The Macomber Center is not only a place where kids grow and flourish, but it’s also true for us staff members. We never know what the day will offer as we respond to the requests and interests of our members. How will we be stretched and expanded? How will we meet the present moment as embodied by each of the unique and amazing members (and fellow staff) we will encounter each day?
One of the things we savor about the Center is that it’s a safe place for us to probe and expand the edges of our individual comfort zones. We can experiment in a safe, supportive environment and push a little bit on what makes us uncomfortable. That’s different for each of us—staff and kids alike. What would we like to try, but are not quite sure we would succeed at? What is it that we’re good at but, with a little bit of concerted effort, could be great at? What do we not know about ourselves but are perhaps open to discovering and exploring?
On Monday morning, as I was sitting on the bench by the front door of the Center, soaking up the glorious fall sun and enjoying watching the skateboarders and foursquare players, Cate, age seven, cheerily approached me and asked if I would like to have my nails painted. She cradled a bottle each of pink and turquoise nail polish that she was poised to apply. Which color did I want?
Now, I like to think of myself as being open-minded, including being fairly enlightened about the gender roles and attributes that our culture has designated. But, in my experience, men do not wear nail polish--at least not that I’ve noticed. Granted, I’m largely ignorant about contemporary popular culture, but if it’s out there, I sure don’t know about it.
So, I hesitated to respond to Cate’s request. Why? Was I concerned about being judged? Or about my gender identity? I don’t think so. Then what was going on? I wasn’t sure. I was at the edge of my comfort zone without really understanding why. I confessed to Cate that I wasn’t really ready to have all my fingers done—maybe just one pinky. That was fine with her. With a few deft strokes of her tiny brush, my left pinky was bright pink. Did I want my right pinky done? Only slight hesitation. Of course! That one was soon a beautiful turquoise.
It actually looked kind of cool. Cate and her peers seemed pleased as well—both at the appearance and, I suspect, at their success in engaging me in their world, and perhaps even in helping me overcome my reluctance. It was the right thing to do.
Fast forward to today, Wednesday. I sat down to visit with a group of the younger girls, who were romping out on the grass. Laura, age six, immediately asked me ever so sweetly if I would like my nails painted. (My beautiful pinky polish had worn off.) “Of course!” I replied, without hesitation. This request now felt reasonable and comfortable; my comfort zone had obligingly expanded, courtesy of my young mentors. As we sat in the grass, she painstakingly did each nail on my left hand a beautiful blue, while the other girls watched admiringly. Maggie, age nine, now politely asked about doing my right hand. Why not? Soon my right fingernails were a pearly translucent green. Now there were chants of Toes! Toes! Toes! My shoes and socks were off in an instant, and, before I knew it, Laura had rendered my left toenails bright pink and Maggie had ever-so-carefully applied sparkly silver polish to my right toes. I joked about their doing my nose and ears as well, to squeals of delight. I halted the proceedings by inviting the girls to help me bring Happy Birthday balloons from my car into the building to help celebrate Calvin’s birthday, which they did with enthusiastic joy.
The satisfactions of being a staff member at the Macomber Center are wonderful and varied. My week included accompanying a Bach flute piece on the guitar, teaching algebra, experimenting with lenses and mirrors, helping members plan for college, getting acquainted with new members, and renewing connections with returning members. Helping kids become the best people they can be in this multitude of ways is a tremendous source of satisfaction. But, it’s also the tiny “thumbnail” moments that help make the Macomber Center experience marvelous: the sheer enjoyment of the kids enlisting us adults in their play, their satisfaction at being taken seriously in developing skills that they find meaningful, all of us expanding our comfort zone (perhaps after a bit of reluctance), and the entire community savoring one another’s creativity, initiative, challenges, and spirit. These moments are a major part of why we’re all so grateful to be here.
And my fingernails and toenails have never been more beautiful.