Young Love, Real Love

16 Oct

This past weekend I had the joyous pleasure of spending some time with a few of my former sixth grade girls who are now in ninth grade. They had invited me to go see The Maze Runner with them, since that is a book that we read together when I had them as students. To say I was flattered when they invited me is a gross understatement. When people talk about teaching being a rewarding profession, this is what they’re talking about.

We were the only people in our theater, which was fantastic. It allowed us them to cry out things like, “All four walls are supposed to be open!” and “Why does Theresa look like Bella Swan?” without fear of being kicked out. After the movie we went to Starbucks because, well, duh. After our discussion of the book and the movie and why the books are always better unless they’re Lord of the Rings, our discussion strayed to other topics. My girls told me about their classes and how middle schoolers should never, ever complain about the amount of homework they get because high school is so much worse. They told me about their families and their friends and their cell phones or lack thereof. But then the conversation took an unexpected turn. It went something like this:

Student: “Well Ms. Nelson, we had something we wanted to ask you.”

Me: “Ok?”

Student: “Well, ok. We’ve been trying to find our soul mates, so we wanted to ask you how you met your husband.”

My first reaction was to laugh at how stinking cute they were for asking me that. My second thought was the obvious one, that ninth grade is far too young to be worrying about things like soul mates. But then I really thought about it. Husband and I met each other when I was in tenth grade. Granted, we didn’t start dating until a year later, but still. I was only one year older when I met my husband than these girls are now. It was a really hard idea to wrap my mind around. They still seem so young in so many ways! Was I really that young myself when Husband and I met? Then I realized that whether I was or wasn’t, it didn’t matter.

It’s easy to dismiss relationships that start at a young age as puppy love. A fleeting feeling that isn’t “real,” and cannot possibly withstand the test of time. For many, that may be true. But for some relationships, like mine, it’s the real deal. The beauty of love, true love, is that it evolves with the people who carry it and mold it. The love Husband and I have for each other now is different from the love we had back when I was in high school. Our love is calmer now, less full of angst. It seems less urgent somehow, but no less vibrant. No less meaningful. No less real.

My first reaction was to laugh at my students and brush off their request for advice on finding one’s soul mate, but to do so would have belittled the lives they lead. In retrospect at age almost-thirty, the trials and tribulations of my fourteen-year-old self seem small and unimportant. But I remember clearly, that at the time they were everything. So I told them my story. Husband’s story. Our story. Even the embarrassing parts. Especially the embarrassing parts.

These particular girls hold a special place in my heart. They’re my girls from my first year of teaching and my first year of our middle school book club. If I’m being completely honest, I see parts of my sixth-grade self in each of them. Their proclivity for falling in love with fictional characters, their feelings of self-doubt, their yearning for fairy tale romance, kindred spirits and something more. I can relate to it all. The thing that got me through those painfully awkward years were my friends, my books, and my teachers. Teachers who took me seriously, related to me, and saw my life not as a fleeting moment in time, but as the only moment that mattered. If I can do that, be that, for these girls, then I will be able to consider myself a success.



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