I hadn't gone to the shelter for three weeks because my husband and I had had the Virus from H--- which lasted an entire week (each). The third week, we didn't want to pass it on or to catch some other illness from the shelter kids with our lowered resistance.
Still, it was hard for me to stay home on "group night." I missed the kids and they missed me. I knew there would be a big change in the shelter population. I'd been told that all the women and kids had moved to other shelters, in with family members, or rented their own apartment because of the renovations.
The first surprise when I returned? The shelter looked better than I'd ever seen it. New kitchen counters, new wood-look floors, furniture rearranged. All areas cleaner, brighter, less cluttered. And all this work was probably done, as usual, by dedicated volunteers.
The next surprise? A first in my four years volunteering there: the shelter was almost full, but there were only two toddlers in residence! No kids or teens! Since I don't work with children under 3, that was a disappointment. Before my "vacation", three resident teens plus the consistent addition of three or more teens from "outside" had evolved into a tight-knit, quite verbal group.
Even supper before group time felt strange when I returned. There were only four women in the kitchen/dining areas and one serious toddler. No kids crying, fighting, laughing, chasing each other.
This was the quietest meal I've ever spent there. I hoped some non-resident kids would arrive for groups later.
Luckily, ten "outside" kids showed up. Most of them I'd known for a long time. They were glad to see I'd returned and I was happy to see them again. We caught up, talked, laughed. There were only eight kids, aged 7-12, so I could extend group time and they could still have play time. They enjoyed the relaxed format and the greater personal space. There were several empty chairs around the big tables. They could spread out, focus better, do more of what they wanted to do.
I didn't miss the hectic pace we have when 20-30 kids arrive for group. We usually have five adults to supervise and provide activities, but most of these kids need a lot of attention, especially the impulsive and angry kids.
So it was a peaceful night. Quiet, productive, no conflicts, no backtalk.
Still, I missed my teens who range from withdrawn to rowdy. I missed our 8 to 12-year-old boys who are more prone to argue, fight, show off and push the limits than the girls.
I have a feeling, though, that they will be back. A mom with four kids just moved in. The flu season is coming to an end. The kids love to play outside after groups when the weather improves. Quiet will not prevail for long.
And this is ok. It's what I signed up for and I'll be happy for the return to "normal." Whatever that is.