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Monday, January 17, 2005


The Adventures of Pastor Intern Mark in the Land of the Junior Highers

So as I mentioned yesterday, I went on to a weekend Junior High event. I went this time because it was an expectation of my role as intern pastor and teacher of the 8th grade confirmation class. But I would have gone anyway, as I normally love jr high events, and jr high youth in general.
But, I must confess, I was hesitant to go on this trip. This 8th grade class has proven to be tougher than most jr highers I've known. They seem to possess a strong case of the "too cool blues," to borrow a term from my camp counselor days. They don't want to participate in anything that might compromise their carefully honed cool image. To a degree much higher than any I've experienced in most of my previous experience. And I know how jr highers can be, and it can be an easy thing for them to make life miserable for those around them if they are not enjoying themselves. And I was about to embark on an approximately 48 hour journey with eleven of them, with only one other adult.
I knew things would not be easy when, about two weeks before the event, some of the girls started bugging me about hotel room assignments. There were a couple who just knew that they needed to room together, and if they somehow had to room with this one certain other girl, that their weekend would be ruined. I kept telling them that we'd have to wait and see, there were no guarantees, and that room assignments were still up in the air.
I also gave several "pep talks" about how at these sort of events that you reap what you sow. If you get involved and participate and sing along and try to meet new people, then you'd have a great time. But if you just stand there, like a bump on a log, and complain about how the event was stupid and a waste of your time, then of course you wouldn't have fun.
So we begin the drive with 9 of the 11 kids (two were meeting us later, due to schedule conflicts), 2 adults, all of our luggage, and food, packed into a 15 passenger van. And surprisingly there were few conflicts on the way up there. We stopped at a gas station before we left town and I bought a Mt dew from the soda fountain in a cup that was about as big as my head (and my head is gimongous), because I knew that I would need the energy.
So we arrive at the Holiday Inn where the event was taking place, and I told the youth to stay put and that I would go in and finish paying and get our room assignments and then be back out. So I walk into the hotel and right inside is a young girl about 18 or 19 with pink streaked hair and a guy (who turned out to be 20 but I would have guessed older) with a shaved head and a goatee and they're bouncing around to '80's music being played over the hotel speaker. These have to be people for the event, I think to myself. So I ask them where registration is and they direct me there. So I stand in line behind ONE PERSON for about 10 minutes before it is finally my turn and it takes me like 30 seconds to get through the registration process. What was that woman's problem? I wonder. So I head back out to the van.
Our group was split up in this way, 1 adult female, 1 adult male, 8 jr high females, 3 jr high males. So the girls were split up into 2 hotel rooms and the males all shared one room. I decided to leave it up to the girls to figure out who was sleeping where, but as they had adjoined rooms I figured it wasn't a big deal.
The youth were pretty good from the start. There were two girls who, the first night, were over enthusiastic, to the point of being shushed by other groups. As one of the girls was the one I was the most worried about, I didn't want to discourage any amount of participation, even though I felt like a large part of her participation was making fun of the event. Most of the kids in the group, however, stood like bumps on logs while I jumped around like an idiot to the songs, and sang loudly and did exaggerated actions to the songs. I received several looks from the youth that seemed to say "You are the biggest moron I have ever met. Why is God punishing me by making me come to this event with YOU." But I was not deterred. I was determined to MAKE THEM HAVE FUN.
Anyway... things progressed nicely. Most of the time the kids seemed to enjoy things at least minutely. I had a great time. The kids liked several members from one of the musical groups that were there, and we invited a couple of them to join us at different meals.
Things seemed to break down, and go steadily downhill, Saturday evening. On the way to supper, which we ate at the mall food court (and much to the chagrin of several of the girls in our group, there would be NO TIME for shopping) one of the boys let loose with one of the nastiest farts I have ever smelled. Then, at the table in the food court he did it again. And again. The second one was enough to clear our whole table. Then, on the way back, he let loose with another one in the van. I needed to roll down my window and stick out my head for fresh air in order to suppress the urge to vomit. One girl yelled in a panicked voice from the back "I'm seriously going to puke! I need to get OUT!" I do not believe she really did, however. I think once she exited the van the fresh air was enough. He let loose with another in the hotel room, too, that lingered far too long.
It was about that same time that some personality conflicts between the girls started to come out. Accusations of eating disorders were thrown around, and cheeseball girl led the attack on one of the other girls. And none of the other kids seem to have the spine to take the side of an argument opposite of cheeseball girl, and so usually when she attacks someone, her close friends will help her gang up on them, and the others will sit silently by and watch. So a lot of my time was spent telling them to stop it, to just ignore things that happened that they didn't like, and to quit bad mouthing people.
Cheeseball girl spent a lot of her time trying to manipulate the other adult leader and I into doing what she wanted, and she tried it so much I began to think that she had a lot of successful practice at home. One night she thought she needed a soda, and we were in the midst of "family time" and it was already past curfew when none of the youth were allowed out of their rooms, and we were talking about things that happened that day and someone else was talking and she began to cough loudly... an obviously fake cough. I told her to stop, she said she needed a drink. I told her there was water. She asked where. I said it comes out of this thing called a tap. She said she needed a soda. I said too bad, she didn't need a soda. She whined. I asked her if she wanted us to stop what we were doing and let her be the center of attention. She said no. So we kept going.
She also thought we needed to go shopping sometime this weekend. I told her this weekend wasn't about shopping. It was about coming to a Christian youth event, talking about our faith, and meeting other Christian people. She didn't like that idea. Her mom sent a BIG WAD OF CASH along with her, in case we went to the mall. She whined and begged to go to the mall the whole weekend. Finally the other adult leader and I decided that, even though we had been planning on going to the mall at the end of the event, we would use it as leverage to get the kids to participate. We told them that if they participated in the last celebration sing-along, treated each other civilly, and were pretty much packed and ready to go before we went to the celebration, then we would go to the mall for a bit before we left town.
So they all did a pretty good job, and it only took a couple reminders to cheeseball girl and her friends during the celebration to get them to participate. Then at the end of the event, everyone else except cheesball girl and her one good friend went with the other adult leader to finish getting ready to go. For some reason I walked a little slower and noticed that cheeseball girl and her friend didn't leave with the group. I asked them what they were doing. They said they needed to talk to someone, I could go ahead with the group and they'd catch up. So that makes me decide that I need to stay there and watch. I remind them that every minute they spend here away from the group, that they are cutting into their shopping time. They say they don't care. So I waited about 10-15 minutes for them to flirt, and I quit paying attention long enough to turn back and hear one of them giving their number out to some boy before they go get their pictures taken with another boy. So then they decide it's finally time to go back to the group. As we walk into the room I say out loud "If anyone feels like they don't get enough time to shop at the mall be sure to thank [cheeseball girl] and [her friend] for wasting your time."
So then we are finally packed, and we're cleaning the room (getting rid of the evidence of a food fight from the night before) and can you guess the two who weren't helping? You guessed it. Cheeseball girl and her friend. They're standing in the hallway.
Finally the room is clean, and we begin our trek down to the van. Which is when farting boy drops his large bucket of cheeseballs. We begin cleaning them up. I ask several times for people to help. I remind them that the faster we clean this up, the faster we can get to the mall. This is when cheeseball girl stands there and says in perfect disgusted junior high girl fashion "This is cutting into my shopping time." And whether or not it was the right thing to do I turn to her and say "Well at least this was an accident and he wasn't wasting everyone's time by flirting. And do you know what's really cutting into YOUR shopping time? The fact that you're not helping clean it up!" To which she replied perfect snotty junior high girl fashion "Geez, you should have just asked." And this time several of the other kids yelled "HE DID!!" and I said "I DID!!! LIKE FIVE TIMES!!!" So she walks over, picks up three cheeseballs and turns to put them in the bucket. But someone is in her way because they're cleaning up many more cheeseballs, so she says in even more perfect snotty junior high girl fashion "*tsk ugh* excuuuuuse me..."
I have never, in my life, wanted to harm a junior high girl as much as i wanted to choke her right then. But I refrained, realizing my integrity as a minister is more important than the satisfaction I would receive from wringing her scrawny neck.
And I usually try to give jr highers the benefit of the doubt. I realize that jr high is a turbulent time filled with psychological, social, emotional, and physical upheaval. And that someday they will grow out of that awkward phase. And even jr highers have some redeemable qualities. But I failed to find any in this girl. At least for the time being. And maybe I'm still a bit upset about her behavior the entire weekend, and maybe she reminds me of so many of the crappy "popular" girls who made fun of me in jr high and it's my own issues surfacing in my dealings with her, but yeah... I'm at a loss for any redeemable quality. Okay, she seems to be a good leader... but I think that most kids follow her out of fear, and don't want her to turn on them.
So anyway, I think I'm getting carpal tunnel in my left arm. So I'm going to stop typing. Thanks for letting me vent.

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