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Bucket List Thu Apr 12 2012
Number 11: Volunteer, preferably with cute kids
I never understand people who say they don't like kids. What is not to like about energetic, idealist little balls of human potential? How can you not love each little putty ball of kid, each so unique because they haven't yet been smashed into the square beige cubes of society expectations? Kids rock!
Kid awesomeness is something I've been missing my past three years in Chicago. I am entombed 9-5 into my 3.5-wall office and my nights are filled with very adult-like activities such as pop culture trivia and kickball leagues. In high school and college I tutored ESL kids, taught at-risk first graders after school and was an official "parkee" during the summers. Kids could be exhausting but the kind of exhaustion that is worth it.
I was pumped when Chicago Social Guru Saya Hillman said our Fear Experiment group would have the opportunity to volunteer with the middle schoolers at Marconi School in West Garfield Park. I've never been to Garfield Park and I've never worked with middles schoolers. To be honest, both terrified me.
Driving out to Garfield Park, I had one of those embarrassingly naïve North Sider moments of "This is still Chicago?" I looked back at the loop and saw it from a completely different POV. It is strange but the city looked bigger from the West Side. And yet the neighborhood felt smaller. Every other building was boarded up and a sense of emptiness filled many blocks. And then there was the fact that I was the only white person I saw my entire time in Garfield Park. It was one of those moments when you remember again that you are indeed white, very white, something I am prone forget often in my North Side existence.
Although Garfield Park was definitely new territory for me, it wasn't the neighborhood that was making me second-guess myself; it was the idea teaching middle schoolers, the notoriously nasty, Facebook bullying, too-cool-for-everything middle schooler. And not only was I going to teach them, but I was supposed to teach them dance, something at which I clearly suck.
I'll attempt to explain how I found myself in this position. I am part of the third year of Dance Experiment, a group of 20 people who learn four choreographed songs and then perform their moves in front of 750 people at Park West. We also teach a group of kids from Marconi one of the dances and they get a chance to rock it on stage as well. Each year a few of the dancers volunteer to teach the kids the dance. This year I volunteered to take a day off work to attempt to teach the Marconi kids to body roll.
My head was filled with the usual fears: What if they didn't like me? What if I sucked at teaching? What if I dropped the f-bomb? In retrospect it seems ridiculous, but the fear of effing up by saying fuck was almost paralyzing.
Luckily the kids were cool and they weren't afraid at all of effin' up nor did they really seem to care when I did. I consistently messed up the dance, counted wrong, missed a step or simply forgot where I was in the song. Each time I internally cursed and apologized. I felt like I had failed them with each miscount. The kids just shrugged at me and restarted the song.
The thing I forgot about kids and perhaps one of my favorite part of kid awesomeness, is there all inspiring resilience. The kids at Marconi especially seemed to have this graceful ability to fall -- sometimes hard -- and spring back up.
Most of us lose this as we grow up; millennials are particularly susceptible to the loss of resilience. Many of us, especially those middle-class Midwesterners among us, grew up in a culture of "Everyone's a winner! Here is your mini plastic trophy." When we never lost, we never failed, we never fell, and we never learned to get back up. Kids are designed to bounce but only if you let them fall flat on their faces first.
I'm hoping though that I can relearn some of this natural buoyancy. Thanks to some pretty cool kids at Marconi and some awesome peeps in my dance class, I'm learning to fall, bruise and maybe not bounce but at least get back up one dance-weary leg at a time.
Image at right: A picture of the Marconi kids dancing would be way cuter, but instead here is me attempting to body roll. To see the whole embarrassing she-bang, come to the show on April 28th at Park West!