Due to some staffing changes, last month I found myself moving from my comfortable world of teenage girldom, to that uncharted territory of testosterone known as the high school boys’ homes. I was a bit nervous at first. I haven’t lived in a house full of teenage boys since I graduated from high school umpty-scrunch years ago. My hazy memories of life with 4 brothers included garage bands, broken bones, girls calling all hours of the day and night, and mechanical objects being taken apart and reassembled with varying degrees of success. So when I stepped into Sheehy Home and saw the drum set, the crutches and partially disassembled remote control, at least it felt familiar if not entirely comfortable.
We were debating this in a staff meeting earlier this year. Which group is easier: high school girls or boys? Hands down, people seem to think that girls are harder. Sure, “boys will be boys,” meaning that they end up in the ER with freak accident injuries from jumping over couches or doing handstands. Sure, boys leave towels all over the floor. How do they use so many towels and why? I don’t know. But girls? Girls are “emotional”. No, girls have subtly nuanced levels of emotional upheaval that would be hard to plumb with a PhD, a compass and a troop of Avon representatives. Or so I’m told. But I sure do miss them.
So I’m off to a new adventure, one that, according to popular wisdom will be infinitely “easier” than the journey I have been on. Right now, I can rely on the wise counsel of people who have already established relationships with the boys. Or I can even ask what would Jesus do in this situation. Not that he ever had 18 teenage boys to take care of. But he must have had some dealings with adolescents because he made a whole sermon about them: blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall take the middle seat and save all of the rest of mankind from the wrath of the driver; blessed are those who hunger for justice, for they will make sure that you enforce the rules fairly or at least see to it that you know when you’re being unjust; blessed are those who mourn, especially those who have to mourn too soon and too often and too much, because they will change your life and make you rethink your priorities.
In writing this out, I concluded that I have been looking at this move from the wrong angle. The question really isn’t “Who is easier?” but “What do I have to offer, and what gets in the way?” One stumbling block is having dumb ideas about what boys are like or girls are like,
“I can’t work with boys! I’m too girly! I am not good with power tools! I can’t talk about sports or hunting! It’s a disaster!”
Another obstacle is knowing that these boys need more than just what I have to offer, and thinking somehow I need to solve that. That’s a mistake I think a lot of us make: thinking our small part isn’t enough and the little that we can do doesn’t matter. Really, what is needed for a whole lot of little somethings to come together.
So, what does a middle-aged white woman have to offer a bunch of teenage Lakota guys? What does anyone have to offer another? When in doubt, go back to the basics: Show up. Pay attention. Give a hoot. Keep showing up. Make sure the same person keeps showing up each time, and not some façade constructed to make sure we all get along. Occasionally bake brownies.
I genuinely like these kids, so showing up and caring isn’t all that hard. (The boys think I’m a little weird, but they’re also pretty forgiving. ) As for all their other supporters near and far, families, role models, teachers, elders, mentors, and caring friends like you—just keep doing your part. Tune in, show up, take interest, give a hoot and keep us in your prayers. Now wasn’t that easy?