When we started the YAV year, they gave us a culture shock diagram. It started with a heavy incline of loving the YAV year, a honeymoon period, then a skydive drop. After the drop, there was an increase then a stagnant time. My drop was brief and had very little to do with my actual YAV year. Overall, I stayed on top for a really long time and would say my stagnant time has been quite high on the chart, but there has been a distinct stagnant time, especially in the new year. Within my work I am in a plateau, despite a large effort on my part to move out of it, most days I find myself going through the motions.
Recently in the Saturday night Macrory Youth Club, I have become the leader in charge of the kitchen and organizing the kitchen activity. I have gone from every now and then helping with the arts and crafts but mostly working in the sitting area doing games or casual conversation with the young people to the most stressful area of youth club. Not only is it usually the most stressful because there can only be 6 young people in the kitchen at once and everyone wants to be in, I have never been in the kitchen before and I was assigned at a time when a lot of changes were being made to how it was run. More structure has been added to the kitchen activity, which is completely necessary, but the young people absolutely HATE the changes. Each week for the passed month I have spent each night in what seems like a constant battle. Trying to encourage basic good behaviours and getting nothing but resistance and cheekiness. The kids have done everything from constantly storming the kitchen and refusing to leave to making signs that say we hate the rules and want less leaders. Really mature things. The most common response however is just really terrible behaviour, doing things they know are unacceptable just to push me, test me, and see how far they can push me. I have had to let a lot of things slide, but if I think something is important I stick to it. Manners is one I never really back down from. I always make them use proper manners. Another is if I ask them nicely and politely to do something like wash their dish, stop dumping flour on their dough, stop pushing each other, stop yelling in the small space, or other like things, I expect them to do it.
The big change all around club that has really come into play with the kitchen and my club morals is the new 2 strikes and you’re out policy we just started. Under the new policy leaders can issue warnings for completely unacceptable behaviour as a last resort. My second or third night in the kitchen I had to issue warnings to two of the young people because they refused to leave the kitchen after I asked at least 15 plus times for them to do so. Later in the night one of the boys was in the kitchen with me and his behaviour was the typical pushing the limits. He began throwing dough. I again asked numerous times that he not throw the dough. The third time I literally saw dough leave his hand (I saw it flying through the air a few times before that) I felt as though I had to issue a second warning which meant he had to leave club. He left club without too much of a fuss, but the rest of the night the bad behaviour got to me more then ever. When the debrief with the rest of the leaders came around, everyone talked about their nights and what they thought was good and bad. The whole time I just stared at the floor. When it became my turn to speak, I began explaining the situation which led to the boy’s removal and by the end of it I couldn’t hide the tears that started coming down my face. I am a crier, I always have been. When I get mad or frustrated tears usually fall. This was not the first time I’ve cried about something since being here, far from it. But this was the first time I shared it with those I work with and actually cried in front of anyone else. I explained how much trouble I was having with the kitchen activity and how I hated that the only relationship I was getting to have with the young people was disciplining them.
After club, people thanked me for being so honest and open. I tried to just laugh it off as me being a big baby but I don’t think anyone was convinced or even thought I was a baby. My cards were out on the table. A few leaders went out of their way to make sure I was ok. Texting me and offering me encouraging words on top of the hugs and tissues offered at the debrief. One in particular not only sent me a text after I went home but also the next morning an encouraging and inspiring scripture. He knew the next morning was the morning I was scheduled to preach my first sermon ever. I had been agonizing over it for over a week writing about 3 different versions and terrified to do it. This night at club didn’t make me feel any more capable or confident to preach a full sermon. I literally didn’t sleep at all that night. I couldn’t stop thinking about club and how terrible I felt about having to remove a young person from club nor could I stop rewriting and thinking through my sermon. The night had shaken me and emotionally drained me. The next morning is the earliest I have ever been to Fortwilliam. My sermon isn’t what I am writing about so I won’t give details about it (I’ll post some later this week) but the point is, it went well. After I felt as though I finally had a victory. I had truly succeeded at something big for the first time in weeks. I may not be able to win in the kitchen but I did something great.
Tonight I had another one of those experiences winning experiences. It was a band parade night in Tiger’s Bay so attendance at club was low. Another American woman who married into Belfast and comes to help at club once a month and has helped us with behaviour mangement training was helping me in the kitchen. I went into club already feeling a large sense of relief that she was going to be there, knowing that she would take some of the wrath tonight and be able to deal with the behaviour well taking some heat off me. It also didn’t hurt that she was more leading the activity then me because we were making American pancakes and I am not the best at making them. Lately we’ve had about 24 kids at club each night. Tonight we had 7. This meant everyone got to cook and that we could keep the groups small. The normal two groups of 6, became a group of 3 and a group of 4.
While the kids cooked I actually got to talk to them and have real conversations with them for the first time since I started the kitchen activity. They still did things that required me to ask them to stop or change behaviour, but I never had to ask more then once. THAT NEVER HAPPENS. EVER! That alone would have been amazing and a great victory to my night. But they went out of their way to share the pancakes with the leaders each kid making one of the leaders a pancake and hand delivering it with syrup and all the works. Normally they never want to share any of what they make but tonight they kept a tally to make sure each leader got one. Sometime in the night I started talking to the young people about next Saturday when there is a special celebration event for our halls being open again and asking if they would be there. I told them they should come because my parents will be in town and since we won’t be having club that night I would really like for my parents to meet all of them. From this they decided that my parents arrival meant my parents were coming to take me home. They started saying things like, “Crystal I don’t want you to leave. Can’t you stay?” “We like working with you in the kitchen and having you around.” and “We’ll miss you when you’re gone.” I was floored. Every week I hear them say, “We liked it better when you didn’t do the kitchen activity” or “Wow you’re mean” or “Why are you talking to me?”
Nights like tonight make me realize that even when I am straight lining through my year, my daily activities matter. These activities DO make a difference. I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am meant to be doing. This night will keep me going for many Saturday nights to come when the dough is flying, the kitchen doors are slamming, and no one is listening to me. They make me realize I am more then the bad guy and the discipliner in their eyes. They want me, and even if they never show it, they appreciate me and all the other leaders and all that we do for them. My kids and club have a fairly rough reputation of cheekiness and misbehavior. As the Northern Irish say, a lot of times they just do my head in, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world and tonight they showed the world why. They are a bit rough around the edges, but they are wonderful and appreciative. Tonight, thanks to the kids of Tiger’s Bay, my straight line has been interrupted by a large spike up. I love my job.