One Wednesday Last Week

Hey y’all. This blog is something that I love doing. I love being able to share my thoughts and experiences with people back home, with others in the YAV program, and any other random people that may be following this blog (y’all are the real MVPs). Thank you for the feedback I’ve received and all the support from afar.

I really wanted to share one particular story from this past week that had a profound impact on me. So this past Wednesday was like any other. It started with my FitBit going off at 6:30 telling me that it was time to go swim. I dragged myself out of bed and to the pool, but, since I had a meeting at 9 that morning, I had to cut my workout short to make it to work on time. The work meeting was an orientation of sorts for new staff members at Primavera. It was a three hour affair that, I’ll admit, was hard to stay awake for by the end. All told, it was a good morning with lots of activity and lots of good information thrown my way. It also helped that the meeting ran a little long and shortened the rest of the day considerable.

After the meeting, Cody and I returned to Las Abuelitas to prepare for the day and to prepare for the UA public health students. Wednesdays are our long days with the kids getting to the program around 2 instead of the usual 3. Once the kids began arriving I could tell it was going to be an interesting day. Karl, one of our recurring problem children, was in a fine fettle for some unknown reason. After only about fifteen minutes Karl was causing issues prompting me to have a conversation with him. That conversation started out in the usually unproductive way with Karl making faces at me, mimicking the things I was saying, and not giving me any hint as to what was bothering him. I finally got him to calm down and, after arranging a “spot” for him to go when he was upset, tell me what was wrong. There had been an incident on the bus with another student and he was upset that there wasn’t any computer time that day (which is normal for a Wednesday). So I left him to calm himself down and told him he could join the day’s activity whenever he was ready. Things were going relatively well. Then, before he decided to come join the activity, Karl’s attitude took a turn for the worst. He began verbally and physically acting out and, despite numerous pleas from me to stop, his actions began escalating. After giving him way more warnings than I should have I told him he needed to go take a break (our “timeout” and not a favorite punishment for Karl)…about fifteen times. Once he realized I was serious (and because he didn’t want to go take a break) he started crying, loudly and seemingly without end. I sat next to him and let him throw his tantrum. Once he stopped, he got up and left the playroom (where this entire episode had gone down to this point). I waited a minute then left the room to find out where he had gone. Not being able to find him, and figuring he’d try to return to the playroom at some point, I closed the door and waited for him to come back. Sure enough, about two minutes later, here comes Karl. After denying him entrance to the playroom, I again told him that he needed to take a break. This time, even through tears and yelling, he acquiesced. I gave him a moment to calm down then began talking him through why he was sitting out, even though he hates that punishment, and, though it felt like pulling teeth, got him to promise to improve his attitude and behavior. I told him he could leave whenever he was ready.

I tell this long story to illustrate how a typical encounter with Karl goes. And this one was relatively successful; most of them aren’t. I don’t know why I feel such a bond with Karl, but I think it stems from seeing a reflection of my younger self in his attitude, in the way he acts out, and in the things he says when he’s mad. All these things earned me the nickname “Grizz” from my grandpa and also led to a lot of personal issues in my formative years. I feel drawn to Karl because I know what it’s like to be an angry kid, to react to situations with anger first and then sulking afterwards when forced to confront the consequences for our angry actions. I want to help Karl see a different way, like so many people did for me, and, hopefully, help him avoid some of the results my anger had for me.

I also told that story to juxtapose it with another involving Karl from later that same day. We were playing Knockout again, and, like last week, things were going well. I had to step inside for something and when I returned to the court, I found that disaster had struck. And incident had occurred between Karl and another kid, Mark. I was able to separate Karl from Mark (who went to talk through things with one of the public health students). I asked Karl to tell me what had occurred and, without any fuss at all, he told me what happened between him and Mark. Mark had taken a ball intended for Karl. Karl got mad and called Mark a name, which was followed by the typical playground scuffle as payment for someone being called a name. The public health students had told both kids that they couldn’t play basketball anymore because of the fight; I saw an opening in Karl’s dissatisfaction with this punishment. Without him crying or mimicking me or yelling, I was able to talk him through what happened, where it went wrong and how his choices in the incident had directly impacted what happened afterwards. I told him that he can’t control a lot in life, but he can control how he reacts to adverse situations. Did he want to lash out and risk negative consequences? Or did he want to be more constructive in his reactions and build relationships instead of breaking them? It was remarkable to see how, in the space of one day, Karl came to at least acknowledge that there might be another way to approach life. I don’t know what impact this will have going forward, but it is heartening to see progress like that. And it’s nice to use the word heartening when talking about my experiences with the after school program.

Thank you Loving God.

And so we go.

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