Adventures in Mentoring
My mentee, a slim, quiet 10-year-old Latina, lives in a trailer with a big, boisterous family. An awful lot of TV watching goes on there - in fact, TV watching is the default activity - and this summer I wanted to keep her reading, so I take her to the used bookstore from time to time and say, "you pick it, and if you promise to read it, I'll buy it for you."
I'm not so keen about some of her choices. I admit groaned a bit when she showed up with "The Princess Diaries (Volume II)." She had seen the movie so she was excited about the book. On an airplane I, too, saw part of the movie, so I knew it was about a klutzy girl who turns out to be royalty and gets princess lessons from her grandmother, Julie Andrews.
Yes, idiotic, obvious, insipid G-rated Disney drek. (Andrews must have gagged before exiting her trailer each morning.) But harmless, right? If my mentee (I will call her Menticia from now on) would read it, then fine.
So she started reading it to me in the car. Uh-oh, blindsided by modernity. First paragraph ends with the word "premenstrual" and the first page ends with "My mom is having my Algebra teacher's baby."
Second and third pages: "Now my mother has to get pregnant out of wedlock. ... Why weren't she and Mr. Gianini using birth control? ... Whatever happened to her diaphragm? I know she has one ... and what about condoms? Do people my mother's age think they are immune to sexually transmitted diseases? They are obviously not immune to pregnancy, so what gives?"
I silently reviewed my choices.
- Say: "Menticia, you are too young for this book."
- Say: "let's just skip over the words you don't know."
- Suck it up and provide some explanations.
So Menticia's watching me out of the corner of her eye, curious and amused and maybe thinking she's in front of the Door of the Great Mysteries and - it's not locked.
I'm thinking: these days, ten year old girls sometimes start mentruating. There's an awful lot of this stuff on TV. And girls do scare each each with other ridiculous stories, like one I heard not too long ago: "You get pregnant when a guy pees on your belly button."
So I open door #3. And start laying out mild, sketchy outlines of the Great Mysteries. And say: "if you want to know more, just ask." I know if she's not ready she won't ask.
Next problem: what to do with this hot potato of a book? If she takes it home, hmm, even though it would be safe from her parents, who don't read English, her sister could bust her. So: "let's keep this book at my house and we'll read it together."
Since then Mia, the dorky princess, has obsessed that her "lack of breast size lends disturbing androgyny" and has also revealed that her father had testicular cancer (yikes, but then, there's Lance Armstrong) and it's because he's now sterile that she is going to be the next queen of Genovia.
Jeez, was all this in the movie? (I saw it without the headphones.)
What would YOU have done if you found yourself in my situation?
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