Once a week, I have lunch with a spunky and sassy 7th grader. We’ve been doing this for two years now. Back then, she used to whoop me at Connect Four or Hangman in the library. Now, she loves fake nails and the subject of boys most always pops into our conversations. The school she’s at is bursting at the seams with toughness and she has grown to fit her environment. The cafeteria, with its chaotic symphony of curse words and reprimanding teachers, makes me dizzy. This has been my toughest year as her mentor. I honestly don’t know how we made it to the end of the school year some days.
A couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to end our mentoring session early. I 100% didn’t want to do this but her actions spoke loudly that day. I can see how much we both have shifted. Her, on the cusp of childhood ending and wandering into that space where we discover who we are as women. Me, wanting to let her know that absolutely anything she yearns for in this life is attainable. Both of us at a standstill in this space. I have come to adore all pieces of her because even in the moments of frustration, when the language is unbearable, I catch glimpses of her sweetness. I’ve learned she is not the sum of these actions but trying to stay afloat in the sea of changes she is constantly presented with has worn her out.
I didn’t want to walk away that day but I needed to. We had consistently approached the topic of respecting our time together and that day, all such discussions went out the window. I told her friend I needed to leave and explained why. I went to my car, with the tears flowing from the weight of my decision. Being a mentor (at least through this program) is a fine line some days. It is limited to contact only within the school and there are guidelines, understandably, for the safety of the students. I needed her to know how great she was but how do I convey that when everything else is trying to pull her down?
We create boundaries, not only out of need for ourselves, but to say we care. Drawing that line. Saying no more. They don’t seem like acts of love do they? They are when we show up again. When we know the lesson is needed. When we halt, take that person by the hand and say, “I want you to see all you are capable of. The brushstrokes you will one day leave behind on the masterpiece of life. But, it can’t be here. Not while you are unwilling to take care of yourself. We need to resolve that part first.” So, we build the fence and leave that opening. Healthy boundaries mean we recognize that person can come back when they’re ready. And you’ll be there waiting, ready to take those next steps.
I’m beginning my Masters’ program in the fall and will have to put off mentoring. I felt guilty about this at first but have finally been able to find some peace. I haven’t the slightest idea if she’ll remember me down the road. If the truth I spoke into her life will make a difference. She needs room to bloom though, that I can tell. I will keep hoping and praying she knows she is enough. That this big world can be pretty sucky (especially middle and high school) but it’s how many times you get back up that counts. I’d love for her to do great and wonderful things in this life. I also have to accept the fact that not everything blooms. Some struggle and pop out of the ground, suddenly, after years of nothing. Some might not at all and the ground will be tilled in order to begin again.
We can never discount the simple fact of showing up, each week, as a reminder that someone will be there. Though difficult and heart-wrenching it may be, boundaries create space for love. When there is struggle and strife, when we are challenged to meet that person in uncertainty and where we may not feel comfortable, it’s not the time to quit. Make the line in the sand. Let them know you’re there. And when they’re ready, they just might take your hand. Ready to erase the line and welcome in something new. That which they might not have recognized before is now so clear. The simple and delightful notion that they are loved.