I realize I haven't spoken much about the most obvious part of my life here: I live with about 4 dozen girls between 3 and 18 years old. For the most part, it's great! These children are all so full of energy and say and do some of the funniest things. It's incredible how our relationships with them have grown so much already in just a short month. I absolutely love coming downstairs every morning to a busy home full of girls and knowing my day will be full from beginning to end with their faces.
The majority of the girls are in their teens, which has been rather thought provoking. I run the computer lab in the afternoons, which gives me a chance to see the girls in all their thirteen year old glory. To be honest, it was baffling at first. I spent most of the time sputtering in Spanish and wondering what was wrong with these girls. Was I ever this entranced by the computer? Was I ever willing to sit and play children's addition games for hours if I could get away with it just because it meant I could plant myself in front of this ridiculous machine? Did I beg for two more minutes and start opening a program I couldn't possibly make any use of in such short time? Did I whine incessantly about how there's no way I could have finished my homework in the time given to me, even though I just spent half of it googling my own name (or Korean soap opera stars). Did I insist that I could not be interupted at this moment because, clearly, the desktop background MUST be adjusted to properly display the true beauty of the cast of High School Musical? Did I beg someone to let me in to the computer room an hour early (despite being unable to say what educational need it would meet) as they were getting on to a bus?
Any moms, aunties, grandmas, and teachers out there reading this are laughing right now. Of course I was guilty of at least some of this. Almost every kid was.
Posting the rules of the room on the door, Never allowing more people than computers in the room at once, and being consistent with consequences (No, you can't use the computer today, all you did yesterday was make a collage of pictures of The Jonas Brothers) and rewards (I can see you haven't been doing anything but homework in here, of course you can stay on a bit longer) helped, but not as much as realizing that I did the same things at that age. The basic thought processes of teenagers don't seem to vary much, even across time and culture.
So needless to say, I'm learning a lot. A few of the girls made me a "cartita" last night with a hand drawn Hello Kitty catching butterflies (I think this is the first time Hello Kitty has ever been on my wall, in truth she/it really freaks me out). Underneath is a little letter of friendship. The very middle reads "perdonamos si algunas veces te hemos hecho, que te sientas mal" which means, roughly "forgive us if we've done some things that make you feel bad." It's my reminder now that, despite the moments of frustration, I am so happy to be surrounded by these girls, and (what a gift!) they're glad I'm here too.
Here are a few more lessons to add to the list:
19. No matter how difficult they can be, these girls will always make my day somehow.
20. Have patience, all of us were young and abnoxious once
21. Enforcing reasonable and known consequences will NOT hurt your relationship with a child. Give them five minutes and they won't even remember why they were mad at you in the first place.
22. There is a lot of wisdom to the Salesian teaching that says that children will do a lot when they know they are loved. The harder you work to help a child know they are cared for, the most likely they are to listen to you, even when they're "in trouble".
23. Don't plead, don't yell, don't bargain. Just calmly give directions as though you expect people to respond and they most likely will.
24. Don't forget to celebrate each person when they're at their best, especially regularly "difficult" kids. It's important that they can clearly see a distinction between disliking their actions and disliking them.
And yes, in case you were wondering, the computer lab is running beautifully now.