Thursday was a service learning day, where my program splits us up into smaller groups to visit different service sites around DC and, well, serve there. Today I went to the Fishing School, an after school program over by 47th St., NE. I didn't know the streets went out as far as 47th - I live on 8th and I feel like it's a decent walk to the center of the DC action.
The house was electric blue and beautiful, the results of their recent visit from the people of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. There were all these brightly colored fish hanging from the ceiling of the entryway, and everywhere I looked there were nice chairs, pastel-painted rooms, bags of cheerios and goldfish in cupboards... everything that screamed well-run and empowering.
We went downstairs to meet the kids. That's always the part of the service learning in an after school program that makes me the most nervous. As soon as I see the faces of those twenty students, their blue polo and khaki clad bodies twisting in their chairs to talk to their neighbor at the other table, I immediately freeze. They won't like me! I silently scream inside my head. I'm really awkward at making small talk with people, let alone the kids who would have been so much cooler than me in elementary and middle school that I would never have been able to talk to them if I was 12 years old! I can't do this I can't do this I can't do this.
This week was no different. I worried and fretted as I looked around the basement where there were tables set up for snack. Kim began passing out apples, Julianne began chatting with a boy sitting by himself at a table, and I ... stood there. I realized after about a minute or two had gone by that I should just take charge. After all, hasn't this semester in the nation's capital given me a sense of confidence about things? Haven't I watched myself grow into a gentler, stronger spirit? Haven't I basically become capable of carrying on a conversation with anyone?
I took the plunge, striding over to the table where two boys were sitting, waiting to get their Ziploc bag filled with a glorified version of GORP (this one featured marshmallows, chocolate chips, pretzels and some dried fruit I didn't think I should eat). I said hey. They said hey back, and looked at me. Was I supposed to continue this conversation? Okay. Hilary, you can do this. I coached myself. "How is school?" I asked. "Good." Pause. Oh great. Ask the one question that adults always ask kids and kids always hate to answer. Great. Just great. I noticed as I was scolding myself for my first faux pas of the conversation, when I realized that there were now four boys at the table instead of just two. Larry with his dreadlocked hair and his love of math sat next to Christopher who doesn't like school, who sat across from Jayquan who was completely hyper and barely sat in his seat next to Marquese who was the quietest and the oldest.
If it was all boys... surely I can talk football, right? "So do you guys have a favorite sport?" I ask, grinning to myself as I contemplated the thrilling conversation that would ensue (in my mind complete with a rendition of "The Sound of Music"). "Yeah!" Larry shouted. "Football!"
"Sweet, who is your favorite football team!" I asked. "The Redskins!" He responded. "The Redskins?? Nah, man, I like the Patriots. I'm from Boston." I thought this was normal, laughing, we have two different favorite teams conversation. Apparently not. "The Patriots suck!" He shouted. Jayquan and Marquese agreed vehemently. Christopher came to my rescue. "I like the New England Patriots!" he called out. "Thank you! We are a great team. We killed the Steelers the other weekend!" I thought this made it sound like I knew what I was talking about. But as soon as Larry opened his mouth and started reeling off players, records, why the Redskins were better, I realized I had woken a sleeping dragon.
Life Lesson: Before you talk about football to boys of any age, do research. Know who the best linebackers are, and the best... whatever else they call football players.
The afternoon progressed into homework help and Tokaya's soil fill-in-the-blank worksheet (thank you, Stan Reczek, for teaching me the meaning of the word, "A, B, C horizon"). I munched on her Cheerios as she figured out what a natural resource was and where to fill in "soil profile" in the sheet. As we munched and talked science (and cheerleading, rap songs I don't know, and other things), I realized that one of the things I hate about goodbyes is the launching into the unknown, the fact that when she gives me a hug, pulls my hands with her hot-sausage-sticky fingers, laughs and hugs me right around my waist, I can't tell her when I will see her again (besides this coming Tuesday when we go back for service learning). I can't promise the next visit, the next homework tutoring, the next failed attempt to talk football to Larry and Jayquan. I can't promise because I don't know.
As I weave the word goodbye into my Washington vocabulary, as I avoid "goodbye" in every conversation at my internship, in class, with my friends here, with Jayquan and Tokaya and Larry and Christoper and Marquese, "I'll be back every week to get to know you and to tutor you and to be your friend." I wish I could simply halt the movement of my feet towards their arctic (I mean, Northeastern) home and simply rest in my roots here.
So I write letters. It's a tradition I began in high school (ask my friends who've all received a little note in their boxes by Mrs. Cahill's office over the course of their Waring career). I write because words are my love language, because I feel safer expressing myself in words, because I know that if I begin to write, the love and joy I feel at the presence of the people in my life will be expressed. I write letters in the hope that others can go forth and carry those pieces of me with them, can take a physical piece of 'Hilary' home with them.
I write letters so that I can anchor on paper the things I feel. I write on this blog so that I don't forget Jayquan and Larry and Tokaya. I write, and I write, and I write.
I'm sad to be going back to the Fishing School only once more before I leave DC, but I am glad that I have been reminded, not only to do more research on football, but also to write, to love through writing.