Monday, 2 June 2008

The Accidental Counsellor

I had a crazy weekend. It was loads of fun, but nothing like what I'd planned.

A week ago last Thursday I got a frantic text message from our Stake Young Women's President (the Stake is made up of a bunch of local church congregations) asking if anyone knew anyone who could teach Waltz. Well, after all the dance classes I've had, I ought to know how to teach it. So I texted back that yes, I did, and would be willing to teach 3 groups of 60 youth to waltz during the first day of the Multi Stake Youth Conference: Steadfast & Immovable. I must have been possessed by something.

Anyway, I told the Ward Young Women's President that I'd be willing to drive some of the youth up, as I had to go, anyway. I just figured I'd take along the Final Exam Scripts to mark between check-in and waltzing. I took 2 of my lovely girls up to Bury St-Edmunds, which is where the boarding school campus is. Upon arrival the Stake Young Women's President grabbed me and said that one of their counsellors had come down ill that morning, and would it be possible, maybe, please, please for me to stay for the whole weekend? So I said, yes. By this point the insanity had obviously taken complete control of my brain. Anyway, I said yes, but I'd need to run home to grab some clothes. So I stayed for long enough to meet the Tribe (Tribe of Israel was how the groups were named. We were Judah!)

Thursday was a bit odd for me, therefore, since all I did with the tribe was walk down to the main hall from dinner then walk back and send the girls to get ready for bed. As soon as we got to the main hall I had to split off and go to the waltz room. My Tribe was in the first group to come learn waltz. I had an absolute ball (no pun intended). And amazingly, the youth got it! All of them! They might not ever turn into world class waltzers, but they got the basic pattern of a running waltz (as opposed to box step, which I think is harder) and an arch. The last group picked it up so fast (or maybe I just got better at teaching it) that they learnt the loop as well. I was so pleased. Had no voice whatsoever by the end of it. Fortunately I know how to do a nice loud two finger whistle. That saved me from having to yell over the top of them every two seconds.

Thursday night was hard work. We got back to the dorms, and I made my girls meet me in the lounge at the end of the hall so we could have a Tribe Prayer. Then I sent them off to do PJS (Prayer, Journal and Scripture Study) on their own. They were more worried about getting a shower than getting the PJS done, so I decided that we'd do it as a group the next day. I'd warned them that lights out was going to be 11.00. Not quite sure they believed me. But at 11 I went around and flipped off all the lights on the floor. I was sharing my room with the most fabulous girl ever, Sarah. She was the Tribe Leader for Issachar. We had both our girls on our floor, plus the spill over from the floor above for two other Tribes. That made our job a little trickier. We had to get our 18 to bed, and keep the other 6 or 8 girls from different Tribes in bed as well. Only, the girls from the other Tribes didn't respect us as their leaders. So all night long we were chasing girls back up stairs to their rooms, and dragging our girls back down. It was well after 2 before we finally got to go to bed. At one point I went into one of the rooms and just stood there till they realised I was there. Then one of them (ashamed to say it was one of my girls who was out of her room) said, 'Would you like a sweet?' I said, 'I'd like you to sweetly go back to your rooms.' The infiltrators (including the ones from upstairs) scurried back to their rooms, and I confiscated a mobile phone (which they were allowed to use, but shouldn't be using at 1 in the morning!) and an ipod (which they were not supposed to have brought at all). Finally, they settled down to the point that Sarah and I felt it was safe to go off to sleep. Then, at 5.30 in the morning we started hearing girls laughing and chatting in the (very echo-y) bathroom! 5.30! How on earth did they have the energy to get up at 5.30 when they'd only gone to sleep around 2? Sarah actually thought that it was 6.30, and that we'd missed my alarm going off. So she started getting up, and couldn't figure out why I wasn't. Finally she figured out that she was off by an hour. She crawled back in bed.

At 6.30 we dragged ourselves out of bed, not entirely unwillingly. We were not in a normal dorm room, but rather in a small room with games and videos and puzzles where they'd set up a couple camp type beds. Not exactly the most comfortable things on the face of the planet. So it wasn't entirely objectionable to be up and moving. We got dressed and herded our girls into the relevant rooms for morning devotional. It was supposed to be on prayer. But one of my girls (the one caught out in the middle of the night) blew up at me for having chased her out of the other girl's rooms and having taken her phone off her. I told her if she had a problem with me, she could come talk to me individually, and we'd work it out, but this was not the time or the place for it. So I tried to get the devotional back on track, but it was hard going. After devotional we made sure the girls got down to breakfast whilst we went to our Counsellor meeting. Then we headed off to breakfast as well. I even ate some! I know, me. Don't faint.

After breakfast we headed down to the sports fields. We'd set up several different games that the Tribes would rotate through. They were team sports, mostly, like Volleyball, Football (Soccer!), Frisbee (which I ran) and this really crazy thing called Kabadee. Never heard of it before, but seems like the kids loved. As noted above, I was in charge of the Frisbee game, so did not rotate through all the games with my Tribe. My fantastic co-Counsellor, Sam, took Judah round on his own, bless him. I had fun with the Frisbee, though :) And Judah did beat Issachar in their match. Through no manipulation on my part, honest!

After Tribe Sports we collected our scriptures (and I gathered my Final Exam Scripts) and headed down to the classes. They had workshops on various topics, Spiritual as well as Fun. One of them was on self-defense, and I admit that the allure of it was too compelling and overthrew my intentions to continue to mark Exams. I went in for self-defense and also for the singing class, two of the three classes my group did in the morning. As soon as we'd finished the 3rd class we headed out to lunch. That was a bit of a disaster, not because the food was bad, but because I had a row with one of the other counsellors. He was letting some of the young men jump the queue. When they'd first come up, I'd told them no, and get back to the end of the queue like everyone else. But this other Counsellor was saying how he had been told to look after these kids by their mum and that he remembered what it was like to be their age . . . etc. Ooooh boy did that rile me. First I was offended that he would undermine my authority as a Counsellor by letting them jump the queue when they'd been told to get back. Second, he was not looking after them by letting them jump the queue, he was teaching them that it was ok to cheat and be dishonest and disrespectful to me as a leader, and all the people in the queue behind them. Third, I was livid at the implication that I didn't remember what it was like to be their age, when in fact I do remember what it was like. I remember exactly what it was like to be their age, standing in the queue, and watch as a bunch of young men cut in front. I also remember how hurt I was that none of the leaders stood up for me and made them get to the back! And then, when he said, 'If you have a problem with me, go talk to a member of the Stake Presidency, and they'll come talk to me. All you've done is shown these kids two Counsellors fighting,' I nearly lost it. First of all, that was incredibly rude. All I'd been doing was my job. He was the one showing the youth Counsellors fighting. Secondly, it was absolutely against the teachings of the church. I should never have to appeal to the Priesthood to sort out a disagreement. He knew it was wrong to let the kids jump the queue. He disrespected me as a leader and himself as a Priesthood holder. I kept thinking of Doctrine & Covenants 121:39 'We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.' I was so angry that I had to leave. I didn't storm out, I slipped out and went back to my dorm. I was tired, offended, hurt, angry, humiliated and just about everything else possible. And to make matters worse, when I got back to my room, I burst into tears. I don't cry easily. Nor do I enjoy crying. In fact, it really annoys me on those occasions when I do lose control and cry. Just made me even more angry. I stayed in my room all of lunch trying to get myself under control. Finally I had to go off to the next round of classes with my Tribe. This whole time I'm thinking, have I been out of line? Was I wrong to send those boys back to the end of the queue? Should I have just let it go? But then I remembered how hurt I was as a youth when the leaders didn't say anything to the ones who were cheating. But I was really upset still. I made it through the afternoon classes (fortunately my marking gave me an excuse to stay off by myself. And I got 8 done!) After classes it was free sport. I wandered the grounds for a while, helping get the youth off to the various activities they'd signed up for. Then, once they were all happily engaged in their events, I went back to my room for a nap. I only slept for maybe 10 minutes, but it was enough to help me separate from the events of lunchtime. However, Sarah came in towards the end of the free sport period. She could tell something was wrong, and got me to tell her what had happened. She was offended for me! Bless her :) That actually helped quite a lot. It was validation that I had actually done the right thing in sending the kids back (oh, and because the other Counsellor let the two boys in, 6 more came up and jumped in as well, because my authority had been completely destroyed.) She asked me if I wanted her to say anything to the head of the camp. I said no, what was the point. She headed off to dinner, and I said I'd be down in a bit. I didn't fancy waiting through the long queue, and didn't want to run into this particular Counsellor again. Eventually I did go down to dinner (I was starving. Hadn't had lunch, remember?) and the Stake YW President came up and whispered in my ear that I had in fact acted completely appropriately, and that this other Counsellor had been spoken to because he was totally out of line. That made me feel a lot better. Lifted the weight of second guessing off my shoulders. Sarah confessed to me later that she'd told the leaders what had happened. Apparently it was not the first offense committed by this particular individual, but it gave them enough to be able to say, 'Look, you're out of line. Shape up.' Sarah was worried that I'd be upset with her for passing the event along. I wasn't. In fact, I was rather touched that she would care enough to risk upsetting me.

Anyway, that unpleasant event aside, the day was a success. I still had some trouble with that one girl. She messed about during the post-dinner preparation hour. They were supposed to get ready for the dance during that time, but she and her friends from home messed about. We were supposed to all go down as a Tribe together. Partly that was for security (so no one was off doing naughty things) but also partly for safety (so no one got hurt etc . . .) So here I was with 8 girls ready to go, and 1 who hadn't even started. What was I supposed to do? And this 1 girl was saying she'd been 'ill' during the preparation time. Ha ha. How stupid do I look? (Don't answer that!) I wish now I'd either made her come as she was, or maybe better yet sent her to the medic, since she'd been 'ill'. But I wasn't that fast on my feet. I blame the sleep deprived neurons for misfiring. I got one of the other Counsellors who had several girls not ready to bring mine with hers. Don't know if it was the best solution, but it was all I could come up with at the time. The dance plus all the sports during the day must have worn the girls out, though, because once we got back to the dorm, and I got them gathered for PJS (which at first they resisted quite a lot, then actually really got into) and then sent them off to get ready for bed, they actually climbed in bed reasonably quickly. Sarah and I sat out in the corridor on chairs for an hour, or so, till the giggling calmed down (not died away, just calmed to the point we felt it unlikely they'd try going off the floor) and were in bed by around 12.30! And they didn't get up at 5.30 the next morning, either! In fact, at a quarter to 7 we had to go down the corridor yelling, '15 minutes to devotional!' to get them out of bed.

Devotional went much smoother, as well. No arguments or accusations (maybe because I brought chocolate to this one) and we got through the topic great. It was on Testimony, because of the Testimony meeting that evening. Many times in a Testimony meeting you get 'Thankamonies' or 'Shareamonies' or 'Travelogs'. So the leaders had asked us to discuss what a Testimony should consist of: witnesses of Christ and increases of faith through various spiritual experiences. It was ok to thank people for providing those experiences, but the focus should be on how your faith grew, and what your faith in Christ is. I managed to (unplanned, mind) come up with exactly the right number of scriptures for each girl to have one, all of which talk about testifying of Christ. The Scriptures, the Holy Ghost, the Prophets . . . everything/one. I ended it with Doctrine and Covenants 76:22 'And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!' I really love that scripture :)

After Devotional/breakfast/Counsellor meeting, we went back out for another round of sports (yep, still in charge of Frisbee) followed by more classes. I got back to work on my Exams. After 2 classes we headed off to lunch, and then returned to class. I even managed to get all but 4 of my 21 Exams marked! I was so proud of myself. I could have gotten them all done, but I was getting to the point where my brain was shutting down, and I was taking micro sleeps. I decided to wait and mark the last of them after I'd had some proper rest. After the final 2 classes we got everyone together to take a couple group photos, then we were turned loose. We had 2 hours to have some free time, clean the dorms, pack our bags and get changed for the Testimony meeting. Then we headed down to dinner (saw some boys trying to jump the queue getting told to get to the back of the line! :) And that was with nothing having been said to the Counsellors about what had happened the prior day! So, I'm not that strict! I really did do the right thing in sending the boys back!!) which was followed by an award ceremony. We'd been told to look out for various things that deserved awards, and come up with titles for them. During Frisbee, one of the members of my Tribe took a Frisbee to the head. It sliced open his skin, just above his right eye. Poor thing! Even worse, the boy who threw the Frisbee felt totally responsible, which was not true. It was an accident. So Sam and the other Tribe's Counsellor ran Sam (different Sam) to the Doc. I put Sam's name in for an award: Most Blood Shed in the Line of Duty. He got it :) One of the other kids won 'Snake Hips' for his dancing abilities. Camilla (one of my Colchester YW) won the 'Hairdresser Award' for doing all the girls hair on her floor before the dance. Someone else won the 'Officer and a Gentleman' award for how polite and kind he'd been all weekend. Another girl won the 'Fount of All Knowledge' for her participation in the classes. Things like that. Some fun, some spiritual.

After the awards we headed down to the main hall for the Testimony meeting. We sang the song we'd practiced in the music class. It's the EFY Anthem; As Sisters in Zion combined with Armies of Helaman. We sang it in parts, no music. It was amazing. The Area Authority for the Europe West Area (of which Britain is part) even requested that we change the closing hymn and sing it again! Then the kids got the oportunity to get up and share their Testimonies. It was fabulous. They got up and gave such strong Testimonies. I was so proud of them. Especially proud of the 3 girls from my Tribe who got up. They gave real Testimonies, not Thankamonies or Sharamonies. It was really wonderful. I was like, 'Yes! They actually listened.' You never know at 7 in the morning, when they're looking at you with glazed expressions and glassy eyes, if they can see you much less hear you! It was great. Really quite difficult not to get up and Testify myself! The girl that had given me such a lot of trouble was one of the ones who got up to Testify. I was really impressed with what she said. And afterwards she came up and gave me a big hug and apologised for her attitude all weekend. She even said she'd really had fun. I was shocked. I told her that as long as she'd had a good time and had learnt things, nothing else mattered. I was so pleased that she'd realised her attitude had been poor. Not because I wanted her to apolgise (though that was really nice) but rather because she missed out on so much of the fun because she refused to participate.

Then we went home. It was funny, because both Sarah and I had said on Friday that we didn't know if we'd last the day, and didn't know how anyone could do this for a week, much less the crazy people who do it all summer long working at all the EFYs in the States! But by Saturday we had actually adjusted, and so had the youth, and we decided that we were kind of disappointed not to be staying another day or two. But I learned a lot this weekend. Partly about how to handle youth en mass. Partly about motivation. Partly about what not to do/say when someone gives offense. I also learned about self-defense and music and other practical stuff. I also made several good friends and extended my general network into 2 other Stakes. I was so sorry that my friend Sara (turned out that the girl who'd been ill is a good friend of mine) missed out, but it was a huge blessing for me. I'm so pleased that I got to go.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Whew! What an adventure. I'm exhausted just reading about it!

I think I would have reacted the same way in the situation with the counselor and the cutting in line (er uh... "jumping the queue" as you Brits say...). Not fun. But what a relief to be validated!

Kudos to you for stepping up to the plate at the last minute. That was brave. Or crazy. Or both. :) It certainly qualifies as seizing the day (and maybe even throttling it a little bit...)