One recent afternoon when I was feeling particularly swamped with my list of tasks that seemed absolutely necessary to accomplish within an impossibly few hours, a ten-year-old neighbor boy, Jerome, arrived at my home as he often did after school until his single mother returned home from work, and he wanted to use my computer to work on a paper he had to do for school. Jerome did not have a computer at home, and so he and I had an understanding that our family computer was his, too, whenever he needed to use it for a school project. I set aside my bustling for a few moments as I set my young friend up on the computer. I then told him that I would be doing my chores, but that he could call me if he needed me; then quickly I resumed whatever I had been working on, also replacing one earbud in my ear so that I could resume listening to whatever book I had recorded on my MP3 player. (Being a multi-tasker, I love to listen to books when I am doing housework.) I hurriedly carried on with my work, listening to my audiobook with one ear, but noticing with my other ear that I wasn’t hearing much of the clicking of keyboard keys coming from my office. After a few moments, Jerome called my name. I came to the office, noticed that he had typed only a few words onto the screen, and I answered some simple question that he had, then returned to my work again. This happened several other times, and each time I noticed that Jerome had made little if any progress on the screen. I thought of the mountain that I believed I needed to move in the next hour or so, and then I looked at a young boy who wanted my help—or perhaps just my attention. I pulled up an additional chair, suggested that he dictate to me while I typed, and he unfolded a simple, beautiful story of his favorite Christmas. We spent the next half hour together at the computer, after which we printed a lovely story with which we were both delighted. Jerome then followed me to the kitchen where I gave him a snack. My unattended tasks seemed inconsequential for the moment. My heart was lifted and I felt joy—not at any personal heroics, but at Jerome’s satisfaction with his work and my privilege to assist with it. He had blessed me by inviting my help, as now I felt love and levity that had not been in my heart an hour beforehand.
Another busy afternoon when I was working at home, Jerome came over again, and this time he announced that he needed to complete a report on penguins by the following day, and he said that his mother had told him to come to my house to get it done. I didn’t have any books on penguins, and, my immediate, annoyed thoughts were, Couldn’t Jerome’s mom, busy as she is, just have run her son by the library after work one night? What could be more important than that? Did she really expect me to drop everything with no notice at all so that Jerome could get his project done by the next day? Because I’m working from home, she thinks I have all the time and flexibility in the world to wait for her kid to show up so I can do the things she ought to be doing to support his schoolwork. But here Jerome was, and, as I considered the task in which I had been engaged, I noted that its importance and urgency did not outweigh Jerome’s project, and, I realized gratefully that I did have flexibility and that he was important enough to set my other work aside for awhile. My son Shane wanted to help, too, so the three of us jumped into the car, went to the library, and scoured the shelves in the juvenile section until we found the best book about penguins.
On the way home, I asked Jerome to begin searching the book so that he would be prepared to write his report when we got back to the house. When we returned home, I asked Jerome, “Do you know what you want to say in your report?”
He pointed to a particular page and told me, “I’m just gonna copy this part.”
Ensuing from this, of course, was a discussion on plagiarism and how he needed to use his words in his paper. Jerome was surprised, and he seemed discouraged. I had hoped that this time he would sit at the computer and do the typing himself, because, at this point, I really needed to get back to my work, but I could see that he still needed help. My teen-aged daughter Lacey, who had just asked to borrow the car so she could go to a friend’s house, agreed to delay her own plans so that she could sit and help Jerome. I told her, “Jerome needs to use his own words, but you can help him organize his ideas and get it typed.” I was grateful to Lacey for her cheerful willingness to help our young friend. I left the two of them to the task, and, as I went about my own work, I could hear them laughing several times, and I could hear Lacey patiently guiding Jerome in his efforts to construct the paper.
An hour or so later, when the two of them had finished, Jerome told me that his mother wanted me to drop him off at home. As Lacey was still waiting to use the car, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind dropping Jerome off first, to which she cheerfully agreed. Then, Jerome asked whether I wanted him to read his penguin report to me. I felt badly for asking Lacey to wait again, but she seemed to want him to have the chance to share the paper with me. Jerome read his paper slowly and proudly over the next several minutes, and when he had finished, he was literally beaming. I couldn’t help but hug him, and Lacey was evidently happy as well for having been instrumental in helping a little boy feel so wonderful about a small accomplishment. I thanked Lacey, feeling lighthearted myself. Later I sent Lacey an additional thank-you in a text message, telling her, “That was wonderful of you. You helped him perfectly. He felt so good about his paper. Thanks for helping him.” A short time later, Lacey replied, “I didn’t mind at all. I liked helping him, especially seeing how happy it made him.”