Throughout the time that Brandon attended grade school and middle school I volunteered. I volunteered a lot. I worked in kitchens, in classrooms, in the office, copied papers, corrected papers, made classroom snacks, did recess duty, went on field trips, and was involved in many, many, auctions.
We had heard about an “out of the box” public middle school when Brandon was leaving his private grade school. They have a somewhat open concept based on relationships and do hands on, project based learning. They also have a “city” in the basement of the school. The students are taught how to create resumes, how to interview appropriately, and each student interviews each semester for jobs as police officers, judges, attorneys, small business owners, IT people, cafe managers, waitresses, maintenance, etc… They even have an aquaculture business that raises fish and grows hydroponic vegetables. A real greenhouse where they grow flowers and vegetables for sale in the spring. A full running cafe during lunch that the students take care of, and they all earn city money that they can spend in the marketplace on Friday afternoons. The marketplace is where enterprising young minds bring their small business ideas and sell crafts, food, and fun activities. They can also receive tickets for inappropriate behavior…that explains the need for a judge and attorneys.
Fresh Crab Salad
It was at that school that I had the opportunity to do a type of volunteering that I had never done. Brandon was in the 6th grade and I was asked to teach an 8th grade Leadership class. By myself. It was terrifying and awesome. It was an eye opener. It was heart wrenching and unbelievably stressful at times. But most of all, it was a huge blessing and I learned so much about young people and life.
Crab Salad & Rustic Crackers
My first class was so nerve-wracking I couldn’t believe how terrified I was to have an entire room full of teenagers staring at me. What am I doing? I had to keep telling myself, “You are an adult for crying out loud, in a room full of children, get it together!” Ha! Hard to believe when more than three-quarters of them were bigger than me. They were just waiting for me to prove that I was just like a lot of other adults in their lives, there to babysit and not participate in their lives and not care what they had to say.
We had a lot of discussions. Sometimes there were days I had things planned but I could tell they just wanted to talk about “life” and relax, so that’s what we did. I loved listening to their perspectives on life! I used my relationship with Brandon as an example, a lot. Brandon didn’t care for that much… But what else did I have to draw from? I tried to convey to them that their parents loved them insanely and that’s why parents do what they “do”, all the time understanding that they would never “get it” until they had children of their own. I tried to talk to them in a down to earth and very honest way. Up front…another thing I learned about young people. They want you to be up front with as little of “adult talk and tone” as possible, and totally honest. Even if they don’t agree with what you are telling them. They also like to hear about some of your life mistakes, how you got through it, and what you did differently the next time you were challenged with the same situation.
I was supposed to be teaching them, but really they taught me. They taught me about the power of being present for someone. How just being aware of how a younger person felt, even if I knew they would get over it or that it was a silly emotional day for them, just listening and being there for them made a huge difference. All of their unique little personalities blessed my life tremendously. Some of them were well-rounded and relaxed and some of them had very hard lives and were rough around the edges. Others were very tough to get along with and I had to work hard to get through their thick shell and see past their smart aleck natures. A couple refused to ever let go and have fun and enjoy the class for what it was. Those were always the complicated ones that had issues that we couldn’t resolve with just creating a “community” within a classroom. Those kids were hard to let go of. I wanted to take them home and give them real attention and cook them real food, and show them what a loving family feels like. I learned a lot about letting go.
Some of them were so smart is was shocking. Some of them were very wise for their age and yet still so vulnerable to all of the peer pressure that comes with being a teen. I gained an enormous amount of respect for teenagers and an unsettling understanding of the stress and pressure they are under not only at school but also in their private lives.
I am happy to report that seven years later, many of them still keep in touch with me! They are 20-23 years old now…so hard to believe. They are in college and working and a few are even married. One who was particularly hard to get along with, but has since kept in pretty close contact with me, has been through an enormous tragedy and has managed to keep his head on straight when most of us would have crumbled. They are getting to the age now where they have had to experience the “real” world of serious consequences, pain and hurt, sick parents, and bad relationships. They are strong…so strong, just like I knew they would be after listening to them talk about their lives in the classroom.
I’m so proud of them. Proud of them and thankful that they allowed me a small glimpse into their lives and that they trusted me and they shared with me and chatted with me and were just so incredibly loving and forgiving of me because seriously…I started from scratch and picked activities for us to do together with no experience in teaching anything ever.
They disproved a lot of the hubbub about teenagers and their “typical” attitudes. They grasped onto each activity I planned and stepped out of their comfort zones many times and did it all with honesty, which isn’t easy to do in a room full of your teenage peers. Some of it was hard too. Soul searching stuff and things they had to do within the school…”pay it forward” kind of things toward people they would normally ignore. They were thrilled at how good it felt to get out of their own groups and get to know or do something nice for someone they would normally not associate with.
I loved going to a class every day filled with teenagers! Can you imagine? I could not wait to get there to hear what they were going to say next. Teenagers are supposed to be difficult, ill-mannered, little creeps who are hard to get along with and even harder to understand. Self absorbed, eye rolling irritants, snotty…you know all of the labels. I’m sure they have their moments, but I was proven absolutely wrong on more occasions that I can count. I had to hold back tears of joy numerous times because I was so shocked by some of their responses to our projects. I was absolutely floored at the depth of their feelings and thoughts.
The crab for my lunch today comes from two of those students. Every year their family heads to the Pacific coast to go crabbing. They have the funnest family I have ever met. They are all extremely close and loving and live for fun.
Crab Stuffed Artichokes
4 Organic Baby Artichokes, steamed and cooled middle leaves removed
About 1 Heaping Cup of Fresh Crab Meat
About 2 Tablespoons Organic Red Bell Pepper, diced
About 2 Tablespoons Organic Red Onion, sliced
1 Organic Avocado, diced
About 2 1/2 teaspoons Organic Dried Dill
About 5-6 Tablespoons Olive Oil Mayonnaise
Juice of 1 Lemon
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper To Taste
Mix all ingredients together (except the artichokes of course!). Chill and spoon into the middle of the baby artichokes.
Here’s a silly picture of me, my husband, and Brandon, at one of the girl’s 21st birthday parties in the “photo booth” area.
Stephanie’s 21st birthday…time flies.
Stephanie is outgoing and sweet and comfortable in her own skin. I love that about her. At her party one of her friends was talking about getting eyelash extensions because she doesn’t like the length of hers. Stephanie looked at her, shrugged her shoulders in an “oh well” kind of way, giggled, and said, “I like my eyelashes!” I could have jumped up and hugged her. I’m happy she likes who she is.
So Sunday, Stephanie’s sister, Morgan, surprised me with a text asking if I would like some crab. Are you kidding? Of course!
This is Morgan, picking out the best crabs!
Not only does she share beautiful fresh crabs from the Pacific with me, she’s also an excellent house sitter, cat feeder, and plant waterer. Morgan is solid. She’s well thought out, organized, extremely thoughtful, and has an impressive shoe collection. She’s also shy and quiet and I’m thankful that doesn’t stop her from coming over and chatting with me every now and then.
What an incredible blessing it is to have people in your life who think of you. All of this learning, life experience, friendship, and wonderful memories…
just from a little volunteer job.