Hey y’all. This blog is something that I love doing. I love being able to share my thoughts and experiences with people back home, with others in the YAV program, and any other random people that may be following this blog (y’all are the real MVPs). Thank you for the feedback I’ve received and all the support from afar.
I really wanted to share one particular story from this past week that had a profound impact on me. So this past Wednesday was like any other. It started with my FitBit going off at 6:30 telling me that it was time to go swim. I dragged myself out of bed and to the pool, but, since I had a meeting at 9 that morning, I had to cut my workout short to make it to work on time. The work meeting was an orientation of sorts for new staff members at Primavera. It was a three hour affair that, I’ll admit, was hard to stay awake for by the end. All told, it was a good morning with lots of activity and lots of good information thrown my way. It also helped that the meeting ran a little long and shortened the rest of the day considerable.
After the meeting, Cody and I returned to Las Abuelitas to prepare for the day and to prepare for the UA public health students. Wednesdays are our long days with the kids getting to the program around 2 instead of the usual 3. Once the kids began arriving I could tell it was going to be an interesting day. Karl, one of our recurring problem children, was in a fine fettle for some unknown reason. After only about fifteen minutes Karl was causing issues prompting me to have a conversation with him. That conversation started out in the usually unproductive way with Karl making faces at me, mimicking the things I was saying, and not giving me any hint as to what was bothering him. I finally got him to calm down and, after arranging a “spot” for him to go when he was upset, tell me what was wrong. There had been an incident on the bus with another student and he was upset that there wasn’t any computer time that day (which is normal for a Wednesday). So I left him to calm himself down and told him he could join the day’s activity whenever he was ready. Things were going relatively well. Then, before he decided to come join the activity, Karl’s attitude took a turn for the worst. He began verbally and physically acting out and, despite numerous pleas from me to stop, his actions began escalating. After giving him way more warnings than I should have I told him he needed to go take a break (our “timeout” and not a favorite punishment for Karl)…about fifteen times. Once he realized I was serious (and because he didn’t want to go take a break) he started crying, loudly and seemingly without end. I sat next to him and let him throw his tantrum. Once he stopped, he got up and left the playroom (where this entire episode had gone down to this point). I waited a minute then left the room to find out where he had gone. Not being able to find him, and figuring he’d try to return to the playroom at some point, I closed the door and waited for him to come back. Sure enough, about two minutes later, here comes Karl. After denying him entrance to the playroom, I again told him that he needed to take a break. This time, even through tears and yelling, he acquiesced. I gave him a moment to calm down then began talking him through why he was sitting out, even though he hates that punishment, and, though it felt like pulling teeth, got him to promise to improve his attitude and behavior. I told him he could leave whenever he was ready.
I tell this long story to illustrate how a typical encounter with Karl goes. And this one was relatively successful; most of them aren’t. I don’t know why I feel such a bond with Karl, but I think it stems from seeing a reflection of my younger self in his attitude, in the way he acts out, and in the things he says when he’s mad. All these things earned me the nickname “Grizz” from my grandpa and also led to a lot of personal issues in my formative years. I feel drawn to Karl because I know what it’s like to be an angry kid, to react to situations with anger first and then sulking afterwards when forced to confront the consequences for our angry actions. I want to help Karl see a different way, like so many people did for me, and, hopefully, help him avoid some of the results my anger had for me.
I also told that story to juxtapose it with another involving Karl from later that same day. We were playing Knockout again, and, like last week, things were going well. I had to step inside for something and when I returned to the court, I found that disaster had struck. And incident had occurred between Karl and another kid, Mark. I was able to separate Karl from Mark (who went to talk through things with one of the public health students). I asked Karl to tell me what had occurred and, without any fuss at all, he told me what happened between him and Mark. Mark had taken a ball intended for Karl. Karl got mad and called Mark a name, which was followed by the typical playground scuffle as payment for someone being called a name. The public health students had told both kids that they couldn’t play basketball anymore because of the fight; I saw an opening in Karl’s dissatisfaction with this punishment. Without him crying or mimicking me or yelling, I was able to talk him through what happened, where it went wrong and how his choices in the incident had directly impacted what happened afterwards. I told him that he can’t control a lot in life, but he can control how he reacts to adverse situations. Did he want to lash out and risk negative consequences? Or did he want to be more constructive in his reactions and build relationships instead of breaking them? It was remarkable to see how, in the space of one day, Karl came to at least acknowledge that there might be another way to approach life. I don’t know what impact this will have going forward, but it is heartening to see progress like that. And it’s nice to use the word heartening when talking about my experiences with the after school program.
Thank you Loving God.
And so we go.
This is one of the best moments of the year so far for me. And that has nothing to do with things that are happening to me as a YAV. I’m currently listening to a stream of the Cubs v. Dodgers NLCS Game 6 at Wrigley Field. I’ve been a Cubs fan for quite a few years now, not lifelong by any means, but long enough to have become a more die-hard fan than I would have thought back when I was a young kid experiencing my first Cubs game in Wrigley with my family. That day (an extra-innings win versus the Giants in a year after the Giants had won the World Series) cemented in my heart a love for the Cubs, for Wrigley Field, for the city of Chicago, and, more broadly, baseball. I love sports and there is something about the competition, the effort given, watching guys play and succeed at a game they’ve worked their entire lives to be great at…there is something about that that resonates with me on a deep, deep level. As I listen to the Cubs shake off their history, as I watch Cubs hype videos, as I talk about what this means with my friends who also love the Cubs, my heart is strangely full. I love the game of baseball and the memories I have that are related to the Cubs are some of the dearest I have. Go Cubs Go!
So anyway, back to the year and things I’m experiencing firsthand. I have kind of slacked lately on recording my daily thoughts and feelings. Coming off the kids’ fall break last week (and thus not having to run the after school program) made me lazy. It was also a really quiet week last week. Not a whole lot happened and there wasn’t a whole lot that I felt I needed to record. But this week is a very different story. This week was awesome.
I said not a whole lot happened last week, and, because of the quiet on the child front, Cody and I were able to take some needed time to revamp parts of our program, inventory and sort donations we had received the week before, and, generally, catch our breaths from the whirlwind that had been the last few weeks. By and large, we got all these things accomplished. That was awesome for me as I’ve come to learn that I value accomplishing tasks and setting an agenda and getting those agenda things done. I also had the chance to work with Destinee on a lot of garden stuff. We planned the bed layouts for one of the gardens that is (very nominally) under my control and we worked on prepping the compost piles we are building at Las Abuelitas. Last Saturday I also had the opportunity to work with students from UA to plant the beds we had planned earlier in the week. What a success that was! I love being able to work in the gardens and working with the students (who know a lot more about gardening than I do) was an awesome experience for me. We got all three beds planted, spruced up our stock of wildflowers (for color and bee attraction), and, as I hinted above, I got to learn a lot about gardening and caring for plants. It was a wonderful week last week, but, like all good things, it had to come to an end.
Monday came and Cody and I rolled out our updated rules and discipline policy while also incorporating our more strict enforcement of said rules. Surprisingly, the kids responded really well to this and I noticed a marked improvement in their behavior. I think being able to make sure the kids actually knew the rules and understood that their actions in contrary to those rules would be punished helped a lot!
On the whole, Monday and Tuesday were unremarkable in terms of things happening. The kids were good and they were just two smooth days! But Wednesday was awesome. We had the public health students in to help us (as usual) so Cody and I were able to take a backseat and ensure that the kids paid attention to the students. Once the students were done with their activity, the program resumed its normal flow. I went outside with some of the older boys (as normally happens) and we played a game called Knockout on the basketball court for about an hour. The amazing part of this was that the kids played well together. The original three that I went out with respected each other and had a lot of fun. Then another two of the younger kids came out and the older kids let them play and the respect and fun continued. We shared, worked with each other to accommodate one of the boys who has a broken arm, followed the rules, and everyone enjoyed playing together! I think I can honestly say my heart has never been as full as it was today playing with those kids. They showed themselves what they can have fun while playing within the rules. They showed me that they CAN actually show the behaviors that we are trying to teach them. I haven’t been that happy during this year yet and I thank God for these glimpses into what is possible when working with kids. Those moments are what make this work worth it.
After the high that was Wednesday, Thursday was a day without the program. Cody was going out of town and Destinee needed some help with gardening stuff so we decided to cancel the program. I got to do some garden work and get my hands dirty. Even though it was a tiring day (we did some work at three different gardens over the course of four hours) it was a good end to the week for me.
Now I sit here in the middle of my weekend, trying to remind myself that I still have one more day off before I go back to work. I’m preparing myself for Sunday and going back to church. I’m preparing myself for a full week of the program again (followed by a week off for a retreat with the YAVs). And I’m preparing myself for watching the World Series with my Cubs playing for the championship. Literally haven’t had a chance to experience this in my entire life. I can’t believe this is happening. Excuse me for ending this on a slightly unorganized note, but I can’t contain or quantify my emotions right now. Go Cubs Go!
Thank you, Redeeming God, for kids, who provide small windows through which we can see your face, for good weeks, tired legs, and cooler weather. And thank you for the Chicago Cubs!
And so we go.
We have now reached October and, as hard as it is to believe that, it’s also crazy that it hasn’t been longer. The “normalization” of this year is becoming more complete. I have a routine now; instead of trying to find that, my daily “quest”, if you will, is searching to tweak that routine to take the most advantage of YAV life in Tucson. A housemate of mine recently gave me a little note of affirmation (because we’re all fans of words of affirmation in Tucson house) and at the end she mentioned something about admiring the fact that I seek to be present here in Tucson even though my heart is somewhere else. In reflecting on that, I’m taken back to one of my first thoughts coming into this year. I’m living life in two separate places this year, and sometimes the desire to be back home is stronger than the desire to be here in Tucson. So much of orientation spoke of living life in tension between where we are and where we want to be, and I feel like I just add this into the mix of everything else that I’m am presented with in this crazy life. And some days, I miss the simple fact of being around familiar things. Even more than a month into this journey, I miss my dogs. I miss Mariah. I miss my family. I even miss Owensboro, something I never thought I would be caught saying. The struggle between the familiar and the new haunts me every day, and it is a struggle that I’m slowly, but surely, starting to embrace.
I’ve most noticed this “settling in” effect every time I look at my personal calendar. There are so many events that I’ve agreed to go to. And, regrettably, so many that I have forgotten about and been unable to take part in. Another side effect of settling in has been the continued comfort in biking. I always remember to pack a change of clothes if my biking clothes are not appropriate for my destination, I remember to factor in the increased time it takes to bike somewhere compared to driving, and then to factor in extra time to change clothes once I reach my destination. These calculations have slowly become second nature. Last week alone I biked almost 80 miles. That’s basically just to work and to swim, with the occasional extra group adventure thrown in for fun. One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the human body is how long it takes to adjust to a change in activity (i.e. biking), but how quickly it “forgets” the muscle built if the activity is not performed even for one day. For me, this adjustment to biking continues to occur, and will probably for the rest of the year.
The vistas in Arizona never cease to disappoint me. These sunsets only tell half the picture. I once heard a fellow volunteer from another program say the sunsets here were really disappointing. I don’t know which skies he is looking at, but these come on an almost daily basis. When it’s not the sunsets, it’s the mountains. I wish I had a good picture to show y’all the mountains that are everywhere around Tucson. The city is so flat that it’s hard to believe the mountains are as close as they are. God’s beauty is so evident here in the desert. I used to think of the desert as a place where not much happened. Things hid during the day (when it’s too hot to do anything) and became active at night. The desert, to me, was always a barren place. But there is creativity and diversity in the way the sun’s rays find the clouds every afternoon. There is majesty in the rugged edges of the mountains, clawing their way into the sky. There is life here. And there is abundant life. Part of my adventures of the past week was planting my first bed at Las Abuelitas with Destinee (the garden program is finally getting off the ground!!). In this one bed alone, we planted broccoli, cauliflower, onions, dill, arugula (which I didn’t even know was a thing), kale, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro…in the desert. Now we may find that this was too much for one bed. We may find that we should have transplanted most of these into the bed following their sprouting in another, more sheltered place (that is true, but we’re hopeful they’ll all still grow). But that’s what I love about gardening. It’s an experiment. It’s about taking chances, making mistakes, and finding out what works. It’s interacting with God’s creation to bring forth life from the soil. That sounds really familiar to me (if you’re interested see Genesis 2) and I enjoy being a partner in God’s creative story, even in the desert.
I’m glad it’s Friday. My weekend began yesterday at the conclusion of the after school program and I’m really going to miss these four day work weeks when I return to the “real world”. I’m also super excited because next week we don’t have the after school program at all. Our program schedule follows the Tucson United School District’s calendar, so when the kids don’t have school, we don’t have the program. I will miss seeing the kids every day, but after this week I’m glad we get a chance to breathe before moving through the rest of October. Cody and I have the chance to recharge and, in light of the past rough week, revamp some of the rules and consequences of our program.
As I mentioned, a couple times, this past week was crazy. The kids were, simply put, ready to misbehave at any and every opportunity they could. We could not get in front of the disciplining curve and as such spent a frustrating week leading from behind. Thursday was better and gave me hope that we do have this thing somewhat under control, even though I don’t feel prepared at all to work with children. I’m still feeling my way in that regard. I mentioned above that Destinee and I planted our first bed at Las Abuelitas. Things are smoothing themselves out. We are attempting to bring life out of the desert soil (albeit in a raised bed). We are attempting to direct the life and energies of the students that come into the after school program. We are attempting to join in and contribute to the diversity and beauty of God’s world. We are attempting to understand what it means to take these 20 kids in every day and be a positive influence in their lives while also seeking to understand their situations and “walk in their shoes” for the altogether too short time that we get to know them. We are finding our way, day by day.
And so we go.
Thank you, Loving God, for challenging weeks, restful weekends, and reminders of your beauty in unexpected places.