My inbox is loaded with so many messages with the word “Thankful” in the subject line that I mentally brush them off. I get that it’s important to jump on the bandwagon during the season of buying, but it gets a little redundant.

That’s why I took note of an email entitled “I appreciate YOU!” It stood out from the crowd, but more importantly, it sent me right down Memory Lane and made me laugh aloud. Here’s why.

I was in my 20s the summer I spent supervising the Youth Park Ranger Program out of lovely Elizabeth Park in Hartford, CT. The Park Rangers were employed as part of a summer job program for inner city kids too young to be officially employed. That meant my dozen rangers were fourteen and fifteen years old. Ironically, that made me the shortest person in our merry little band. Our work included weeding the gardens at the park and at the governor’s mansion, and clearing areas in the Revitalize Zone. We were transported in a van wearing matching t-shirts provided by the program.

The boys hated the t-shirts.

But they were agreeable about everything else I asked them to do, in part due to the fact that I rolled up my sleeves and attacked weeds shoulder to shoulder with them. Still, I found it so interesting that it embarrassed my young crew to wear the brightly colored, boldly logo-ed, garb that identified them as a workers in the program, even though they were so willing to put in a full day’s backbreaking work without complaint under the hot summer sun.

The entire group was energetic, upbeat, wise-cracking and excited about life, exactly like my Hartford students. They were also vulnerable and approval-seeking… you know, typical teenagers. And they loved to ride in the van.

That’s where we hit our first and only conflict.

Whenever we traveled to a location, we piled into a 15-passenger van. As this was the pre-iPod era (well, that just dated me), usually they spent the short trips arguing over what should be playing on the radio, or singing agreed upon selections. On this particular trip, we stopped at a red light next to some especially pretty high-schoolers gathered at the crosswalk. The boys on the far side of the van lunged to the windows closest to the girls. They all fumbled with the catches, managed to flip the windows open, and started hollering lewd compliments at them.

My mouth dropped open at an overt display of testosterone usually reserved for when boys are far away from grandmas, mothers, and female authority figures. Obviously, their pubescent brains had short-circuited at the sight of the teenage lovelies, making them completely forget I was in the van with them.

“Get back in your seats!” I out-hollered them as the van pulled away.

Startled, confused expressions. Scrambling into seats. Windows shoved shut. Abashed silence.

Never underestimate the power of a good Teacher Voice.

As the only female and the ranking adult in the van, I gave them a piece of my mind about objectifying women. I dug deep, knowing I’d never get a chance like this with them again, and also knowing they might not ever hear it from anyone else. I may or may not have asked them how their mothers and grandmas would feel witnessing that behavior. Perhaps I reminded how they would react if some random guy was hollering at their little sisters. I definitely told them they had to find another way to let the ladies know they appreciated them if they wanted to truly be noticed and remembered.

Three days later, my mouth was hanging open again at a red light as the weight in the van suddenly shifted toward more pretty girls on the sidewalk. It was like déjà vu as I watched the windows flipping open despite the weight on the young male bodies pressed against them.

I jumped to my feet, full of indignation, grabbing that deep breath before the big holler to rein them back in, when I heard their first yell.

“I appreciate you!”

“Me, too, girl. I appreciate you, too!”

“I appreciate you more than he does!”

I sat back down, grinning. The light turned green and we pulled away. They settled back into their seats, a variety of grins and embarrassment on their faces.

“Nicely done, gentlemen,” I said. “Nicely done.”

“Miss,” called one of the boys. “We appreciate you, too.”

Awwww. I love teenagers. I’m thankful I’ve been able to work with them for so many years.

May you look back on this year and say, “This was the best year ever!” (so far).

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