Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Skateboards, Seventh Grade Boys, and Community

I was waiting in the church hall to pick up my daughter from her second youth group meeting at Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana.

After songs and a lesson on Christian community, the kids had been divided into small groups and were scattered throughout the church building to get better acquainted and to discuss the lesson.

This group of six boys were the first to finish "sharing", and I heard them coming before I saw them. They crashed into the main hall, shoving and pushing into one another. They ranged in height from three to five feet, all wearing hoodies marked with Abercrombie or Aeropostale. They carried skateboards and basketballs. Their hair was shaggy - one taller boy sported a white-boy's afro nearly shrouding his pimply face.

A short dark haired boy brought up the end of the group. He looked stressed, his worried eyes were darting back and forth. "Can I use your phone?" he asked. I pointed him to the leader who handed him a cell phone.

"Mom," I heard him say. "Where are you?! I think you forgot me!" At this point, he broke into choking sobs. "Mom!" he pleaded once more. "Where are you?"

He handed back the phone to the leader and melted down. His backpack fell to the floor and he put his head down onto the table to cry.

But before the leader or I could make a move to comfort him, his buddies turned around. Those boys, who one moment before had been intent on heading out to the basketball court, now crowded in to comfort their new friend.

"Hey, dude," said the tall shaggy haired one. "I'm sure your mom didn't forget you."

"Yeah - man," said a short one. "I know your mom. She wouldn't just leave you like that."

The boy continued to sob, losing all sense of his 7th-grade dignity.

"Hey - come on," said shaggy boy. He took the backpack and put an arm around the little guy's shoulders. Together they walked out around the parking lot to look for his mom. As they talked, his sobs decreased just a bit.

Moments later, the leader's phone rang. It was the boy's mom. She was on her way.

But the crisis was over. The lesson on community that the youth pastor had so eloquently expressed earlier in the night had evidently sunk into those boys' hearts.

Their love for one another made the whole room a better place to be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flipping for FLIPPED

Rob Reiner has long been one of my favorite directors. He is known for all sorts of wonderful, sentimental movies, like Sleepless in Seattle, The Princess Bride and Stand By Me. My husband swears that Stand By Me is an accurate portrayal of the friendship of young boys, complete with swearing and blood promises and tree houses. I recently showed The Princess Bride to my daughter, and we both enjoyed the sweet sentiment and hilarious, witty dialogue.

Reiner's latest movie, Flipped, held that same sort of nostalgic attraction for me. The setting of the late 50s, early 60s, brought me back to my own childhood and the fears and struggles I had with growing up and relating to boys.

Flipped is the story of a young boy and girl who meet when they are in 2nd grade and attend school together through junior high. When they first meet, the girl falls immediately for the young boy – there is something about his eyes, she says with a swoony expression on her face. The feeling is not mutual. The boy feels that Juli Baker is odd, annoying, and pushy.

The movie quickly shifts to their 7th grade year when Bryce notices Juli for the first time. Of course he has seen her and been annoyed by her his whole life. But suddenly he sees her in a new way– as a girl.

What makes this coming of age story unique is that the story is told twice – from two perspectives. The show flips back and forth from telling the story through Juli’s or Bryce’s viewpoint.

There were a few weaknesses to the story. I found the movie to be a bit slow overall – and I believe this has much to do with trying to tell the tale from two perspectives. While the idea of “he said, she said” is a fun one, it slowed down the story – and I found myself thinking, “Oh no – don’t repeat the whole scene again.”

The characterization also suffered in certain points. While the characters of Juli, Bryce and the grandfather were exceptionally strong, I was bothered by the extreme and off- putting portrayal of Bryce’s father. Played by Anthony Edwards of ER fame, the father comes off as harsh, angry and abusive. I felt like a less over the top portrayal of this character would have been far more convincing. At times, the show would switch its focus to the father or to Juli’s mentally-challenged uncle, and it felt like a distraction rather than an addition to the movie.

Parents will be pleased that this is a movie they can watch with their kids. There is little to hide from here. Other than one uncomfortable outburst of language where the father and teenage daughter exchange over-the-top harsh words, the movie is as sweet as the previews make it seem.

It also introduces great topics to discuss with your kids. Julie’s father tells her to consider the whole of a person and not just his or her appearance. Why are we attracted to people? What qualities can tarnish that attraction? When Bryce wonders about his courage, we can ask: When is it important to stand up for what is right? Why is it sometimes so difficult?

The movie makes you believe in true love and family and friendship. It speaks of giving from the heart and loving when it is hard. It shows families who stick together when times are tough and circumstances demand sacrifice. It shows a relationship between grandparent and child that struggles and then flourishes.

These are good things. And that is why any parent will probably flip for Flipped.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why We Need Each Other!

This year, my daughter will have her first real youth group experience. She is not much of a joiner, neither am I. Perhaps I have encouraged her in this independent direction; we both tend to go it alone. Yet - as a mom and a believer - I know that's probably not wise....hence the youth group.

I am still friends with some of the men and women who "youth-grouped" with me. We have grown older, are married, have kids of our own, yet we fondly remember those days of Capture the Flag, guitar playing, four-square, pizza, and prayers. I highly recommend it...

Here is an article from an online magazine that I contribute to on the value of our church communities:


Sunday, September 5, 2010

National Junior Stress Society

At a recent school open house, my daughter's teacher informed our group of parents, that this year our kids would be eligible for membership in the national junior honor society. To a group of parents of over-achievers (thus, we are most likely over-achievers ourselves), this caught our attention.

She stressed that grades alone would not guarantee our childrens' membership in this society. They would also be required to participate in two in-school and two out-of-school activities in order to qualify. Immediately, our hands shot up. What could they do? How could we make sure our children were deemed worthy by the NJHS?

This worried me.

My daughter already is stressed by school. She finds the workload and expectations of the school's advanced merit program difficult enough. She is one of those kids who puts unnecessary stress upon herself. As much as we tell her to relax, to not worry, to just do her best, she feels a personal pressure to succeed, to be deemed worthy.

She didn't need to worry about an honor society.

We talked about it. We talked about what she could join that would be fun for her. Her teacher, trying to be helpful, signed her up for the Spelling Club. That sounded good to me, too. She is naturally a good, strong speller - she reads like crazy - so that would be a fit, right?

Wrong. She came home with a schedule. Three days a week before school for 45 minutes with a long, long list of words to "study hard" every night and a schedule of competitions. There were warnings about not being late and needing to really commit to this club. Fun? Hardly.

And this was just one activity! We needed to find three more to qualify.

There is something about this pressure that strikes me as very wrong. Here we have kids who are already over achieving scholastically. They are strong students. Why does the school feel the need to push them further? Why do we need to create personalities that thrive on being over busy and over committed? Is this the type of behavior we want our kids to emulate? Do we prize this?

I would rather have my daughter join activities she loves and participate in things that stretch her to make friends and serve others. I am not so worried about any qualifications or any honors at this stage in her life. I want her to enjoy these middle years.

Stress in life comes soon enough. Let's let our kids be kids for awhile. Let's let them slow down, take a deep breath, read a book, take a walk, daydream, giggle and play - and enjoy being in middle school.