Jr High Revisted… I Dare You!

I don’t know when it started… BUT SOMEWHERE in my life experiences; it became VERY VERY important to me to never let a challenge pass me by. To never back down when presented with an ultimatum, real or imagined. If my mind sensed the slightest inclination of the speaker to say something that I COULD NOT DO (either because I was too young, too old, too weak, too short, a woman, not experienced, etc), it was just as potent as those DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU threats you see in The Christmas Story. Mind you, no one actually said to me in just that way, or probably even meant it, but it is what my inner being HEARD. And when THAT happens, it is like a switch flips in me that begins the adrenaline pumping, vein pounding, attitude shifting determination that throws all other thoughts into minor insignificance.

There were moments while teaching Jr. High, when my resolve was so strong internally when it came to discipline and consequences with my students I felt like an impenetrable fortress. I had my days of caving in like any GOOD teacher would, but I also remember those days of standing with my arms mentally crossed displaying out-and-out defiance refusing to budge from the prescribed consequence for the next rule breaker.

I had such a moment at work the other day that reminded me of my teaching days. A co-worker was attempting to distract me because we did not agree on how I was working on a project. But they made the fatal mistake of saying they could “out annoy” me. It was in that moment I thought of one of my favorite interview answers (usually asked in reference to ability to handle difficult learners or my patience level): “I taught Jr. High, there isn’t much I can’t work through.” And there it was, the attitude of defiance. The dare beneath the surface… So I embraced it as such and tested myself. Could I genuinely out last this person, could I persevere through this juvenile taunting and annoying? And what do you know 2.5hrs later I DID!!! Now don’t get me wrong, this silly two-hour game tested my skills (and my patience) at getting work done despite being distracted, hurt, annoyed, frustrated, bewildered, bothered, etc, etc. But I was determined to not give in, I was determined to not let it stop me from what I was doing.

And just like that, I found something I thought I had lost. I rediscovered a part of me that I have been desperately missing. Although for miraculous reasons, did not realize was gone.  It is a part of me that has always been there, but for some life rationalizing reason, I locked it away hidden. But here it was, like brand new piece of jewelry I forgot I had.  And now that I have found it, it is not leaving my neck for any reason what so ever.  It’s mine and its shiny and I am going to keep it!!!

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My Teacher Made ME Dinner

In the same weeks that I cooked the Chicken Enchiladas, one of the students brought a friend home from school to hang out, play video games, and eat dinner. He had been a new student this year, and lets just say the transition was a ROUGH ONE. But despite his rebellion and fight and arguing with the system, I still saw hope in him. I knew he had a good heart in him and it was just a matter of continuing to work with him until he warmed up to life in a place where people cared. In many ways, he reminded me of my brother and of many guys I had known over time. The tough rough exterior with the I have no feelings attitude and I will do whatever I want whenever I want. But there was something in me that made him stand out to me and I would help him if he needed it. So there were days he was riding his bike to school in the rain, so one day I offered to give him a ride instead. It was hard for him to accept at first, but then his need to NOT be soaking wet all day at school seemed to over take his unwillingness to accept my help.

We had our challenging moments in the classroom. We disagreed about what he could or couldn’t do during teaching time, and he completely rebelled against any limits we had on secular music and swearing. He thought he was sneaky, but for some reason I was the only teacher who ever seemed to catch him doing ANYTHING inappropriate. Guess with some students you really truly can read their minds. It was a challenge but it was the good kind. He tested my patience but I never reached the end of my rope. I knew I had a Christ-like love for this student maybe a little bit deeper than the others, simply because he always seemed to be left behind. There were times he wasn’t picked up from school, there were times he didn’t seem to know what to do or where to go. It was almost like so much at home was in chaos or confusion most of the time.

Then a few months later there he was at Nick’s house, his buddy, just kickin’ it like he had done with so many other of his friends over the years. He was his typical distant self with me always keeping the tough guy wall between him and me. Making sure to not get too close and not in any way reveal any sort of weakness. When dinner was served, we all prayed the typical Thank you for the food, bless you and you, may God be with us in the times to come, etc, etc. Then we all lifted our heads and started eating. Passing the dish left and right, napkins reached for and drinks poured, the usual chaos that accompanied dinner with 2 teenagers. But there he sat, just staring at his food. At first glance I thought I had made something he didn’t like. I thought that he was going to rebel in silent defiance to eat what I had prepared; in an almost you can’t get to me through my stomach woman.

So I ventured a dive into the private waters and asked, “Jeff, what’s up?” And there was silence for just a moment. And he looked at his dinner as if it were a peace-offering given from one native tribe to another and said, “My teacher made me dinner.” And in words that cannot be described on a printed page, his expression of shock, awe, and complete disbelief enveloped this one statement. He was so perplexed by the idea that one of his EDUCATIONAL MASTERS (the one who lords over him during the day) had just cooked him his dinner that he had to take pause. It was as if he wasn’t sure how to feel about this situation. He was confused because this was not something that TEACHERS did for students, and obviously had never been done for him.

There was nothing more to say so we continued with our dinner and the boys continued to do what Jr high boys do until I drove Jeff home. In the weeks that followed something was different in the classroom. I don’t know if he made a conscious change or if his behavior really altered from the previous actions; but there was a change. There was a new connection between him and I and a new respect was formed in our teacher and student relationship. To this day, chicken enchiladas reminds me of the boy who sat in awe at the teacher that made him dinner. And me completely oblivious of the impact a few rides in the rain and a home cooked meal could have on the heart of a student. I did it because it was the right thing to do. At least, it’s what I would have done. 😀

Chicken Enchiladas

In my vast pile of half-started blog posts I have been trying to search for good topics to inspire my writing motivation. Then, I was reminded of something a friend told me months ago, “You have so many stories, you should write a book of your stories.” It was in that moment, I first considered this silly blog thing idea that got me writing; thinking it could morph into a book some how, some way.  But as I was sitting under my tarp camping in the rain last week trying to decide what to write, I was remembering a fun story from my teaching days. And it all started with Chicken Enchiladas…

I wish mine looked this pretty.

Although I am not the biggest fan of Mexican food, I have developed a legendary Chicken Enchiladas recipe. As I was planning and plotting my next great cooking adventure I thought I could do Chicken Enchiladas because I have heard the ones I make are fabulous. The last time I made them it was for a pastor appreciation month where I got one day to show my appreciation. So I decided to make a meal and of course I couldn’t JUST make the enchiladas, but added the chips and salsa as well as a green salad to go with. The man was full of compliments and praise about HOW incredibly good the enchiladas were and how it took them several days to eat them ALL. There is just something about that action that makes me feel completely happy and satisfied.

Cooking is something I enjoy and it is one of the things I love to give. I am not as good as a certain gourmet friend of mine. And I do not claim to be a master chef or AMAZING baker, but when it comes to those comfort foods that rock the potluck I usually leave my audience impressed. I have even come to master a delightful chocolate chip recipe that I make and donate at any moments notice. Not to mention the bestest CHOCOLATEY brownies EVER, but alas that was a recipe I found off the internet. But this story is about the chicken enchiladas, because I cannot think about the dish without remembering the first time I attempted it.

I was having one of those summers where I was “house-sitting” with the Jr High and High School children while their parents went to Brazil for a couple weeks. I was also their teacher at the time (private school) and so it just worked out to have me stay in their place and manage the house while they were away. I was in my early 20’s and this seemed like such the perfect natural thing at the time. So I don’t know if it was my idea or the kid’s idea for enchiladas; but there I was attempting to follow a recipe and prepare this dish I had never done before. I also think I was attempting to make them from ingredients I had from the house. But some where in the process I managed to neglect noticing this ITEEEY BITEEEY HOT label on the side of the enchilada sauce until it was too late. And I was under some silly impression that a HEALTHY dose of Sour Cream would counter act the effects. Silly SILLY GIRL!!

But complete them I did and they smelled DELIGHTFUL, and for the first second or two of each bite they TASTED delightful. We had chips and MORE sour cream but NOTHING and I mean NOTHING would lighten the BURNING FIRE that had posed as an innocent enchilada sauce. And I remember the scene sitting around the table watching each of us eat these enchiladas: One bite enchilada, chew, chew, chew, One HUGE drink of water. But that just didn’t work, so the older sister, went to the fridge and grabbed the GALLON of milk and we each had the TALLEST glass you could possibly imagine. It amazed me that we were ALL determined to finish these enchiladas, I guess that means they were good? Because some how we continued to eat with each painful bite until we could not stomach another bite. There were plenty left over and I do believe I had to take them to school to SHARE them because we couldn’t endure another night of the FLAMING HOT CHICKEN ENCHILADAS!!!

To this day I check my labels ALL too closely when it comes to ALL Mexican sauces: Enchilada, Taco, Seasonings, Salsa, etc. It doesn’t matter what I am planning because I never again want to be trapped in a situation where all I can do is eat the flame because buried in there the flavor is just SO GOOOOOD I can’t waste it.