A group of teenage boys walked around the Open House event for a local non-profit organization. It was an organization that provided mentorship programs for local children who struggled with anxiety, depression, or other similar mental health issues. The children worked side by side with a mentor while caring for various animals or working in the garden. Some of the teenage boys had appreciated the program themselves, or had siblings who had benefited from it. Today, their parents had signed up for various volunteer roles to help make the Open House day happen, and they were brought along.
These boys had eaten their pay-by-donation hamburgers for lunch, had seen all of the different animals in the barn, had taken the tour of the horse riding trails with the organization’s Summer Camp Coordinator, had enjoyed their free strawberries served with ice cream that had been grown in the garden, and were now wandering around, looking for something new to entertain them.
The one boy’s younger brother ran up to the group, growling. “I’m a tiger!” he declared, showing off his freshly painted face. Then he noticed a girl who had just gotten painted as a zebra, and ran off to chase her.
One of the women sitting at the face painting table was looking around for the next child in line waiting to get painted. Not noticing any, but spying the group of teenage boys, she waved at them. “Any of you want to get your faces painted?” Her own face had been transformed into a white cat.
The group of teenage boys looked at each other, and some shrugged, one shook his head no, and one eagerly proclaimed, “Yeah, let’s all do it!”
The eager boy approached the table and took a seat. “What do you want to get?” asked the woman, spreading out her various reference pictures as options.
His friends looked at the options, and made their suggestions. “The butterfly!” yelled one. “The rainbow and stars!” shouted another. “The pretty kitty cat!” laughed another.
The boy in the chair held up one reference picture. “This one,” he said in as serious a voice as he could muster in that moment, “is the most manliest one here.” He held up a picture of a young girl with a ladybug painted on the top half of her face. The other boys, amid guffaws of laughter, agreed.
The woman, chuckling softly, eyed the boy in her client’s chair, and asked, “So you want the ladybug?” double checking that this was the actual plan. She looked fully prepared to search up some other option on her phone.
The boy hesitated for a moment, and then looked over to his friends. “I’ll get the ladybug if you all also agree to get it.”
After a few minutes of convincing the most hesitant members, the whole group was in agreement, and so the woman began to paint the first of the teenage boys as a ladybug. When he stood up and the second one took his seat, the woman remarked, “It’s fun helping you guys form The Ladybug Gang.”
The boys grinned, liking the name that they had been dubbed.
The last boy took the chair hesitantly. “Do I have to get a ladybug?” he asked.
“Yes!” the other boys with ladybugs on their faces yelled.
The woman paused before lifting her wet sponge from the cake of red face paint, glancing between the boy in front of her and the others, until the boy sighed and said, “Okay, a ladybug for me too.” Then she pressed the sponge to his forehead and began creating the ladybug.
To add to the boy’s embarrassment, his mom appeared, her turn volunteering at the bake sale table evidentially over, and she held up her phone to take a picture of her youngest son getting face painted. “Oh, Grandma will love this,” she commented. The boy’s cheeks grew as red as his freshly painted forehead.
Once the last of The Ladybug Gang had been initiated, the group swarmed off elsewhere, searching for the next activity to do.
The woman returned to painting young children’s faces. As the event was winding to a close, and families had begun to leave, members of The Ladybug Gang began to leave. The last boy to get painted wandered back to the face painting table. When the woman had finished transforming a yet another young boy into a tiger, and there was no one else in line, the teenage boy sat back down in front of her. “Do you think you can add something else? Something I actually want Mom to take a picture of for Grandma?”
The woman smiled understandingly, then thought for a moment. “I can probably handle drawing a dragon on your cheek without even looking up a reference picture.”
The boy’s eyes brightened. “That would be awesome!”
The woman selected one of her thinner paintbrushes, and got to work. When she held up her mirror to show the boy the end result, he was thoroughly pleased. This time after leaving the chair, he went to deliberately look for his mom and her phone camera.