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I Love Teaching Teenagers (I really do!)

Short story #3: The "Hoods in the Woods" Part 1

Perhaps the most beloved and requested stories by my students center around my first job, working with "the hoods in the woods." Not only is the name "the hoods in the woods" a classic to say, but most of my funny stories revolve around my adventures and mishaps in the most physically challenging job I have ever had.

I give my kids the short version of this, but you need to understand what I mean by "physically challenging." I worked the better part of 24/ 7 at a residential wilderness camp for emotionally disturbed kids, in Vermont. We lived year-round in semi-permanent tents, cutting our own wood, repairing our own houses, cleaning our own latrines. Part of the week, we made and cleaned up our own meals without hot water. And we walked-- a lot. It was really the center of what we did. Kids were misbehaving, we went for a walk. We wanted a shower, we walked a quarter of a mile to it. Our dining hall, for when they made us food, was another quarter of a mile from there. Too bad we didn't have "fit-bits" then. Can you say "I met my 10,000 steps" everyday?

Oh and did I mention I have a prosthetic left leg?

One time a fourteen year old called me a "bitch" repeatedly for the length of at least a quarter of a mile walk. I said nothing. One school of thought was to stop, get the group in a circle, and discuss the problem. I said nothing. Yeah, it was an experience where my kids discovered where the priority of food laid with me. We made it to the dining hall, and the subject never came up as I stuffed myself with comfort food and calories.

Let's face it, I was bat-ship (not a typo, I've been trained to not swear), crazy for taking this job. Sure, I was so young, had only been a below the knee amputee for 10 years at that point, had a working, dependable leg and felt I was ready to do anything. This is where someone needs to cue the "slightly maniacal laugh."

I worked with a group of girls first.

Did you know when girls fight, they go for the hair? Didn't know that for some reason. I was bullied by a girl in 4th grade for reading during recess. I didn't touch her hair, I just gave her the smack down with my book. Anyway, back to my story.

One morning, as I was trying to stay in the happy place that only coffee could put me at that hour, the girls were fighting and disruptive. Grabbing my plastic "coffee holder," I reluctantly left the dining hall to "circle up" outside, and discuss the issues the girls were having. The thing is, I am pointing out the mug was plastic later that day, I would marvel that when I unknowingly flung this "coffee holder" aside to be hands-free to breakup the developing fray, it had burst open showing a coffee "splatter" but staying completely in tact and whole.

Vermonters make hardy products.

I grabbed the first girl I could. Let's call her Molly after another fiery red head. As I had been trained, I threw my hands around Molly, in between the joints of her arms, and threw my body backwards for a "bear hug" restraint move. Unheeding where my "aspirations" were going to hit (get it asss pirations), I threw my back into a trailer hitch waiting innocently in the sidelines. So when I went "Bam" into the trailer, from the other side, "patooie" goes my leg flying in the other direction.

There is a place that some people go when they are angry beyond reason. I have struggled to "bring kids back" from that place and it is not easy. Molly was no exception, I knew this from past fights. Yet, this time was different, my prosthetic leg flying off-- IT WORKED!

"Chief, Chief" Molly said in her normal, reasonable voice. By the way, because we worked in the wilderness, the program used "Chief" as our titles. "Are you okay?"

Molly may have been a lot of things, but she was still, in her heart, a compassionate young woman. Only a kid like Molly would offer the following, "do you want me to get it for you?"

Oh don't worry, this is only the first of many "hoods in the woods" stories. Comic relief is me forte!

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