Early in September, while standing on the breezy blacktop, I noticed that my girls were divided into two very distinct communal clusters.
The first group, and just for the sake of reference, let’s call them the Sprockets, were comprised of stylish, sassy pants sixth grade lasses. The Sprocket girls would stand in a gaggle, knotted and intertwined, most often on the far corner of the playground. One Sprocket would occasionally sprint off and dash her way towards the boys on the blacktop, often dragging a fellow Sprocket, clasped all gangly arm in arm or tugging one hand in hand. Squealing with laughter piercing the air, coupled with awkward adolescent yelping…Which most often conjured up a smile and simultaneous roll of my eyes. I was quick to recognize that these Sprockets were deeply engrossed in the business of boys.
The second group, just for the sake of reference, let’s call them the Ballers, were always busy with another sort of yelping. These Ballers busied themselves playing four-square, soccer, tag, jump rope, or relay racing from one edge of the black top to another. Their hair would be flopping. Their faces sweating. Their shoes splattered with dirt from puddle running. The Ballers would run into formation back in line, out of breath in a free spirited mess.
About two weeks ago, I recognized a shift in boundaries. While my Sprockets were still busying themselves with the aesthetic, hormonal fueled facets of adolescent life, my Ballers began rolling a new course, away from soccer and running and carefree childhood playing. My Ballers started caring, and noticing, and gaggle gangling- about (shhhh) BOYS.
It first started with Special KK.
Ms. Kitchen, listen, I need to talk to you about something.
I am a lunch monitor, see, and this is the usual scene of boy determining crime, although, this particular cluster were not my usual suspects.
Look, I like someone. I like (name omitted to protect the identity of the determined boy) Let’s call him. “Carrot.” (Yes, this last statement was actually made by my Baller, Special KK, to protect the identity and crushing of and by herself.)
See, I like Carrot, but I don’t know if he likes me.
Now, perhaps some may hold the view that teachers should never cross streams with their students’ crush lives, and for the better part, I would agree. However, being human and having experienced my own adolescence with vivid, often humiliating, and hauntingly detailed recollection, I also recognize that I wish someone had been there to say a few important tidbits of information. Equipped with this insight, I now pay closer attention to my girls. And I look out for them.
Each year I inform them of their life plan:
Dating? No. It’s not time for you to date, just yet. Before you date, you have to focus on you. Enjoy yourself. Love yourself. Build yourself. So…Here’s your life plan. Feel free to take notes. You go to high school. Join every possible sport, extracurricular activity, and interest group that moves you. Study. Study hard. Find books that floor you. Artists that move you. Musician and songs that you can sing at the top of your lungs and dance like a maniac to. Go to college. Meet new people, all sorts of people, find new interests, explore explore explore and zone in on your passions. After you receive your Undergrad, have a party, kiss your Grandma if you are so lucky to have her and go to Europe to travel abroad for a summer or at the very least a month. Come home, volunteer for a year, find the joy in giving of yourself and meanwhile work a part time job of service (it’s good for the soul) while you hone in on your passion. Go to Graduate School. Study. Study Hard. By the end of your final year, after you’ve redecorated your apartment at least once and have a sound opinion of your favorite restaurant, band, song, book, interests, values, and goals, then… and only then, free up your calendar as much as your thesis paper will allow. You are ready to go on your first date.
Of course they laugh. They have mile wide grins and think I’m crazy, but I know they are wise enough, even in their 12 years, to get the bigger picture.
I had two parents at the most recent parent teacher conferences thank me for telling their daughters to wait on dating til after Grad school. It told them it is my pleasure.
Lil Special KK wrote her Slice of Life today about, Secrets, and how holding them in is, “excruciating,” (bravo vocab high five) but the risk of letting them out is, “so scary.” I know. I KNOW Lil Special KK.
So, when she told me how she was scared to tell, “Carrot” that she liked him, but she was planning to anyway, I told her she was brave. (No, I didn’t tell her to wait 15 years til she was done with her Grad schooling.) I told her that declaring your feeling takes guts, and regardless of the outcome, she ought to hold her head high, for being honest and open are valiant endeavors. I reminded her how cool and funny and smart she is. I reminded her how, “Carrot,” is her close friend and undoubtedly already agrees with these character depictions.
This little Baller was breaking out. Although I hope with all my being that she stays the course and builds herself before breaking down for anyone else, I know that this path is inevitable. Hormones and self-discovery, in the search of identity, break boundaries. My Ballers become Sprockets and my Sprockets rediscover the value of being a Baller. I just hope, first and foremost, that each and every one of them learns the immeasurable value of themselves, before they go racing across the blacktop in pursuit of someone else.