Last Saturday’s kids class was wild. It’s never calm, but some days are just a bit more escalated than others. I’d been battling some crud the past several days, which thankfully was *not* dengue as the early symptoms suggested. But, everything seemed louder, hotter, and crazier. Just part of the gig, but there are days that make you want to go home and hide under a blanket. A very cold blanket.
Our attendance has been up the last few weeks, which is good and bad. As class started, we formed our usual circle on the floor, and while it was crowded, it was still tolerable. Then Mary Grace arrived, with a record seven friends in tow. Mary Grace is our “little missionary”, as I told you about here. We expanded the circle, but it was suddenly very snug. And sweaty. Boybeth (yes, his real name), squeezed in next to me, and promptly leaned against me, his arm casually resting on my lower leg. I know, in the States, this would be weird and uncomfortable, we like our personal bubbles and boundaries. But, in a country smaller than the size of California, with three times as many people, personal space is basically nonexistent. I’ve learned to deal with it, and have become quite accustomed to snuggling up to my neighbor. After a few minutes, I began to feel what felt like small needle pricks on my leg. I looked down to discover Boybeth rubbing my leg hairs between his fingers, pulling random ones out. Note to self: It might be time to shave. Yikes! Meanwhile, as I was receiving a complimentary threading on my right leg, Katherine, who was leaning on my other side, began to poke my arm. No idea why, maybe she was just checking to make sure I was still there? I sat in nervous anticipation, waiting for a kid to come up behind me and start picking bugs out of my hair. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. But, there’s always next week.
We finally made it through our lesson, with multiple pauses and interruptions, waiting for the noise to die down. The girls in the back corner seemed particularly chatty. We passed out coloring sheets, which gives us a few minutes to breathe and recoup before we finish class. Over the noise and chattering, Vergie and I heard muffled sniffling. In the far corner of the room, Christine was sitting at a table, head down, her scarf covering her hair, shoulders shaking, she was clearly upset about something. Her group of girlfriends were all sitting next to her, but no one acknowledged her. They just kept talking among themselves. Here’s where the cultural dilemna comes into play for me. In the States, if someone is upset or hurting, you go over and check on them, ask what’s wrong, and try to help. Here, if someone is upset or hurt, they are often ignored or left alone. Not out of cruelty, but actually, out of mercy. By ignoring them, it saves them the embarrassment of “standing out”. Even if it’s clear to the entire world that they’re hurt, by ignoring them, it’s like it didn’t happen. Lots of “elephants in the rooms” here. Unfortunately, there are times I can’t sit by and let that be OK, even if it is the status quo. So, I went “half way” between the cultural divide. I went and quietly asked the girls, “what’s wrong?”, and they all looked at me with extremely guilty faces, shrugged, and got all “darty eyed” as they returned to their work. Uh huh…things were starting to come together. I get it though, when my friends and I were that age, our friends always just started randomly crying too, we were never ever ever involved. 😉 I asked Katherine, her older sister who was sitting on the floor beneath her, if she knew, and she shrugged as well. “Why don’t you ask her? You’re her big sister!” I told her, but like most loving big sisters, she just sighed and said, “Nah…” and went back to work. I had to chuckle inside at that one. As sensitive and sweet as Christine is, I’m sure this is a fairly regular occurrence in her life.
So, without any answers, but suspecting something in the “tween girl drama” department (it’s the same everywhere in the world, isn’t it?!), I sat behind Christine and just began to softly rub her back. Didn’t say anything, didn’t bring attention to her, but I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. She didn’t squirm or push away, or make any acknowledgement that I was there, which I took as an “It’s OK that you’re here”.
We wrapped up class, Christine came out of her self induced bunker. As the kids were getting ready to leave, we made brief eye contact, which she met with a sweet, thankful smile. I have no doubt Wednesday night the girls will all come to class, best friends again, as is often the case. I so remember those days of love and hate and forgiveness, all in the same hour. Drama that would make the cast of Days of Our Lives envious. As much as we try to teach peace and love and friendship, there are just some dynamics that they need to learn to deal with as well. And we learn weekly from these kids too, which is one reason I keep coming back. Next week though, I’ll be sure to shave my legs.