pretending to be caterpillars until the "it" child yelled "Fly, Butterflies, Fly!" at which point they'd all jump up and run around madly flapping their arms. One of our thinker boys commandeered the "it" position (much to the chagrin of the actual "it" children) for about 3 turns by laying down until everyone was settled, then jumping up while gleefully yelling "Fly Butterflies, Fly!" before the "it" child had a chance to say the words.
- Having Chatterbox Boy or Mr. Independent surprise me by climbing into my lap during Bible Story time or the daily worship center time - what a blessing to be able to hold such sweetness, if even for a short time.
By the end of the week, with the help of our college student, we had the boys somewhat trained, at least between activities, and Chatterbox boy was even holding his hand up before blurting out whatever was on his mind at that moment - sometimes on topic, but often not. Daily escapes from our row in the worship center were still made, but often were thwarted by BFF, the college student, or other sympathetic adults (word had gotten around by mid-day on day #2 that we were quite out of our league), so our boys were never again excused early from the daily finale. (We were also completely exhausted and convinced that we were NOT made to be preschool teachers.)
The greatest part of the week was when our two "thinker" boys gave their hearts to Jesus for the first time. Their sincere little prayers and thoughtful faces as they took Jesus as their personal Savior, and the happy excitement they showed when they received their own first Bibles was priceless and made all the struggles we had had that week worthwhile.
Will I volunteer again for VBS? Probably. However, as much as I enjoyed my funny, wild boys, I think next time I'll volunteer to help run the elementary-age games instead of the daily challenge of preschoolers.