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A Space of Her Own

Since October, I've been paired up with a 6th grade girl through a city-wide community service program called SOHO - A Space of Her Own. We've been meeting up on Wednesdays to eat dinner, hang out, and work on art projects. Those projects form the design base of the room renovation I'll be doing for her (Trading Spaces-style) in just nine days. And I'm crazy nervous.

I'm nervous because I still have a lot of things to get, I'm not sure it will all work out according to plan, and I desperately want to not have to make too many trips back to my house or out to the store for supplies. I'm sure the end result will be lovely. RJ assures me that she will be ecstatic. And I can't convince myself that this girl - so different from the sweet, angelic child I met 9 months ago - will like it.

It's only been a school year, and yet I can see the changes. She's always tired now. More reserved than ever. Desperately trying to be cool. And I find myself losing patience, wondering how long this transformation will take, and when I can have my mentee back.

Then she appears. A couple shining hours of fun and frolic and games and smiles. Then she disappears. Stars and moons are too childish. Peace signs and bright colors, and shorts with tights on underneath are what's happening, but let's not talk about it.

We have so many things in common, and in terms of style, she points to all the things that both teenage (and admittedly, adult) me love. Yet, I'm terrified that who I think she is is in no way similar to who she is to herself (or, for that matter, who she was last week). She's fighting so hard to be herself and yet fit in. To be accepted by fickle peers in an environment that is new and full of words and expressions that just don't make sense yet, but still stay true to her friends back in Mexico.

I'm sure this is an "every teenager" thing.

For all the time I spend comparing her to the other girls in the program, I should probably spend an equal amount thinking about how she is different. Her unique adultness at such a young age. Her amazing intellect and perseverance of goals. I struggle because she won't talk to me, or even at me, like the other girls do with their mentors. But, at the same time, don't I revel in her ability to sit and plan out a project before getting started so we don't have to re-create a million times? At how her wishes have to do with knocking down international borders instead of getting computers hand-delivered by her favorite rockstar?

She is so amazingly perfect. Truly beautiful and smart, strong and thoughtful. I ache for a connection that will truly bond us; try to find that "thing" that will help her see that all I want is to be her friend so I can play witness to what I'm certain will be an extraordinary life.

But, maybe I act like too much of an adult for that? Am I not hip or cool enough? Would someone more like what she wants to be be a better mentor for her? Sometimes I even worry that she sees me the way my peers did when I was in the 6th grade. I can't help but remember how uncool I was; how I eventually pretended that I didn't care what other people thought of me, while (probably not so) secretly did everything I could to make an impression. Wait. I'm still doing that. With her.

I'm sure I just need to relax. Take my time. Be myself. The self it took me much longer than nine months from 11 to 12 to find. Heck, I don't think I'm even done finding me yet, and I'm more than twice as old. Be patient. Be present. Wait for her to get there in her own time.

Her time. This is about her, after all. And all I can do is turn her bedroom into a space that is assuredly her own. Refined, defined, hip, and carefree; as I see her wanting to be right now. Leaving space for her room to grow with her - be that a complete change, or minor revisions over time. A space of her own.

I hope I get to visit.