I attended my first Alateen meeting last night.
When I walked in, my first thought was "Breakfast Club." There were a couple of kids with gloves with the fingertips cut off. Three of them wore winter hats, one with ear flaps.
Should I mention the temps hit 100 yesterday?
I tried not to stare at one girl, whose side part seemed to originate at about her ear. I kept looking to see how she kept her hair from cascading down her face.
One of the older boys brought his new iPad. Another showed the other Alateen sponsor pictures of his new dog on his cellphone.
After my certification training and my conversation with my sponsor, I had certain expectations. (I cringe to have to write this, but it's true.)
I was surprised to find kids ranging to 8 to 18. There are differing thoughts on this. At the certification training, the Alateen coordinator said that groups are often age segregated, as the things the older kids want to talk about is not always appropriate for the younger ones. She also said the older kids use a fair amount of profanity.
"Don't expect them to behave like adults in an Al-Anon meeting," she said. "They will sit on each other's laps. They will be texting while other people are talking. This will bother no one but you. Don't think they are not also listening."
The Alateen sponsor last night told me that this group used to start the meeting together, then break up into two, age-segregated groups, but they haven't had enough certified sponsors to do this for some time.
But the kids were all respectful. One boy started to say a swear, but caught himself. They all seemed to like and care about each other, and to want to be there. They had voted not to allow texting during the meeting, and the chairperson (an Alateen) enforced the rule.
At the appropriate time, the other Alateen sponsor introduced me and asked me to say a little about myself. I said that I was recently certified as an Alateen sponsor. (At this point, the boy next to me offered me his fist in congratulations, which I bumped with my own.) I said I had grown up in an alcoholic home, that I had been in the program for a couple of years, that my daughter was the reason I was in Al-Anon, that I was happy to be there.
The other sponsor explained that they would get to vote me in.
"You don't have to take what we give you," she said.
"I vote for her," the boy next to me said.
"Well, let's wait until we know she's interested," replied the other Alateen sponsor.
"Are you interested?" a boy sitting across the table wanted to know. His gaze felt intense. The room got quiet.
"Yes," I said. "As a matter of fact I am."
"Okay, then," the boy said, slapping the table. "I vote yes."
Then hands went up around the room and there was a little cheer and they boy next to me said, "There, now you're in. You can't back out of it."
The kids run their own meetings, and the chairperson shared on the topics of laziness and trust. They passed by getting up and hugging the person they were passing to.
There was a lot of giggling and side whispering which, as the Alateen coordinator had said, seemed to bother no one but me. The kids all shared, but one, who asked the other Alateen sponsor if she was allowed to pass. They seemed to talk easily and honestly.
Laziness was the chief topic. They confessed to not doing their homework and barely passing classes as a result, cleaning their rooms by stuffing everything in the closet. One girl said it took her, "seriously" all day to clean her hamster's cage, while it took her mom just an hour. The older kids talked about putting off filing financial aid paperwork, looking into colleges, looking for jobs.
As for trust, more than one kid said, "I trust you guys."
The girl with the side part shared that she had invited a friend to the meeting, whose parents were alcoholics. "It's really fun and awesome," she told her friend. But her friend didn't want to go because "then everybody would know. It was sad."
After all the kids had shared, the other Alateen sponsor shared. Then she passed to me.
She did this with by offering me her fist. I hit her fist with mine, and then we both opened our hands flat, as the kids had taught us to do. We both laughed as we did it.
While I talked, kids looked at the table or their hands or fidgeted with the tassels on their hat. They sneaked sideways glances at me. But they got quiet. I could almost hear the Alateen coordinator say, "Don't think they're not listening."
Then we all shared "happys and crappys," of each. Me included. My happy was that I had been voted in, and they all cheered.