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August 05, 2004

Sometimes learning had nothing to do with books

When I was in high school, once or twice a year we'd have this thing called Kids Day. It was a whole school day devoted to team building and unity. It went from 8 to 4, so we were at school a little longer, but no one cared. One time they actually extended it and it went from 8 to 8. It was limited to 100 students, sign ups were first come first serve, and you couldn't sign up your friends. But of the 100 slots, about 10 of them were reserved for kids like me- kids who had a hard time making friends, or whose self esteem could seriously benefit from a day like that.

There were so many amazing components to those days, but one of the coolest things was that for one day we were just a bunch of kids. No in-crowd, no popular/not popular kids, no nerds no one liked, just a bunch of kids. And all day, everyone who was there had a big piece of paper on the wall with their name on it, and people could write stuff to you. It was all positive stuff, because for that one day we all got along and we were all the same. And you got to take it home at the end of the day. I had three of them still on my wall when I started college. My mom may even still have them somewhere, I don't know.

But once, during either my junior or my senior year, they changed it a bit. They called it Challenge Day.

We split into small groups and talked about things like peer pressure and fitting in and the like. We learned that the "popular kids" had the same struggles the "not popular" kids had. We played ice breaker games, had snacks, and had a lot of fun along with all of the serious stuff. But over the course of the day the topics got more and more intense. By lunchtime people were all squirming a little because things were getting personal- a lot more personal than a lot of high school kids ever got with their closest friends, let alone a room full of teachers and kids they barely knew.

By about 2:00 the topics were firmly shifted from unity and peer pressure and fitting in to things like drugs and sex and family issues, and some of the kids had actually started to cry. (I should mention that one of the rules of the day was that nothing said in the room left the room, except the life lesson stuff the leaders taught us- that we were encouraged to share with our friends. But no "did you know that [popular girl] hates her step dad because [reason]") It was at about that point in the day where I learned two of the things I have carried with me since high school-

Firstly, what people refer to as "bottling your feelings". It shouldn't be called a "bottle". Bottles have finite amounts of space, and when they get full they just overflow a little. Everyone knows when bottled feelings surface, all of it seems to come out at once. The place we stuff our feelings is really more like a balloon, it stretches until it can't stretch anymore, and then it pops. Most people turn into a big mess when that happens, and there were a lot of "balloons" bursting that day.

The other I learned was that "when the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing". They said that a lot that day, as more and more kids started crying. And it's something I still firmly believe, and something I say to people I care about, and I'll say it again now: "when the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing"

My favorite part of that day was the line game. I don't really think it had a name, I just call it the line game, but really by this point, they weren't games anymore. It wasn't "fun" anymore. It wasn't fun, but it was my favorite part nonetheless, because it was designed to show you that you're not alone. They put a big masking tape line down the center of the room, and everyone stood on one side of it. Then the leaders would make a statement, and if the statement applied to you, you stepped over the line. Like everything that day, it was designed to push you, but started off harmless, with statements like "I'm wearing socks" or "My birthday is in January", but progressed to things like "I've been drunk before" and "I feel like my friends don't know the real me". And the tears flowed freely from just about everyone with statements like "I've been pushed farther sexually than I really wanted to go". I stepped over the line on that one, and marveled at not only how many others were over that line with me, but at *who* some of those people were. I remember getting involved in a very tearful group hug over that one- me, a good friend of mine, and three kids who always acted like they were better than me and wouldn't normally give me the time of day. And the other cool thing was that not only were the kids on my side of the line crying, but most of the kids on the other side were too, because they saw that it had happened to their friend, or maybe just that it had happened a lot more than they thought it did. "When the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing."

I spent a lot of my adolescence thinking I was alone, because only a few people liked me. I didn't know that a lot of kids felt the things I felt and experienced a lot of the things I experienced. But this day and this game changed that. We were hardly the breakfast club, trying in the following days to maintain the unity. As soon as the day was over all those walls went right back up. But we knew. We remembered. We knew that that popular girl sitting with the rest of the cheerleaders had the beginning stages of a drinking problem. We knew that the really cute boy sitting on the deck needed to pull his grades way up or he couldn't be on the baseball team. We knew the mousy nerd girl who spent every lunch period in the library had lost her virginity at 12 to a guy on the basketball team that she had been friends with her entire life. And while we didn't suddenly hang out together and become best friends, that knowledge linked us together. Amazingly enough, I *never* heard a single rumor bourne of the things we learned in that room. And I went to a really small high school (about 850 students) in a really small town (that has sadly gotten a lot bigger since my high school days) where rumors spread like wildfire and everyone thought they knew everyone else's "dirt".

Anyway, something compelled me to write about that day. I'm not usually a comment whore, but I'd love to know what thoughts this brought up for you.


I'm not normally a commenter, really ... but I feel like I have to say something to that. I went to a high school about the same size (a little larger, not much) but we never had any type of activity like that. I can't even think, now, whether it would have been a good thing or a bad thing - one of the things I remember most fondly of school was that we were a remarkably un-clique-y school (or maybe I was just oblivious and lucky) - but it kinda blows my mind how powerful an experience that must have been. Nah, not the Breakfast Club by any stretch, but actually something stronger, and I'm almost envious of that, in a weird way.

I'm looking forward to meeting you this month, girl. I'm thinking a night of staying up, just talking.

posted by: kat at August 7, 2004 03:46 AM

First, I find myself shocked that a school would hold such an event. I'm impressed, if not a little surpised, that things "worked out fine" after an event of such magnitude.

Mostly though I'm really glad that you got to experience that. It sounds like it's given you an open eye to people from other walks of life, and that has helped with your view of things.

My high school was big and cliquey. But thankfully I had a core group of friends... just four of us, that made the whole experience bareable and often times a lot of fun. I still felt like the outsider around certain groups, but at the end of the day I had my three friends and all was right with the world. (today we are just as close)

posted by: Almost Lucid (Brad) at August 7, 2004 07:16 AM

I found you through Brad (Almost Lucid) and I hope you don't mind my chiming in.

The balloon analogy was perfect for me to hear right now. There's way too much stuff that I'm trying to be brave about and not fall apart for the kids or work or whatever.

And then on the flip side of that, I've lived so much of my life beleiving that being postivie can fix jsut about anything that I think I need to look closer at what the balance is between letting "stuff" out and moving past it and keeping it in.

Thanks for making me think.

posted by: Jo at August 17, 2004 11:43 AM