Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Something Weird, Something Awesome

I've noticed, in recent weeks, the lack of cohesiveness that is sometimes present in my choir.

Here we have 25 teenagers, vastly different, full of adolescent angst and hormones, and it's just not always going to gel. For the most part, they're a fantastic group, and they make it work. WE make it work. But there are days where drama happens, or awkwardness prevails. So, last week, my girls begged me to let them do a fun ice breaker on Monday of this week, so they'd feel more comfortable with some choreography they're doing in a song. The idea they came up with was for everyone to share something weird about themselves.

It was a blast. We laughed, funny conversations started, and kids who are usually very quiet admitted to putting hot sauce on their bagels and other quirks. I admitted to sorting my clothing hangers (the empty ones, not currently holding an item of clothing) by color in my closet, and to inserting "Millie Joyful" (my cat's nickname) into the "Hallelujah Chorus" and being convinced that Ms. Millie Joyful likes it.

The whole exercise got me thinking. It's easy enough to admit our foibles, our quirks, and even our faults...and I noticed that in some ways, my students seemed to think their quirks are faults. So today, I made them think of something awesome about themselves to share. 

I started. I told them that one of the most awesome things about me is that I'm not a quitter. That I learned from my parents, early, that quitting is not an option. And it has served me well. 

"You know I'm a runner," I said, and the looks on their faces clearly said, "Yes. We know."

"I talk about it constantly, I know," I said. "But I'm so proud of my running because it's something I've never quit on. And it has never come easy."

Today was the first time I've told my students that I lost a substantial amount of weight over the last five years. "Ninety pounds," I told my silent classroom. There were murmurs and wide eyes. "I had a lot of worrisome health issues, and the weight needed to go." Then I made them laugh with the tale of the first time G. the Meanie made me run a mile-and-a-half without stopping or walking. How he had his hand on my back, threatening to lengthen the distance if I fell behind. Giggles erupted when I told them, "That's the only time in my adult life I've told someone, 'I hate you.' And when, a few minutes later, I said, 'I didn't mean that,' he replied, 'I know.' And I wanted to hit him." 

I told them about the time I set off to climb Mt. Diablo--alone. In March. "Now there's a good idea..." a senior joked. I laughed. "Yeah, but I decided I had to do it, to prove I could." The story continues that I was hiking along, enjoying the sunshine and feeling great about my hike to the summit, thinking, "I'm almost there!" before reaching a sign that said I hadn't even reached the halfway point. (Giggles from the peanut gallery.)

"Seriously, I was so close to crying, to turning around and walking back to my car to drive to the summit--because you can drive all the way up, you don't have to hike it. I was tempted. But I started thinking about going to the gym on Monday and telling my trainer, 'Yeah, I quit and drove it instead.' He'd probably have pushed me off whatever piece of equipment I was using, and I'd never hear the end of it from him. So I kept walking. And I actually started chanting as I walked: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.."

They loved that.

I got serious again. "That's my awesome thing. I don't quit. I didn't quit on running, on hiking that stupid mountain, and I haven't quit when things here get rough. I won't quit on you."

We went around the room, sharing awesomeness. Some kids passed, but others shared how they've overcome rough family situations and still kept their attitude in the right place. Or, how they've been bullied in the past, but they've kept going. And as they shared, faces started lighting up, and suddenly, people were starting to wave their hands for my attention so they could share something awesome about someone else. How our fellow singer who has Aspberger's is a friend to everyone in the room ("We are his fan club!"), or how the girl in the soprano section can sing opera beautifully. 

I sat there, listening to these kids slowly feel comfortable saying they are awesome, even if just for getting out of bed this morning and facing the day. And it occurred to me that even when I want to scream at them, to grow up, to get over the drama, to just ignore the person next to them if they bother them soooo much, I really, really love these kids just for being their awesome, quirky, imperfect human selves. 

So I told them. "I honestly think each and every person in this room is awesome. Sure, I get frustrated with you sometimes. That's being human. I get frustrated with my parents, with my friends, with my brother, but I don't stop caring about them, or appreciating who they are." And I think that maybe, for just a few minutes, that sunk in, and they believed it.

I certainly hope so.

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