If you had told me five years ago that I would be involved in working with middle school students--actually taking time away from my family, sharing a shower and a room with a bunch of messy, disorganized girls, and eating camp food for four days straight, I would have laughed. Although I've lived my life trying to find ways to give to others, it's always been with the idea of helping those in need like the homeless or battered women. In law school, I volunteered at the Achor Center, a women and children's shelter. We loved going down as a group every week to play with the kids while their moms had time alone. As I continued through adult hood, I've tried to always give back and pay it forward. But it never occurred to me that simply opening my heart to middle school students would be so important.
We live in an upper-class suburb, Manheim Township. My friend's kids and my own have iPhones and Ripsticks and Wii's and Abercrombie clothes. If they want to play lacrosse or dance or travel all over the place on the weekends to play a sport, we shell out the money for the equipment, the uniforms, the hotel rooms, the food. Because we can. For some families, the cost of a lacrosse stick is a week's worth of groceries. A year of dance is a mortgage payment. We have so much, but expect so little from our kids when it comes to giving back. Yes, we want to give them everything. Yes, we want to provide what we didn't have as kids. Yes, we don't want them to want because we can prevent it. But is that the best thing? Should our kids have flat-screen TV's, game systems, smart phones, and expensive clothes simply because we didn't. Or because we can give it to them.
I spent this weekend with my daughter and eight other middle-school girls in two rooms. Yes it was messy! And loud! But they were unplugged. No TV. No game systems. Minimal cell phones. No time for make-up and flat irons and multiple wardrobe changes. And it was amazing. Without the shellac of their daily lives, they could just be. There was no pretense. No trying to be "cool." No multiple mirror readjustments. They just lived in their skin (albeit stinky) and had fun. They were open and loving and amazing. It has been said that people don't remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel. This was evident this weekend in living 24-7 in close quarters with a group of middle school girls. I hope that I made the middle schoolers I spent the weekend with understand that I love them and are there for them simply because I made them feel accepted.
With writing, authors often try too hard with imagery, vocabulary, and metaphor. We seek depth and levels in our writing that end up being forced and insincere. We powder our words with unnecessary frosting because what matters isn't always how we say it but what we say. You might not remember character names or plot lines or settings, but you will remember that you loved a certain book. Or that an author consistently makes you unable to put her book down.
I hope to evoke such an emotive response with my readers. More importantly, I hope my own children feel my love every morning when they come down the stairs. When they're 30, they might not remember that they got a "morning hug" before anything else, and that the last words they heard at night were "I love you." But they will remember and know that they are loved.