I don’t know about you, but when I was 14, I was definitely an idiot. Of course at the time I didn’t think I was an idiot, but looking back, I am overwhelmed with that feeling of “wow I really said and did those things.”
If you’re reading this right now, I hope you’re thinking about who you were as a 14-year-old. If you were 14 the same year I was, you probably had just gotten a Facebook. Therefore, you can actually go back and see how stupid you sounded at 14. Trust me. It’s embarrassing. If you’re a generation or two ahead of mine, you’re pretty lucky. Your stupid years missed the Facebook boom. Lucky you.
So, some of you probably won’t bother to go back to the early 2000s on your Facebook page, and some of you probably are old enough that you didn’t sound stupid on the internet in the early 2000s. So to give you just an idea of what I’m talking about. I’ll share some of my deep thoughts with you from 2008.
“can’t wait to go out with Bertizzle!”- My best friend at the time Roberta Donaldson, who makes appearances in nearly every status I made that year. Also, I’d just like to ask, at 13 or 14, what does “go out” even mean? Berta, if you’re reading this, where were we going? And to do what? Listen to the Jonas Brothers and eat Okee Dokee? Really though.
“is doing homework.” I don’t know if you all remember this, but for a while your statuses could only be in the form of “is…” Aaryn Kealty is…. Clearly doing homework was an important update for me. I needed the world to know.
That’s all I’m going to share. You get the point. I posted quite thought provoking things at 14 and felt the need to share via social media.
But why am I sharing these things now? I just wanted to give you an idea of where I was coming from when I walked into Tinderhøj Skole to start my practicum on Thursday. The night before, I thought about who I was at 14, or who I thought I was at 14. In retrospect, I didn’t really care about who I was, or about figuring that out. I cared about my friends. I cared about going to the movies on the weekends and to Culver’s after school. I never thought about real world things.
So. I breezed into this school feeling like Michelle Pfeiffer, in my leather jacket, fresh out of the navy (or whatever thing she had just come from), ready to show some kids who’s boss.
Nah just kidding. I pretty much tripped over myself trying to break down the doors half an hour after I was suppose to be there because I took the wrong bus. I mean I woke up at 5 am that day, can you blame me for being so tired I got on the wrong bus? No.
Anyways. Imagine me like Michelle. I was ready for anything. So the secretary leads me to my classroom. A boy in front of my table is reading something aloud and I quickly take a seat and begin to listen, trying not to be noticed. (I feel like this is an important time to point out what I was doing in this classroom. And yes, some of you are probably like “OMG. They let you in a classroom with real children?” They did. I know. Shocking. But I was there to help with English classes with two other girls from my Child Development and Diversity program. Oh and I’ll be there multiple Thursdays in the future. Back by popular demand! Just kidding. The kids probably thought I was the lamest person they had ever met. But that’s ok. Onward.)
So the boy in the middle of the room finishes what he’s reading with this-
“You should just tell your dad how you feel. I’m sure he will understand. You are his son and he loves you. And who you love, he has to learn to love. Sincerely your good friend.”
Later, the teacher explained to me that each of the kids in the class had to write a letter based on the prompt that their friend was gay and wanted to come out to their dad, but they were afraid of what he would say and that it would change their relationship. As his friend, what would you tell him? Should he tell his dad, why or why not?
Obviously, I’m not in middle school right now, so I can’t speak to the way things are done now. But when I was in middle school, we definitely never wrote letters to our friends about coming out to their parents. When I was in middle school, I don’t ever remember talking about the challenges young people face coming out to their friends and family. In Espanol in middle school, Sra Bane had us give little mini video speeches about an important topic. At 14, I’m pretty sure we talked about una norma injusta en su casa… a rule we felt was unfair in our class. In fact, I’m sure that was the troubling topic we tackled because I still have my little speech about it on a DVD somewhere at my house. At 14, we new how to express that we were upset with our parents because they didn’t let us stay out pass ten, or have multiple sleepovers a weekend, or whatever.
I’m not trying to devalue what we learned in Spanish in middle school. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying, we didn’t really tackle real issues until high school. And those real issues, as I hinted at in my last blog post, dealt with la migra and the drug trade and what have you. And Profe, you did an excellent job getting us talking about those issues. But I don’t think we ever tackled problems people our own age were facing. In fact, I don’t really remember talking about how kids our age felt about coming out ever. Unless it was a special seminar thing. Or unless it randomly came up and was quickly addressed before we moved on. I don’t think it was ever a subject that was built into what we were doing in class.
I don’t ever remember reading and analyzing as a class topic child abuse, or alcohol abuse, or rape, or drug use, or really anything that our peers might have been fighting outside of class. I went to a pretty liberal school in Wisconsin. We talked about our rights as citizens of the US. We talked about our responsibilities as citizens. And we learned how to seek the truth about issues passing through government hands. Shorewood was a great place to grow up and go to school. But even in a town like Shorewood, we missed opportunities to address issues that many of us may have faced over the course of our time in the Shorewood School District.
Why am I getting into this? Why am I going on and on and on?
This is why.
The next thing the kids talked about was an article written about a teenager who had come out and was treated differently at school. The article started out listing very colorful words that the girl was being called at school and went into detail about how alienated she felt and expressed her regret for coming out at school. (Due to the colorful language of nearly every line of this article, there is no way we ever would have read this article in school. And these kids were reading these articles out loud to one another.)
So. While listening to the teacher give the kids instructions for what to do with this article, I scanned the room for the group I would go sit with. Of course, the first thing I did was label the kids based on who they reminded me of when I was 14 and decided where to sit accordingly. Naturally, I went and sat with the girls who reminded me of Ailsa and Erin because, well, that’s where I felt the most comfortable sitting. Anyway, so I go sit down and of course, these two girls are acting too cool for school (cliché I know) but they were. And then, without me saying anything, they start reading the article to each other. And as we finish the very colorful article, the Syd of the class walks over and joins us. Now if you went to our school, you know the type of person this girl was if I called her the Syd of her class. She was beautiful and confident and had a laugh that bounced off of the walls with poise. (Throughout the day, this was the girl in the class who interacted with every single person and laughed by far the most of any of the students.)
So I’m sitting with the girls I perceive to be the most “popular” in the room. Which of course means I’m thinking I’ll have to get the conversation going and they will resist. But surprisingly, that’s not what happened.
“You know Aaryn,” one of the girls turned to me. “Here, we accept people. We read these articles in this class to know what people around the world are feeling. Like in the US. You can come out and people will not accept you. Here. People love you! I love gay people. Everyone in this room knows a gay person and we all love and respect them because they are the most loving people ever. I’m not gay, but I accept people who are gay. In Denmark, we don’t judge you.”
One of the other girls joined in. “Gay people are the most understanding people because they know what it is like to be told there is something wrong with you. They love you and your faults because they’ve gone through so so so much and they understand that life is hard. And they understand what it is like to have something about you be different than what people call normal.”
And then, the first girl interrupted her. “Nothing is normal in this world. We are all having problems. We are all different. We are all beautiful. There is no such thing as normal or better or worse. Just being. That’s what we are doing here. We are just living.”
Now. Obviously I saw a lot of things in the 6 hours I spent at this school. A lot of things that differed from what I considered to be thing I would see in a school. The fact that the kids took smoke breaks and called their teachers by their first names and got up and walked out of the room whenever they felt like it… but what really made me think was my conversation with these girls.
Remember how I had you read my statuses from when I was their age. What did I talk about? Hanging out with Berta and doing homework? At 14, all I wanted to do was be what people considered normal. I wanted to fit in and be the same as my peers. I didn’t think anything like these three girls. I don’t even think at 14 I realized that some of my peers were dealing with the confusion or the pain of hiding from their friends and family their true identities. That they knew they were “different” and felt alone. There is no way at 14 I would have been able to say with such certainty that there is no such thing as normal, because I was trying so hard at that time to be what I thought was normal.
This is why I wrote today. Not to criticize the fact that we didn’t talk about things like this in middle school. Not to criticize my friends for wanting to be normal. But to point out that this girl was completely right. There really is nothing normal in this world.
I told you I felt like I sat down with the Ailsa, the Erin, and the Syd of the class. If you didn’t go to my school, you have no clue what that means. So let me explain it to you. All three of these girls were well liked at my school. And they were all totally different. They were all beautiful, strong, and extremely independent and continue to be in their college lives. They were all respected and envied. But not because they were normal. Because they were kind and didn’t try to change themselves to be normal. They embraced who they were whole-heartedly.
Ok Aaryn. You thought these three girls were pretty cool and reminded you of girls you’ve known almost your whole life. So what?
My so what is this. Most people never accept that there is no such thing as normal. People can live an entire life without ever understanding that every single person is different. Who cares if you have the same job, the number of kids, the same gendered spouse, the same type of dog, the same name, whatever. You’re still different. No two people are the same. No two people think entirely the same or have had the same experiences. If no two people are the same, how can normal be a thing?
The thing is, I don’t think I realized normal wasn’t a thing until I was in high school. Until I was really exploring who I was as a person. Until I was critically thinking about the world around me. Until I was introduced to discussion-based classes where people from all different backgrounds took the floor and shared their views.
There is no way I would have understood anything those girls were saying when I was their age. No way. So. The question is, is this a cultural thing or a new generation thing? The thing is. I have no clue. I don’t know if every 14-year-old today could talk with the certainty that these three girls spoke with on Thursday.
What I do know is this. I have seen some nasty things that have happened to 14-year-old kids. Nasty things that have happened because they aren’t “normal.” There are kids who are bullied everyday. Kids who hate themselves and feel the need to hurt themselves or end their lives, because other kids make them feel like they are not normal and that not being normal is wrong.
Imagine how different future generations would be if every kid knew with absolute certainty that nothing in this world is normal.