Saturday, November 22, 2008

So That Was A Little Weird

When Barack Obama won the Democratic Party nomination earlier this year I made a promise to myself. Self, I said, if this guy gets elected to office you’re going to make some changes. He’s telling you to hope and change so listen up. And I did.

In an effort to heed the call to public service that Mr. President Elect has put upon us I signed up to be a mentor to a 6th grade girl on Wednesday evenings as part of an after-school program.

It doesn’t sound like a BIG change but hey, I haven’t voluntarily done anything since the theater company folded up its bag of tricks and that was like, five years ago. So there.

The program is affiliated with the Catholic Church, which is the first weird thing about it for me. I haven’t been affiliated with the Catholic Church for some time. The branch of the church that has its fingers in this pie is Opus Dei. Rationally I understand that Opus Dei is really all about finding ways in every day life to create a more personal relationship with God (at least that's what they tell me,) but all I can associate them with is the creepy albino dude from The DaVinci Code. So I was pretty surprised when the head of the program introduced the priest who runs the monthly Christian Fellowship seminar and hear confessions. He was young (ish, like not green out of seminary but not old and wrinkly either.) And he had a bit of sass mouth to him, which I always appreciate in my clergy. But, I think the biggest impression he left was how uncomfortable he was speaking in front of a room full of women. Which, you know, awww. But then that left me examining the women who are also part of the program.

For the most part the other mentors are all very familiar stereotypes. Mostly they seem to be former Catholic-school girls, like me. But, you know, the cool girls who never let you sit with them at lunch. Their hair is done, they wear slightly too much make up and are somehow still all wearing a uniform. Not the pleated skirt type, the social uniform. There were three women sitting in the back of the room all wearing different sweaters in the exact same shade of pink. They whispered to each other in that affected, nasal voice that always seems to indicate some form of privilege or entitlement issue and waved their fingers around when they spoke.

At least they were aware of their uniformity and sort of chuckled when someone tried to return a pen to one that had actually been borrowed from another. “It’s the OTHER girl in the pink sweater. But, you know, we know her so we’ll give it back for you.”

Standing around at the top of the stairs, waiting to meet our girls was a lot like standing around waiting to find out homeroom assignments. I was already nervous about meeting this girl. I really wanted her to like me, whoever she was. And, as the young girls came up the stairs to be paired up with their mentors that thought jumped to the forefront of my mind. There were a lot of girls and a lot of them looked really hip. Well, you know, still grade schoolers but "hip," wearing sharp jeans and puffy jackets. They had a lot of energy and were greeting their mentors with hugs and smiles. I knew I wasn't going to be getting the same treatment, just meeting my student tonight, but I didn't know what I was going to do if I was assigned one of these girls who was infinitely cooler than I ever was in grade school.

Turns out, that was not so much a problem. The girl to whom I was assigned seems very nice. She just turned twelve in September, she's in sixth grade and comes from a Polish-American home. Oh, and also, she's totally like I was at twelve, with the glasses and the awkward haircut. She needs help with math, reads two books at a time and, when reading, skips the words she doesn't know. If this isn't karma I really don't know what is.

She was all business and we dug into her math homework immediately. Luckily she's still only on identifying polygons so I was at least not stuck trying to relearn fractions like one of the other mentors. The time flew and at the end of the night she flew out the door with her father and not a single look back.

We don't meet again until after Thanksgiving but I'm hoping that when we return to the mentoring center I'm paired with the same girl for the rest of the school year. She seems nice, I'd like to get to know her, maybe help her out. Except with fractions. I'm just no good with fractions.

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