I wasn’t going to write this. I kind of checked out for about a week, but today I cleaned up and started moving around again. I was actually planning on posting something tomorrow (Saturday, though I’m technically typing this at 2am, so it’s today) that I should’ve posted Monday, but I’ll get to that at a later date (sorry, Sarah). I’m okay, so as I said, I wasn’t planning on something like this to crop up, but as I perused Craigslist jobs tonight, something DID crop up… and I want to finally write about it.
I’m sure it’s fairly well-known for anyone here of my admiration for Mr. Rogers. I grew up loving his show, I STILL love his show, and he was a gentle and well-loved guy – but it was the subject of his passion that really gets to me. Kids. I love kids. I mean, I love a great many things, and I’m a fan of people… but I have a special thing with kids. I don’t talk down to them, I don’t ignore them… I give kids what they need. So, from time to time I’ll see job postings that involve working with kids in some way, and one would think that’d be the perfect part-time position for me as I pursue acting… except, I don’t apply for them. Why not? Well, some of you know the story. There are two things that have nearly brought me to tears just by talking about them with friends. The first, is Katie, and the second is the story of why I have a hard time apply for jobs with kids. For those who know it, sorry for the rehash, but it came up tonight and it hurt a little more than usual so I needed to talk about it…
During the summer of 2005, I was trying to pursue an acting career. I was doing a real haphazard job of it, but to pull in some cash on the side I followed the recommendation of my girlfriend and applied to work in the daycare section of 24 Hour Fitness. It was the first real job I’d ever had working with kids, but I got it. The place I was at had some really colorful employees (another entry in itself), but ya know what.. I loved that job. I’d come home in the afternoons, covered in drool and maybe even some pee, but I loved every second of it. I have a ton of stories… but I can’t delve into them all here. I got to show love to some of these kids who’d get dropped off for hours at a time, multiple times a week, all in the name of fitness. One gal was there almost every day, and one day she brought her daughter in feeling a little ill. The poor girl wasn’t improving, so I tried to call her over the intercom to come and pick up her sick daughter. No response. Some parents heard the intercom, some didn’t… it just depends on whether or not they wanted to be inconvenienced. It was sad, sometimes, but I knew that I was at least there to be with the kids for a little while – show them some genuine care and let them have some fun. Then, I wasn’t.
I got a call one day telling me not to come in to work for my next shift. I thought something had just been changed around, but eventually I was told not to come in for a couple of shifts as there had been a complaint filed. I had a really hard time waking up early, and (though I’d told this explicitly to my manager before I was even hired) I kept getting put onto opening shifts by myself. So, 1 + 1 = on more than one occasion I arrived late to angry parents. I thought that was the issue. Whoops.
When I was eventually called in to the corporate office in Irvine, the head HR gal invited me into her office but had to make a phone call. Another gal in there with us asked me some casual questions, just making conversation (naive idiot, that I was)… asking if we got to wear sweatpants (to which I replied that I wore an old pair of slacks) or if we ever had to go into the bathroom with the kids (to which I happily said no, we call the parents). The HR gal got off of the phone, and after some beating around the details, they came out and told me. The complaint had nothing to do with my being late… it was about my conduct with the kids. The allegation was two-fold. Mom 1 said that she came in to pick up her daughter one day, and it was just me with her daughter and another girl. The story then goes that I was sitting on a little wall we had, that separated the section for infants, with the other girl sitting in my lap… her hand on my crotch, and that I was "excited". Even now it’s kind of hard to write. So, Mom 1 said that I didn’t really acknowledge her, and that she had to then bend over me to pick up her daughter (who was laying inside of the infant area, resting/playing). Mom 1 later talked with her friend Mom 2 (whose daughter was the one in my lap, according to the story), and Mom 2 said that she then recalled a time when she came to get her daughter and found me with my hand in one of the kids’ diapers. So, that was the story. Moms 1 and 2 were regulars.. in fact, Mom 1 was the one who was there nearly every day. HR went through their whole investigation and came out believing the truth, that I never did anything remotely wrong with any of those kids… but, of course, they couldn’t keep me working with the kids. They offered a job in another part of the gym, but I said no thanks and quit.
A very rough time followed (The Lost, Nick… horrible, horrible times), but I moved on. Eventually, I decided to try something else related to kids. This time, I went to a YMCA job fair. I talked with the gal, mentioning my time at 24 Hr though not putting it on my resume (thought my 5 years at Blockbuster was more impressive), and I was hired. My dad nearly lost his mind when I told him, always fearing the worst after how I left my last job with kids, but I knew that I’d done nothing wrong and that I’m good for kids.. so I went for it. I was put at an on-school YMCA site in San Clemente at a school that takes on a lot of special needs kids. Nobody lasted at that YMCA. The site manager there, Hope, was nearly as new as I was… and as one of the worst kids there told me when I started "You’ll leave soon.. everyone does." But I stayed. We both stayed. Those kids had torn through countless YMCA workers by being difficult, hard to care for, and an overall pain in the neck… but Hope and I managed well. Then, one day, while walking through the playground at lunch, I heard a "Hey, Mark!" and looked to see Mom 2’s son. Out of all of my freaking luck. Time went on, and nothing happened, but one day, after school hours, a mom was wandering around campus looking for something and she asked us YMCA workers. It was Mom 2. She didn’t say hello or acknowledge me… but she knew who I was. A couple of weeks later I got a very familiar phone call from someone in a corporate office.
I went into the main office, with Hope, soon after to talk to an HR rep. It was the gal who I interviewed with at the job fair. Mom 2 had complained. As I retold the story to the two ladies, I caught eye of Hope… and she was on the verge of tears. After the HR gal left the room we were in, I looked at her with a smile and asked "So, how’re YOU doing?" She smiled and laughed as she wiped her eyes dry. Why was she crying? She knew me.. she knew there was nothing to the story… but that’s what makes it all the harder to hear. I stayed away from work while they decided things, but this time, they decided in my favor. I was impressed. I got to keep working with these kids. One little guy was so angry.. so freaking angry, but I kept after him and we talked it all out one day…. he was just frustrated with his family and so many other things, and it was an amazing step for this little kindergartener. Very shortly thereafter (I’d like to even say it was the same day, but I don’t think so), the regional director was working there with us and as he and I closed up to go home, he told me to grab my file because they wanted me to help out at another campus on Monday. No problem, I thought. After the weekend, when I pulled into the school, the regional director was there… and as he walked with me toward the YMCA portables, he told me this was going to be my new site. I’d been had again. But, just like before, it’s not just me… it’s the poor kids. These monsters at my first site had been continually abandoned, and then I’d done the same thing after telling them I wouldn’t. In fact, after I’d been at my new school for a few days, I got off early and went by my old site. Hope was there and she welcomed me with a huge smile. One of my little guys came running up and gave my legs a huge hug. That one choked up Hope a little. Oh, and the girl who had previously proclaimed that I’d get annoyed and leave was there to say "I told you so". That one got Hope even worse.. because she knew.
And that was it. I was at my second site for quite a while before leaving to return to school full-time, but I didn’t have any more incidents. While there, I never ran into either of the Moms who’d complained at 24 Hr Fitness – yet, I did see one of their daughters. Late one day I was outside with the YMCA kids while a local kid’s soccer team was playing on the field.. and who was sitting there on the sidelines looking at me and smiling her weird little smile? Mom 2’s kid – the one who was supposedly sitting in my lap for nefarious reasons. When I saw her, my heart sank. I thought, "Oh, not again." Nothing came of it, though the long-lasting effects still haunt me.
When I started at 24 Hr Fitness, I didn’t hold back. Kids jumped on me, I flew the little ones as airplanes, I played horsey… I did everything. After being accused as some kind of sexual pervert, I noticed that when I started at YMCA I was much more reserved. When kids got to know me and started hugging me, I’d instinctively turn to my side so they’d face my hip. I kept my distance. I still had a great time with them, and they never knew… but I did. I knew how self-aware I’d become about it all. When you’re a guy working with kids, you get used to little girls getting crushes on you. It’s the same for boys and the female teachers – it’s all innocent. On my final day at YMCA, I was sitting at a table playing a board game with some kids, and one of these gals that just adored me sat next to me. She sidled right up, but I didn’t move. For those of you who have kids (or little relatives), you’ll get this next part. I can’t explain it quite, but there was a love there.. you can just feel it. Sure, she may have had some little-kid crush, but more than that.. she knew I was there to take care of her, it was a bond. Still, though, it made me nervous. It made me freaking, gosh darn nervous.. and that’s horrible. That one lousy experience has done so much damage as to keep me from even enjoying the simple love of a kid I cared for.
So now, I’m looking for work and I’ll come across local jobs involving kids and do you know what my first thoughts are? Mom 1 and Mom 2. Or a new mom who thinks I’m doing something horrible to her kid when all I’ve ever done is show these kids pure love and compassion. It hurt the first time, and it may have hurt even more when it followed me to bite me in the butt a second time. I hope that none of you know what it’s like to be bursting with love for someone or some ideal, but be told that you can’t share it because it makes someone else nervous. Mr. Rogers is adored, and rightfully so. I’ve been given discouraging glances and whispered about. I almost considered keeping the comments locked on this entry, but I won’t. I’m not looking for words of encouragement, because I know. I know that it was just one situation, and I know the reality of it. I know that I can’t live in fear… trust me, I understand. But, as I sat here tonight looking at a job description that involved one of my greatest passions (if not greatest, even compared to movies), I almost started to cry. It still really hurts, and it keeps me from doing something that I not only would enjoy – but would be a heck of a great service. I’m terrified, sure, but not of what others may or may not think… but of getting hurt again like I did. Forget a bad break up… to be though of as a monster (which is what pedophiles are) has just beaten the crap out of my heart. I have considered and day-dreamed, on a number of occasions, coming across Mom 1 in person. I wouldn’t condemn her, I wouldn’t give her the cold shoulder. I’d just want to tell her, for her own peace of mind and so she doesn’t dare raise her poor daughter in any kind of way different from how she might normally, that I didn’t do anything. I’d never do anything. It’s 3.30 in the morning… so I don’t know if I’m even being coherent anymore, but I had to write this out here, finally. Make it an official part of the MarkMushakian.com lexicon, if you will. All I want is to be the world’s neighbor, like my hero… and maybe one day I can be. But, since I don’t want to end on a downer note, here is a picture of fat Asian kids that brought me a much-needed smile.