Growing up is hard to do

Watching a trail of teens flow through the auditorium we witnessed a snapshot of what growing up looks like during these years. While growing up is hard to do, it is also full of possibilities.

Growing up is hard to do” sang someone at sometime but Chantal was humming it to the tune of “Breaking up is hard to do” by Neil Sedaka. Breaking up and growing up, same thing really. Both challenging and often painful.
Recently we were back at Ikusasa Lethu, the St Mary’s Foundation talking to 200 pupils from Grade 8 to Grade 12, aged between 12 and 19. We used the auditorium, a large enough space to cater for the approximately 75 students of each year. The process of getting each grade into the auditorium, settling them and then encouraging them to engage with us was akin to watching the challenges of growing up playing out in front of us.

We look very different to our audience. Very white and middle aged - old in their eyes. We talk differently, we sound different. In addition, the auditorium was stuffy and warm. The perfect combination of heavy and still, that hung on eyelids and flopped heavy heads onto arms in silent acquiescence.


Fill up from the front

“Fill up from the front!” boomed Matthew as each group entered the auditorium. The front seats are anathema to most teenagers who shun them as if they carry a deadly disease. They scuttled up the stairs to seats further away and higher up. We wouldn’t let them, we insisted they fill from the front. With all doors open to get some air in the room, it was quite a challenge to fill the space with a voice loud enough to be heard, having everyone closer made a tiny difference.

“If I see a phone, I take it,” warned Matthew, “ And I keep it for two weeks.”

Gasps and groans of horror were accompanied by urgent scuffling to put phones away. Some things never change: the belief that the further away, the less likely to be noticed or picked on by the presenter/educator. Ironically, it’s the souls right at the front that more easily get over - looked while we focused on the mid to upper levels. The view that adults stupid enough to be teaching are just that: stupid.

As the “stupid” adults upfront we have seen every trick in the book. From a quick glance down to a flashing phone that becomes a stare, or the ear buds surreptitiously popped into ears so that it is not obvious that the teen is listening to music, his bobbing head giving nothing away. We kid you not!

The sudden “nose bleed” that demands a dash outside to answer the phone, I mean get toilet paper. Sudden urges to be sick, go to the loo, or faint are several other tests and plays for fun, freedom and fresh air. Luckily it is a tiny minority that play these games but you can’t expect anything less from teenagers. It is in their makeup to rebel, push back and play up, grow and regress, want it their way while needing the certainty of support.


Celebrating the month of love in true feline style!

Lightness and noise

The Grade 8’s arrived in batches either very early or very late. It was their first day and they were mostly lost in this unfamiliar school. The boys, small and slight, the girls, taller, looking older than their age, were all still accommodating, in awe of authority, obedient and polite. They were eager to engage with a lightness that bubbled and fizzed, while some sat with big eyes and open mouths, not sure what to expect.

The Grade 9’s marched in noisy and haphazardly. They arrived with the confidence of a year of high school behind them but their bravado only served to cover their distraction and hyperactivity. They were by far the most difficult to calm and bring to order. Their restlessness met their mouths with babbling and chittering at any opportunity. Far from being more mature than the newbies, it felt as if they had regressed!

The Grade 10’s arrived looking worried and tired. Their baseline tests loomed after the session and they were anxious to do their best while aware of how rusty their minds were after weeks of vacation time.

Grade 11’s were rowdy and unsettled. Cocky and overconfident but restless and quite sure that this was not where they wanted to be. There were clear leaders and twittering followers. This pre- matric year comes with the weight of endless and mounting work pressures without the relief of a final exam. They have to wade through this year to be faced with the daunting task of getting through the next crucial year before they can breathe out. It’s a real mountain that many underestimate.


Growing up takes many shapes and forms.Four years ago Tristan bought a car and it’s now paid up.

To focus and succeed

The seniors of the school, the Grade 12’s, arrived assured and settled quickly. Fully aware that this year is a big one and already assailed with warnings about how important it was to focus and succeed, they were looking for answers and suggestions to get them through. Now they battled the equal monsters of procrastination and paranoia. Bored with the work, pinned down by the push to complete syllabi while really desiring the next step.

For many that next step weighs very heavily. The expectations of family and society paralyse some and their fear of failure runs deep.

“If you got through Grade 11, you will get through Grade 12,” Chantal assured them, “The only thing that will get in your way, will be the way you feel and your belief in yourself.”

That is why we were there, to remind them and all the other grades of a few easy tools and techniques to manage their emotional state and get them through the studying, tests and exams that lay in front of them. We want them to build emotional strength and psychological steadiness while they grow their intellectual abilities. We want them to start loving and believing in themselves.

More than anything, however, we want them to know that they are loved. How do we do this when all we have is 90 minutes with each grade? We intend it. We imbue our work with it. We acknowledge and affirm whenever we can. We tell them we believe in them. The message may be lost on most but it only needs to land on a few small individuals to make a difference. We trust in the process.


Matthew’s brother, Emmett, with his three month old daughter, AVA. So much change in the growing up she’s done over the past few months.

Growing in other areas

Growing is happening in other areas too. Chantal’s family is growing with her first grandchild on the way in March! Current technology has allowed a peak into the growth and development of this little being in remarkable ways. The current heatwaves and growing tum, has rapidly made it more and more uncomfortable for Mum-to-be to sit, stand for any length of time, sleep and don’t get us started on putting on shoes!

From embryo to child, teen and adult, growing up can be hard to do and each step can also be filled with possibilities and promise. It just depends on which way you look at it. Even when we are “all grown up” it is better to not stop growing. It is better to keep challenging our brains, muscles and attitudes. Stretching our capacities for different and new, while defining fresh habits to support us well.

Growing up is hard to do. It is supposed to be. It is the challenges and obstacles that push and test us. Comfort and ease is not a space for growth. If we imbue the lessons we learn and teach with the light of love, that growing up, as difficult and frustrating it can be, will always be worth it. Learning to love ourselves while we trip, make mistakes and fail, provides the foundation for a resilient and tenacious life. Opening ourselves up to love others offers a life lived to the fullest.


Two years ago Cailyn was married and now she is expecting. Another beautiful example of the rich variety in meaning that growing up has. (The amazing cake is from Pastry Angel)

Until next time.

Yours in feeling,
Matthew & Chantal

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