Sticky Fingers Warmed My Heart

Breakfast at school is always an adventure. I often say that school breakfast is the only place on earth where you can get a strawberry milk and use it to pour into your whole grained Froot Loops. This behavior would never be tolerated at home – chocolate or strawberry milk in your cereal, but it is totally acceptable at school. The adventure centers around getting students in and out of the cafeteria with enough time to eat, but not missing too much classroom instruction. This adventure is amplified with late arriving buses and students dropped off near the tardy bell but still in search of their first meal. But what truly makes breakfast an adventure are two words: Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup comes with a few of the hot items on the menu. These little containers of sweet deliciousness resemble the containers of barbecue or sweet and sour one would procure with a chicken nugget order. There is a seal that needs to be unwrapped so the condiment can be used as a dunking destination for the breakfast item. What always happens is the seal that covers the container peels a little at first, but by the time it reaches the end of the container, little hands often wind up jerking, dropping, or tugging too hard and there is a spill. Once the container is navigated, the eating begins. Usually by the time the meal is finished, there are globs of maple syrup all over the table, a fine film of it around the entire eating surface, fingers sticky and usually coats, gloves, hats, and if you’re lucky shirts and jeans touched by the maply goodness. It’s just how it goes.

When students are finished, they usually try to mop up the sticky film with a napkin which works about as well as a person washing dishes with toilet paper. A bigger mess always results. So the other day when maple syrup was on the menu and clean up was occurring, these simple words from a kindergarten student caught me by surprise, “Mr. Pinto, I really need your help.” As I peered over, I saw her trying to navigate a globby mess with sticky fingers, inundated napkins, and straw wrappers attached to the back of her hand. She had a milk and a juice container yet unopened and an exasperated look on her face. She said, “I still want to drink my juice and milk, but can’t seem to get to them.” She was a mess. So I swooped in and globbed up all the sticky mess after opening her two drink containers and moving her out of the maple syrup bomb zone. I then threw the syrup-residued containers away and directed her to the bathroom for hand washing – you see only water takes off syrup – paper doesn’t do it.

While I helped her clean the syrup off her fingers, she looked at me and simply said, “Thank you, Mr. Pinto”. Those sticky fingers and those words warmed my heart. Sometimes in the fast-paced portions of our day we can easily forget that we are charged with not only the educational care of the lives of our students, but so many other basic needs that accompany them growing up. At all levels, educators help their students navigate these waters of daily life. Sometimes the child needs help with a zipper or shoe lace. Other times, the child may need help opening a locker or finding a classroom. And sometimes they just need help navigating the dreaded maple syrup container and the fly paper effect that accompanies it at breakfast. In the end, it’s worth the sticky fingers you might get wading into the muck to help that child. Because the simple call for help or the accompanying “Thank You” make it all worthwhile.