The week before leaving for Greece, we gather for some writing prep. The students write and when they finish I ask them to share. One student stands up and reads some beautiful thoughts, but he comes to a sentence I don't understand. He begins "My jam is_____" but I don't hear the rest because my mind sticks on the unfamiliar use of the word "jam."
When the student finishes, I ask, "What does the word jam mean?"
The students all grin when I don't understand their secret society language. It takes a few humorous times for me to get what jam means. I smile at their creativity, their mutable language, and how they all claim membership in a club defined by language and which I am not a part.
When we arrive in Greece, I begin the journey at the back of the bus. Students are still insecure with relationships they have yet to develop, and a student asks me to sit by her. After a friendship develops with another girl her age, I move next to a young man I do not know very well; but he takes me into his confidence. "Mrs. Martinez, I need your advice. I like this girl, but I don't know whether I should pursue anything on this trip or if I should wait until we get home. What do you think?"
I dig deep. I want to say the right thing. I ask a few questions.
He says, "A few people came up to me and told me their bus had shipped us together."
Completely puzzled I ask, "What does shipped mean?"
He gives me that incredulous look that only teenagers are capable of when talking to a clueless adult.
"You know, shipped?"
I'm still staring blankly. "Oh you don't really know, do you," he says, and proceeds to explain that "It's like when our ships come in together. It's when people predict two people will be together."
"Clever," I respond. "That's the second word you've all had to teach me."
"Does that bother you?"
His question takes me by surprise, and I have to think about where I'm at in life. "No it doesn't bother me. I know who I am and I like where I'm at. I'm not even supposed to be familiar with the secret language of teenagers. I love that language is elastic and playful."
But I do know how to ruin their secret language. Is all I need to do is start using "My jam," or "Lit!" or "Savage," or "Get wrecked!" and it will disappear faster than a rabbit with a gun shooting at his hind legs.
As the days pass, as new friendships solidify, another difference emerges: the back of the bus is now a student only zone. I've been relegated to the front of the bus where I've always belonged--with the people who speak my language.