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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Freshman Year

Coming out of the 8th grade, I assumed freshman year would be no different than any other.

I happily ignored all the shouts of "Highschool will be the BEST four years of your LIFE." I also tuned out the long list of terrors everyone likes to list directly after. You know, things like failing grades. Bad haircuts. Stupid crushes. Ridiculous amounts of insecurity, awkwardness, stress, and anxiety.

I mean, seriously. This was me. I was smart, organized, and motivated. I'd already completed three whole high school level courses. What could freshman year possibly throw at me that I couldn't handle? I mean, it's not like I was awkward or anything. Or had a bad haircut. Ahem.

(Also, that choker? I wore it all. the. time. I wore it so much, that a guy who was in my lit class freshman year came through my line at work a couple of months ago, and after we figured out how we new each other, he said, "choker necklace, right?" Ugggh. You know it's bad when....).

Going in, I had (as usual) a clear vision of what a successful year would look like. And like usual, freshman year was not remotely similar to that.

We were out straight every single day of the week. With so much to do, my Mum, brother, and I took on the viewpoint of Conquering the World. Dramatic, I know, but that's what it really felt like. In our heads, the world was out to get us and squish us under too much to do. But we would show them! Together, we fought against magnificent odds to stay sane, stay happy, and somehow still get school done.

Jokes made in Latin while doing translation during Breakfast? Favorite part of my morning!

Planning future 4-H meetings in the car? I'll take notes!
A fashion show/awards ceremony/presentation day at the fair: Me, Deanna, Emily, Bailey, Lynn.
The three of us spent an awful lot of time together that year, between classes AJ and I were taking together and drive-time. And we did really well with staying on top of things, honestly, despite how busy we were. But there was one evil that got the best of us every time. Even though we had to face it weekly, we never learned. Eventually, we gave up fighting, and simply prayed for mercy and freedom. It's name? Co-op.

For those of you who don't know, co-ops are homeschool groups that meet together once a week to share teaching responsibilities. One mom might teach a math class to all the kids in a certain grade level, say, while someone else's mom (or dad) teaches language or science. There's usually fun things, too, like field trips, games, and special days, and work as a great way to build a community of homeschoolers. For the record, I'm not bashing co-ops. They work for a lot of people. This one, however, did not work for us. We hated it with a passion I have not felt since. Thursday became synonymous with Black Day of Death.

We hated having to hang out in the cold, damp, church basement all day. We hated the fact that the only chairs were metal, and loud, and freezing to sit on. We hated that we had to pack lunch (my family has a thing against packed lunches). We hated having to sit through a morning 'worship' that was so Biblically inaccurate we would rant about it for the next week. We hated the fact that no one said hello (I'm not even being dramatic here. They completely ignored us), and that not a single family noticed when we skipped one day. We hated the classes that were more busy-work than helpful.

Squinting in the sun at National 4-H Conference!
Again! Not bashing co-ops in general. But honestly, I have never felt more alone, or misunderstood, or unwanted than I did every Thursday freshman year. We'd get home and be so mentally exhausted, that I would plop myself on the couch and binge on Netflix for an obscene amount of time. That year, I watched through every Dick Van Dyke Show, Say Yes To The Dress, and Toddlers and Tiaras (see how my taste went down hill?) available to me. I even got desperate and started watching Bridezillas.

Lest you think I was an unwanted, Netflix-watching slug all year, I'd like to point out that I was a completely different person when I was around 4-H. The year before, the county had decided to cut funding for our beloved 4-H program, effectively shutting it down. I mean, with no money, how could it continue? We needed supplies, and staff, and events, and paperwork....

Luckily, though, most 4-H people aren't pushed aside that easily. While we lost a lot of members who started participating in other counties for the convenience factor, a core group quickly emerged that stayed dedicated to our county and worked hard to keep 4-H available. Led by an amazing retired Extension Educator, Lynn, who worked as a full-time volunteer, we managed to pull off a complete year with zero funding and zero staff.

While this was going on, Deanna and I were in the prime of our 4-H lives. Old enough to qualify for everything, but just young enough to not be distracted by non-4-H things, we worked our butts of for the county. Multiple times a week that year, we headed out with Lynn to talk to commissioners, reporters, anyone that would listen. We developed different campaigns to spread the word, and created award-winning displays. We served on the county council. We even beat our fear of phones and cold-called people to talk 4-H.
Sewing project from freshman year; probably one of my favorites.
While this was happening, we didn't loose focus on our personal 4-H projects. And because we were the county-almost-gone-under, our projects held even more special meaning. We worked hard to stand out at State level events, because to be recognized would only help prove how worthy 4-H was of county funding. Honestly, it was a beautiful thing. Kids from other counties who heard about our problems would come up to us and say how sorry they were. That they couldn't imagine their lives without 4-H, and that they were so proud that we were working so hard to get it back. As a county, or, at least, Deanna and I, we really believed in our projects. Okay, so maybe we didn't believe that our Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes would get the funding back. But doing our absolute best to represent 4-H well would, and we had passion behind our every move.

This is easily my happiest story of Freshman year. While it was not resolved right away, we did make great progress that year. And as a county, we grew. For the National trips, two out out of five spots for National 4-H Congress were filled by our county 4-Hers that year, and two out of the three spots for National 4-H Conference. Those two spots belonged to Deanna and I, and we had a blast.

The conference was held in DC in March 2012, and while considered a working conference, we squeezed in plenty of fun. We spent 6-8 hours each day working in round-table groups, preparing presentations that we would give to different government bodies. The rest of the time, we were usually in leadership workshops. But meals and nights were free for us, and we used our time well. Over the five days, we learned too many Celtic Women songs, scared ourselves so badly with ghost stories that we ended up dead bolting the door, and discovered that it takes me 4 hours to eat a slice of pizza. We stayed up till 3 in the morning, then stumbled out of bed at 6 to do it all again.
Chandler and I
It was on this trip that I met my Kentucky friend, Chandler. We were in the same roundtable group, and the three of us started hanging out after. One night, we were talking about different stereotypes about where we lived, and Deanna and I asked him if he knew what boiled dinner was. He didn't, and was thoroughly confused when we explained that it was boiled meat, and veggies, but not really soup, because you just eat each thing separately on a plate. We laughed, and then, in complete seriousness, he asked, "have you guys had fried chicken before?". Yes, yes we have, Chandler.

After our mums picked us up at the airport, we requested a stop at Wendy's before heading home. It was the perfect way to procrastinate parting: because why should Deanna and I ever be forced apart, when we were so good at taking care of each other?

Because apparently 4-H was not fulfilling enough for me, that same year my brother and I were in a musical, State Fair. I had so, so much fun dressing up and putting on a show with lots of great people. I loved the singing and loved the dancing. The only part I didn't like was, you know, the actual play part. I felt so terribly self-conscious up on stage, being expected to act. I had no idea what to do. So, I pretty much was the noticeably uncomfortable person always drifting to the back. Not that you can tell from the photos, or anything.

This one's from my big scene. You can tell by how absolutely thrilled I look. I chose to channel that Seinfeld episode, the one where the woman never moves her arms. It really allowed me to give my character a quirky, individual personality. I know, I know, genius.

Regardless of how I felt on stage, though, I really moped when State Fair was over. A lot like with 4-H, I got really energized simply by working to put something together with other people. I really, really love working with that kind of stuff. I think souls do more bonding during work than any other time, really. And to suddenly not have those crazy kids in my life three times a week? It left a big whole.

Okay, I've made it this far and not mentioned skating once. Crazy, right? Well, it's because my skating was in a really weird place that year. It was about this time that I decided I wanted to pursue theater on ice. At the time, that literally meant Disney on Ice to me. But With all the crazy busyness of other time took a back burner. And I felt terribly guilty about it. In many ways, freshman year was the year that I had to mentally re-commit to pursuing skating with all of myself. I left the year with a firmer knowledge that skating was what I truly wanted, and a resolution to not allow it to be shirked so easily.

Freshman year was so many firsts. If I could describe it in one phrase, it would be 'doing things before you're ready'. I was so busy, flying from one thought and subject and activity to the next, that I had no time to over-analyze. The only option was to sit down and do the work, and attempt to put a smile on your face through the process. Looking back I think I was crazy to undertake so much, and I've actively tried to take on less each year since. But, I really wouldn't trade that year for anything. If I had had time to think, I probably never would have accomplished as much as I did. Within the space of that year, I underwent so much growth. I left as a different person. And I'm the better for it.

A ridiculous movie made with the cousins.

This post is already a novel, and there's so much more I want to say. I'll attempt to sum it up, anyways.

My Takeaways From Freshman Year:

+Do things before you are ready. Don't stop to overthink.

+You will form the strongest friendships when you are working passionately towards a common goal. Something special happens when people come together to create, make, and do. Never waste an opportunity to pursue that.

+Family is not limited by blood. Freshman year resulted in relationships that, really, are more family to me than some blood relatives. Deanna and Lynn, especially, come to mind. I am so blessed to have people like that in my life.

+Speaking of family, work with your parents as a team. Because if there's one 'grown up thing' I've finally learned, it's that parents have problems, too. Who knew?!

+While you shouldn't overthink, do take time to evaluate. At the end of the year, I looked back and realized what I liked and didn't like. That led me to a slightly more focused Sophomore year, a focused Junior year, and a super-focused Senior year. Listen to yourself, and don't be afraid to pursue a passion, even if it means narrowing interests.

+Finally: always trust yourself. Know your worth. You're more capable than you think. While I was accomplishing big things freshman year, I still felt small and lost, and struggle with a lot of insecurities. Doubting yourself comes naturally, unfortunately. If there's one thing I would tell my freshman self, it would be to breath and realize that I had something important to contribute, and that I could do what needed to be done. Be willing to bet on yourself. Simple as that.

What are your memories of freshman year? 
What takeaways do you want to pass on to others?

Happy weekend! xoxo

This is the first in a  series summing up my four years of high school. Stay tuned!

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