I’ve come to the realization lately that I spend a whole hell of a lot of time sitting around thinking about how awesome things used to be. It’s so easy to do that, isn’t it? To only remember the awesome things from the past and especially when things in the present aren’t exactly as I would want them to be. So instead of wishing for something that I only partially remember, I’m going to have to start creating as much good stuff in the present as I can.
Again, I know I must sound so ridiculous, but for me, the only way I can ever hope to hold myself accountable to anything is to say it outloud.
My resolutions from January have been going about the same as the last time I cared to mention them. TV viewing is not getting out of control, I’ve been trying to spend as much time with the kids as I can (and I’ve had some extra time given Spring Break on my own). Book reading is up thanks to the Hunger Games trilogy and my making has been on the increase due to the fact that I’ve committed myself to an arts festival in May. Eating and excersing are really nothing to write home about for now. But having the farmers market back in full-swing is helping a lot. Correspondence is tricky. This is where I might get bogged down in nostalgia. Trying not to do that. And snarkiness is hopefully being kept in-check. I’ve been super good at not looking at news (and comments) that I know will do nothing but get me riled up. That has helped a lot.
So I think I still have a manageable list of things that I need to keep in-check and to keep working on. Adding one to be mindful of making the present as good as it can possibly be, and not spending a lot of time wistfully considering the fairly recent past, is not going to kill me. In fact, I think it can only help.
For just about everyone, being 13, 14, 15, is hard. And for some, it’s very hard. Finding a tribe, a pack, a gang, is integral. For me, that tribe was Teen Leaders Club at the Western (nee Catonsville) Family YMCA. I do not believe that is is purely coincidental that the acronym for Teen Leaders Club is TLC.
I was lucky, my best friend at that time in my life was my cousin. She had a really good understanding of my quirks. The rest of the world, not so much. I would consider my middle school years among the worst in my life. I have little memory of how we stumbled onto Leaders – a friend of a friend perhaps? Who knows. The important thing is that it found us.
The group was in its very beginning stages; there were perhaps a half-dozen or so of us who came regularly. I began Leaders as a painfully shy, awkward teen. By the time I left I had grown into myself and was sure that I’d always be moving forward and be doing good things.
But how did this happen? How did it really help? Wasn’t I just growing up like teenagers do every day?
At weekend rallies and week-long PACCA (our leadership training school), we met other groups. We sang silly songs, performed skits and spilled our guts. And aspired to be more than six, to be twelve, twenty, and more. We exchanged addresses with Leaders from other clubs (and states) and wrote letters. Do people do that anymore? Real letters. With inspirational quotes. And stickers. And not a touch of irony. Not even a hint; all of it was completely sincere and earnest. We called each other. Made each other mix tapes. Made plans.
We had monthly Teen Nights. Dances. Sure there was dancing and making out in corners, but also palm reading and meeting people we otherwise wouldn’t have met. And we grew. People wanted to be like us. The year I “graduated” we had over forty members. I remember being super proud at how much we had grown. The kids we attracted came from all types of situations. Kids like me who were over-achievers, kids from good homes, kids who didn’t, who needed something to do on weeknights and weekends.
Leaders gave me confidence. Leaders introduced me to people who dyed their hair Manic Panic Blue, and people who knew Emily Dickinson by heart and read the Tao. Leaders taught me that people are good and want to do good in the world. It taught me how to be brave with my feelings. And that 60s music is awesome. To appreciate others. It was a safe place where we all were allowed to be as weird and unique or as mainstream as we wanted. We sold Christmas Trees, we babysat while parents shopped, we helped at Y events, we fundraised, we worked at cleanup days, we helped at summer camp. We became good citizens.
Our advisers always treated us like adults. We were the ones who made the decisions (or at least it felt that way). If we wanted to have a Holiday Party, then we planned one. If we wanted to have a lock-in with teens from another Leaders Club, then we worked it out. We wrote newspaper ads and school announcements for our Teen Nights. We learned how to organize and to plan and to problem solve. We also learned what it was like to have adults have our backs. To be trusted. Opinions valued.
I needed Leaders at least as much as it needed me. It pulled me out of the hole that I found myself in at the age of about 14. It was a little extra family. I didn’t have a rough family life by any stretch, but aside from my brother who is two years younger than me, my parents had two more children, one when I was 11 and one when I was 13, and they couldn’t help but be just a little bit distracted (not that they had to worry about me). Having a larger support system was wonderful. Learning that I was capable of taking care of myself, and capable of planning events and being a role model to others was invaluable.
Without Leaders I don’t think I’d have had the courage to just go and join the tennis team, not knowing anyone else who was on it. I wouldn’t have taken speech class in high school and talked about meditation and freeing Tibet. Or thought I was capable of being a cog in a machine that does good.
Others Leader alumni are social workers, teachers, soldiers, community managers and organizers, nurses.
There are dozens of people I would never have met without Leaders and I truly believe that a lot of them would step up and help me out simply because I was a Leader, too. It’s like any club, it’s members are devoted.
When I heard that our club was going to be no more I was immediately saddened. Without the support of the Y, the Teen Leaders Club cannot exist. Saving it and giving it a place to flourish is absolutely necessary.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day. As such, I’ve been thinking about any women mathematicians/engineers/scientists who inspired me early on — and I’m coming up with nothing. My female math teachers were mostly uninspiring. And in college I had just one – a Statistics professor – who struggled to deal with the students in our class (300-level) who just didn’t belong there (and asked questions like, “what’s the difference between a mean and a median?”).
However, now, I work with a bunch of amazing women programmers, statisticians, economists and researchers. There’s no shortage of inspiration there. In fact, we celebrate often that – for one project – the entire programming team is made up of women. Woo!
I can only hope that my own children come into contact with a wide variety – male and female – of role models. There’s a fair amount of assuming that goes on at our school – that Dads work and Moms stay home – but I try and counter that when I can.
Any time we drive through rural areas, be it on the way to the cottage, on the way to visit friends in Pennsylvania, going to pick apples (you get the idea), I get this intense urge to want to leave the suburbs (where I’ve always lived) and live in an old farmhouse with acres and acres.
Such a place (Maple Grove Farm, pictured above) does exist in my extended family. This is the farm where my grandmother grew up. No one lives there. I think it has indoor plumbing (there’s electricity for sure). Sometimes I dream about leaving here and moving there. Sure, there’s no job waiting for me (or Brendan), but who cares! Lets go!
But I sort of wonder if we’re cut out for it. Right now, I think I will settle for living vicariously through people who do live on acres and go from there.
Plus, we do have the cottage to go to.