Posts Tagged ‘School’

The Breakfast Club

Sunday, June 14, 2015
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I fell in love with the movie The Breakfast Club when I first saw it on my eighteenth birthday more than 30 years ago.

At the time, I couldn’t imagine that my two teenagers would enjoy watching it in the year 2015. In fact, I would have found the idea completely impossible.

The movie was about my generation.

The angst of the five teenage characters stuck in detention on a Saturday clearly demonstrated that we suffered from the mistakes and misguided expectations of our parents.

As the character Andrew, played by Emilio Estevez said, “Everyone’s home lives are unsatisfying. If it wasn’t, people would live with their parents forever.”

The first time I heard him say that line, I thought no truer words have ever been spoken. I couldn’t wait to put as much distance between my parents and me as possible. I was sure that all of my faults were products of my parents’ faults. My only hope for a normal life was to escape them.

Now, watching the movie with my own kids, I have a different perspective.

Hairstyles may change, fashion may change. technology may change, even language may change, but human nature doesn’t change that quickly.

The Breakfast Club is about the ridiculous social constructs of high school. By the end of the movie, the characters recognize that individuals are much more complicated than the labels they are given.

All these years later, I realize that those social structures and labels from high school aren’t that different from those in the world today. As adults, we just do a better job at pretending we’ve outgrown them.

We haven’t.

The people with money and connections make the rules. Those with the right social contacts are recognized and applauded for their good work even though others do just as much. The misbehavior of athletes is often accepted, and low-income people are blamed for their situations.

When The Breakfast Club was first released, my generation hoped we’d be better than that.

We rolled our eyes during a scene in the basement of the school that features a conversation between the principal and Carl the  janitor. Principal Vernon warns Carl that, when they get old, the kids are going to be running the country and they should be worried. At the time, I just considered Vernon an old guy who was out of touch with young people.

Now, the generation that scared him IS running the country, and, unfortunately, we do  demonstrate the self-absorbed behavior about which he worried.

But, there is also hope.

Unlike Principal Vernon, I’m not nearly as concerned about the generation coming up behind us.

From what I’ve observed, they are more accepting of differences and more likely to challenge the status quo. In other words, I think they really do get the lessons in The Breakfast Club.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

When He Becomes She

Saturday, June 6, 2015
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I’m doing it again. I’m writing about something in the life of one of my children that is basically none of my business.

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been telling myself not to write about my son’s friend.

She’s not a close friend of his, so I don’t really know her. Also, my son never mentioned anything about what she was going through until my husband and I asked. Most of all, her life is absolutely none of my business.

I’ve only made it my business because she’s requiring me to confront my own biases and beliefs.

I’ve always considered myself open-minded and accepting, but her situation made me dig a bit deeper. And, in light of recent headlines about Caitlyn Jenner, the timing couldn’t have been better.

You see, my son’s friend is physically a boy. At least for the moment. But my son and his friends call her she because that is what she wants.

When my husband and I saw her wearing a dress for the first time, we thought maybe she had a lost a bet. And when we asked our son about it, he said “she’s transitioning,” as though it was no big deal.

It was a big deal to my husband and me.

“Shouldn’t he wait to make that decision until he’s out of high school?” my husband asked.

“Why should she wait to be the person she is?” my son replied, making a point about which pronoun he used,

He seems unfazed about the whole situation.

I, on the other had, was having a difficult time wrapping my head around the situation. I have volunteered side by side with the friend’s mother, and my thoughts kept going to her. Or, maybe, they were really going  back to me.

Because I know without a doubt that if my son were to come to me and tell me he was a woman trapped in a male body, I would have a very difficult time coming to terms with the situation.

I would probably ask him to wait a few years before he did anything about it – just to be sure. And, truthfully and sadly, I would be very concerned about what others thought about my family. I hate feeling like that, but it’s the truth.

I was sharing this with a friend, who told me a story about her niece, once her nephew, who had transitioned in high school.

At the time, my friend’s children were in elementary school, and she had to explain the situation to them before a family gathering.

The nephew who was transitioning was the youngest, and apparently the quietest, of three boys.

“He won’t be quiet anymore,” my friend’s son said.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I’m eight years old,” her son said. “I’m always around girls. I live with my sister. I go to school with girls. I play sports with girls. I have experience with girls, and girls are anything but quiet. Things are going to change.”

That was the extent of his concern about his male cousin becoming a female.

His observations may have been a bit sexist and not entirely logical, but they illustrate a wisdom that adults often lose. He was focused on his cousin’s personality, not whether he was a she.

It’s something my son understands and something I need to remember.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

When Being Cold Became Cool

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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My car dashboard indicated that the outside temperature was only two degrees, but the students streaming into the middle and high schools seemed almost oblivious,

Most were dressed in jeans and hoodies with no coats. A few of the boys  wore shorts, and a few girls wore skirts with no tights or leggings. Even in my warm car with heated seats, seeing those bare legs made me shiver.

Not one student wore a hat or gloves, although some had their hands shoved into pockets as they walked to school from a nearby neighborhood.

My own two children were only wearing light jackets, but at least they were wearing some type of outerwear, which was more than most of their peers. I felt a swell of parental pride as I dropped each of them off at their respective schools. They might not be wearing hats, but at least they both had enough sense to wear long sleeves and long pants.

Based on what most students were wearing that frigid morning, I’m guessing parents and common sense have an equal amount of influence over teenagers’ clothing choices. Gone are the times when we had could protect our children from harsh weather elements.

The day after my son was born in early April, I was preparing him to leave the hospital and head home for the first time.

The nurse charged with monitoring our departure was obviously displeased. Before I nestled Shepherd into his car seat, she intervened.

“Your not letting him go outside like that?” she asked with a distinct note of disapproval.

I looked at my son and simply nodded.

“There’s a chill in the air,” she declared as she picked up a blanket and tucked it around Shepherd with an expertise I was sure I’d never have.

I felt as thought I’d already flunked Motherhood 101. I hadn’t known that exposing my son’s bare face and hands to 60 degree weather was cause for alarm. If only I could have flashed forward almost 17 years, I would have been laughing at both the nurse and myself.

Babies are tough. Kids are tougher. And parents have to be the toughest of all, no matter what the weather.

We may have to be tough, but we don’t have to be cool since being cool apparently requires enduring frigid temperatures while pretending to be unaffected. I’m perfectly content to be the weird mom who covers herself in coats, scarfs, hats and gloves.

I have no need to be cold and no desire to be cool.

I do, however, have a burning desire to ensure my kids make decisions based on their own well-being rather than on the prevailing styles.

The light jackets they wore on that incredibly frigid morning indicate that I just may be making slight progress toward that goal.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Alone On the Curb

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
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I have no doubt that every child who went to elementary school during the 1970’s experienced the same trauma I did. Fortunately, I only experienced it once – or at least I only remember one incident. There may have been more, but none has stuck with me like the one that occurred that day in second grade.

I remember feeling completely lost and alone as I sat on the curb waiting for a mom who hadn’t arrived.

I don’t remember why I had stayed after school. I just remember that I did and was quite excited to do so. Bon the curback in those days, afterschool activities weren’t the norm for the under ten crowd. We had music lessons and 4-H and Scouts, but none of those activities were associated with school and there was no such thing as afterchool care.

Whatever the reason my friends and I had stayed late, it must have been  a special occasion. I still remember chatting with my friends as we stood on the sidewalk by the playground fence waiting for our moms to pick us up. (In those days, the moms were always the ones who picked up the kids.)

As other moms began to drive up to the curb and my friends climbed into their cars (usually into the front seat, generally without seat belts and always with absolutely no concept of contraptions called car seats), our group got smaller and smaller and smaller.

Eventually, I was the only one still standing on the sidewalk until I tired of that and sat on the curb.

I know anyone born after 1980 is wondering where the adult supervision and teachers were. My answer is “I don’t know.”

Back in those days, vigilance didn’t exist like it does today, and teachers usually went home when the students did. There was a sense of trust in the parents and a sense of safety in daylight – especially in small towns. There was also a belief that situations usually worked themselves out.

Except when they didn’t.

As the sun started making its journey behind the Juniper-covered hills that surrounded the town in which I lived, I sat on the curb and waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, a teacher who had stayed late happened upon me as she walked to her car. She didn’t, however, see the same gravity in the situation that I did.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You look as though you lost your best friend.”

I remember contemplating her words. My good friends had all left me, but I didn’t think I’d actually lost them. But I didn’t share those thoughts. Instead, I told her I was waiting for my mom.

“Oh, I know your mom,” the teacher said. “I know she’ll be here soon.”

And she was right. My mom did arrive…eventually,

In those days before Google calendars and other electronic reminders, she had simply forgotten that she was supposed to pick me up at school. And, in those days before cell phones, answering machines and vigilant school personnel, I was powerless to remind her. Those things just happened to those of us who grew up in the 1970’s.

Mom may have told me why she didn’t worry when the bus arrived without me. Or she may have told me that she had a meeting and she thought she had babysitting duties covered. I don’t remember because her words never registered. I was too relieved and grateful that I wasn’t going to have to spend the night on the curb and wear the same clothes to school the next day.

I was reminded of this incident a few weeks ago as a read a post that has been recycled through social media a few times. It is a reminder of what would now be considered parenting fails but  were acceptable when I was young. And my generation survived anyway.

We didn’t wear bike helmets (although I do remember the humiliation of swimming caps). We played outside with no supervision (unless you count our dogs which all ran free without any type of fence – even electric.) And we weren’t electronically connected to everyone we knew.

If we were out of our parents sight, they never knew where we were, if we were safe or when we would actually arrive home.

I can’t imagine being a parent during that time period, and I give my parents kudos for being so strong.

Apparently, I am much weaker.

Both of my children have cell phones with which they use to constantly communicate with me.

I know if their plans have changed and they are going home with a friend after school. And when they text me such information, I can immediately text the friend’s parents to confirm.

I know when the band bus is running late or early, so I can arrive at the school in a timely manner. I don’t have to sit in a parking lot for hours waiting for a bus to arrive and imagining all that could possibly have gone wrong.

And I know that the school has my cell phone number so I don’t have to be sitting at my office desk to get a notice that my child is sick or is in detention (yes I have experienced that parental fail.)

Those of us who had the true 1970’s childhood experience may laugh at how much we protect our children these days, but deep in our hearts, we are also extremely grateful. Changes in technology and society ensure that our children will never be sitting alone on a curb waiting for a ride home.

And if that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering or writing, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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As a band mom, I experience high school football from a different perspective than most people.wasted

First, I never actually get to see a home game. I only have a sense of what’s happening based on the roar of the crowd. That’s because I’m too busy serving up nachos and Mountain Dew to even get a glimpse of the game.

On the flip side, I get some insight into the secret lives of teenagers.

That’s because, with the exception of my children’s friends, no one pays the least bit of attention to the middle-aged woman taking their food orders and their money.

I’m grateful that I often witness generosity. Many teens are more than willing to hand money to the stranger ahead of them in line who bought more food than he/she could afford. They are also inclined to throw their extra change into the band boosters donation bucket.

While I’m impressed with these gestures, I also wonder if they even value the money they are so willing giving to others.

I’m not just being cynical.

That’s because, as a band mom, I’m generally one of the last people to leave the football stadium. Band boosters are responsible for cleaning the mess people leave behind, and we are often there long after the last of the fans are gone. What they leave behind isn’t pretty. To quote another band parent after the homecoming game last Friday night “people are complete slobs.”

While I agreed with her, I was struck by another thought. “People are so wasteful.”

I’ve been shocked at the dozens of nearly full bottles of blue and red Gatorade ($2.00 each at the concession stand) that were left in the women’s bathroom.  Pizza, hot dogs and nachos are left half eaten in the stands, and the trash cans also overflow with the same.

My parents never told me I had to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa, but they did expect that I wouldn’t waste food.  If you didn’t plan to eat something, you didn’t put it on your plate and you certainly didn’t buy it.  And if your eyes were bigger than your stomach, you packed up the food and took it home for later.

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe my memory is faulty, but I certainly don’t remember people wasting food like they do now, especially in a time when food insecurity has been in the spotlight.

Volunteer backpack organizations are constantly seeking donations so they can send food home with low-income children. Food pantries often run low on staples and many churches offer meals for those who can’t afford them.

And yet people at high school football games seem to buy food only to throw it away as though it has no value.

A part of me wonders if any hungry children attend those games and look with disbelief at all the waste. Another part of me recognizes that most hungry children probably can’t afford the price for a high school football game, not to mention the transportation to and from it. They certainly aren’t among the teens who hand me $20 and even $50 bills on a Friday night with the knowledge they will go home to a refrigerator full of food.

Many kind-hearted, caring people go out of their way to ensure others don’t go hungry, but we are somehow failing to address the other side of the same coin: waste and greed.

My children have been asked to participate in countless food drives, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been taught the actual value of food.

And while I’m trying to follow in my parents footsteps and  teach that food is a resource just like money and our environment, I fear all I’ve done is to teach my children to enjoy food and that my efforts are, well, wasted.

The Empty Lot

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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The small house was torn down only a few weeks ago, and already there are few signs it ever existed. Grass and clover cover the empty lotare growing where the foundation once was, and there is no indication of the fence that bordered the small yard.

Now, it is just an empty lot.

Maybe someday the area will be used for  a garden or a new structure, but the space will never be the same again.

The destroyed house shouldn’t even be on my radar. When it was standing, it meant no more to me than a random stop where my dogs sometimes greeted the dog on the other side of the fence. Soon, I won’t even notice the changed landscape during my short, daily commute to work. I will accept the space for what it is: the status quo.

Yet, the destruction of the house has been weighing on my mind like the rapid progress of time, the growing independence of my children and the aging of my parents.

Maybe that’s because its destruction was timed perfectly with my son attending his first real graduation party – not one for a family friend but one for a friend no one else in our family knows.

Dropping him off at the party reminded me of dropping him off for his first day of kindergarten almost eleven years ago.

For months, people had been asking me if I was ready, and I blew off their concerns. I didn’t understand why they thought kindergarten was so significant. Both of my children had been in day care since they were toddlers, and I thought kindergarten was no different from day care.

Only it wasn’t.

On that first day of kindergarten, his teacher didn’t know my name. The school personnel didn’t know my son’s unique issues or about his contagious sense of humor. He was just another little boy who needed to be taken out of his car seat, encouraged to wave goodbye to his mother and walked into his classroom.

And I, his mother, couldn’t even watch him walk away. The woman working the carpool line frantically waved me to move on as the tears trickled down my cheek .

Now, my son’s public school education is quickly coming to a close. This coming school year, he will be a junior, which is considered an upperclassman. He is already talking about colleges and moving out of our house – which is exactly what I want him to do. I have no desire to have a 30 year-old son still living in my basement and depending on me to do his laundry.

And yet, there is a part of me that is sitting in my car watching my 5  year-old son take a teacher’s hand and walk into doors which lead to a world over which I have no control. And I can still feel the tears trickling down my cheek as I realize that my children, like time, grow, change and move on without me.

I can’t control my children’s growth or the rapid flip of the calendar any more than I can control the landscape I pass every day on my way to and from work.

What I can do is appreciate the potential.

Roses might bloom in that now empty lot. Or a  young couple might build a house and start a family there. Or the lot might remain one of few empty green spaces where people can walk their dogs while enjoying fresh air.

But I have no doubt that the space is destined for something meaningful that will make the world a better place.

Just as I believe my children are destined to make a positive  mark on this ever-changing world.  And like the empty lot, their quickly fading childhood needs to be appreciated rather than mourned, celebrated instead of regretted and, most of all, serve as the foundation for something even greater.

 

Raising Kids in the Dumbest State

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
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For years, West Virginians have been told that, collectively, we are obese and in poor health.

Recently, residents of  Huntington and Charleston have been informed that they live in the most miserable cities in the United States.

Then just this past week, West Virginians were recognized for living in the dumbest state in the nation.

The title was handed to us by TheStreet, a financial news website founded by Jim Cramer and Martin Peretz:  http://www.thestreet.com/story/12712489/1/the-10-dumbest-states-in-america.html[/embed]

Up until this week, I’d never heard of TheStreet, but I’m sure those who work there would take my ignorance as just another example of “dumb” West Virginians. That’s the same reason I hesitate to mention that I was raised to use  the term dumb as an adjective to describe those who don’t speak. I’m sure they’d counter that  the dictionary also defines it as “lacking intelligence or good judgment; stupid; dull-witted.”

What the dictionary doesn’t do is define dumb as “anyone who doesn’t have a college degree,” which is exactly what the folks at TheStreet did. They also assessed median household income and SAT scores to support their pronouncement.

I’m not sure what their scorecard was supposed to contribute to society, but I can tell you that all it really did was serve as another example of  bullying: an attempt by a person or group to feel superior by making others feel inferior through name calling and belittlement.

But here’s what the people of this Wall Street entity don’t get: West Virginians aren’t generally bothered by people who think they are better than us. And even though some individuals will always believe perception is reality, I like to believe this latest slam on West Virginia is a teaching opportunity for our children.

Yes, this is obviously an occasion to emphasize the importance of education and how it directly correlates with income and financial stability. But it’s so much more than that.

We can discuss how generations of West Virginians had good-paying, blue-collar jobs that didn’t require a college education. While the availability of such jobs shrunk dramatically in the last few decades, expectations and culture  have taken longer to change.

We can talk about the different types of intelligence, and how different people have different skill sets. Not everyone is good at reading and math, but they can be very gifted in art or music. And as we talk, we should also note that there is an immense difference between someone’s IQ and his/her ability to take a test.

Most of all, we need to emphasize that being poor has nothing to do with being stupid or lazy.  Throughout history, some of our nation’s poorest people are often the most hard working: They juggle working multiple jobs to pay for their basic needs or pick up extra dollars by shoveling driveways or mowing grass.

I’m not trying to imply that West Virginia doesn’t have issues that need to be addressed, and  I am a strong advocate of education and attracting businesses that provide solid employment opportunities to the Mountain State. But that’s not enough. We need to advocate for all that is right with this state and not allow others to  highlight our problems without promoting the good.

Most importantly, we need  to raise children who are proud of where they come from and the people they represent.

And I’m positive that there are enough wise people in West Virginia to accomplish just that.

Call Me Crazy (Part One)

Monday, April 28, 2014
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About this cell phone thing…

In earlier posts, I told you that my husband and I had no intention of getting our daughter a cell phone until she reached high school.  I couldn’t imagine the reasons why she’d need one before the first day of sixth grade, but every parent I spoke with confirmed that they’re as basic as school supplies: backpack, lunch tote, cell phone.

But why? Yes, I know … it gives our girl a lifeline. She can get in touch with us if she needs something. However, I can only assume phones must be turned off —  if not put away entirely — during class, and I assume they’re dropped to the bottom of a bag of some sort during practices or after-school activities. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

As I look back on my first year of junior high, which is now middle school to our kids, I had no need to call anyone. I was in the hallway with my friends before school, seated next to them in seven classes, at the same table during lunch, and on the field with them for band.  My dad dropped me off at 7:45 a.m., and my mother picked me up sometime around 4:00 when band ended.  Once again, who was I supposed to call, for what reason, and when was there time?

On weekends and during summer vacations (from June to September), my friends and I got together at each other’s houses or at the neighborhood pool.  My mother told me to be home at this hour, or that she’d be there to pick me up at that time.  I didn’t call to tell her when I was ready to come home.  She told me when to expect her.

Am I as out of touch as a rotary phone?

But all the middle school kids have them, I’m told.

Fine. So all the kids have some version of a cell phone.  Many have fun phones (I hesitate to call them “smart” when they can cause so much trouble), and others have less glamorous flip styles.  For those parents who are as stubborn as we appear to be, their children have “pay as you go” phones that are truly held for emergency use.

I took to the Internet to search for “first phones” and I found a list of possible choices.  As reported by numerous parenting sites, these are a few good ones available through local stores:

1. LG Migo

2. Sanoxy GSM

3. Firefly Glow

4. Buddy Bear

….WAIT. STOP. The “BUDDY BEAR” phone?

I clicked the link and literally choked on a long sip of Diet Dr. Pepper.  Indeed, these are “first cell phones” as I typed into the Google search box, but they aren’t intended for middle schoolers.  They’re intended for “little hands.”  Yes…preschoolers.

Pardon me, Mom, but WTH?

As I read RooGirl’s article dedicated to the best cell phones for kids of all ages, I discovered that entry-level communication devices are similar to an elderly person’s First Alert button that’s worn and pressed if they’ve fallen and can’t get up.

“…Parents give their children cell phones for reassurance and added security. It also allows them to keep in touch with their kids when they’re not together.”

Are they home alone?!

“Parents can choose phones to track children’s whereabouts via GPS, monitor phone activity and block content. Finding the cell phone that’s right for your child depends on how old, tech-savvy and responsible they are. And, whether you want them to use the phone for emergencies only, communicating with friends and family or have the ability to surf the web.” — RooGirl blogger

I’m sorry, but I can barely finish this post.  I am completely shocked that at least 10 phones on the market are designed for the younger set, gadgets that include cameras, text messaging, full-sized multi-color screens, and customizable ringtones. “Let it Go” has been downloaded more times than any other song.

I sit here thinking that if your child needs an SOS device in his or her hip pocket, then you don’t need a tiny tyke cell phone that whistles.  You need your head examined.

As I scrolled down to the tween and teen line of phones, I stopped on one of the first models reviewed by RooGirl.  The LG Rumor.

That’s it. I’m done.  Maybe I am Frozen in time.  But in the words of Elsa the Queen, let the storm rage on.  The cold never bothered me anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First phones for little hands…

Decision Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.

 

Off-Beat

Monday, March 3, 2014
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I should've seen it coming.

I should’ve seen it coming.

I knew she’d ask me “that question” sooner or later.  I’d prepared for the moment, but when it happened, I stumbled. I stuttered. I stammered.  I’d practiced my response for months; rehearsed it in my journal.  I wrote down all the clichés that would make understanding appropriate for her age level.  I read multiple articles about this topic, and I bought a few books to help me understand how times have changed.

My 10-year-old daughter is going off to middle school next year. I’ve been told that I must address these delicate issues before she sets foot in this new place. But, I waited until she asked the question that I’ve been dreading.

“Mom, what if I don’t fit in?”

Gotcha! You thought it was the big birds-n-bees talk, didn’t you? But this conversation is equally burdensome for a parent.  What if your child doesn’t fit in?  Did you?

I didn’t at first. Seventh grade was an awkward time (that phrase is spot on) in which I wore a denim jacket with every outfit.  I grew out of Palmetto jeans (not Guess) every other month, and my hair was as shocking as the gap between my front teeth. A bad perm was tinted a terrible shade of orange thanks to a bottle of Sun-In highlight spray, and it wasn’t complemented by bronzing makeup that stopped sharply at the jawline. I looked weird.  I was weird.  I carried my mother’s old Aigner purse, for heaven’s sake.  Think I’m over it?

My daughter popped the question on my bed one night, when she should’ve been fast asleep.  She lingered a little longer that evening, bouncing a foot like she was kicking an invisible soccer ball.  “What is it?” I asked, closing my book.

She crossed her legs into some type of yoga pose.  This was going to take awhile.

“What if I don’t fit in next year?”

Mike walked downstairs to check the door locks for the third time.

“What makes you think you won’t?” I countered.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I had a bad dream a few nights ago that I was walking down the hallway, and I didn’t know where I was going.  A group of girls started laughing at me, and then one chased me through all these classrooms.”

I shuddered.  Dear God, that would scare anyone.

“And I couldn’t get away from her.”

My overly-analytical parenting style forced me into thinking that she was dreaming these horrible things to try to deal with deeply-rooted worries.  It was her mind’s way of bringing a problem to the surface (I guess). This also explains why she’s been in my bed for the last few mornings, watching the alarm clock.

“Are you treated that way now?” I asked.

She shook her head no.  I then asked how much TV she’d been watching, or if her books were too old for her.  She shook her head no again. “I’m reading about Jackie Kennedy,” she said. Well that Ethel could be a real bully, I joked.  She didn’t laugh.

“You’ll fit in because you and 50 other kids from your school are headed in the same direction,” I began.  “They’re not breaking off from the mix just yet.  But most of them are involved in something — dance, soccer, softball, gymnastics — which will make the first days of school a little easier,” I admitted.

Choosing to be uninvolved has ramifications. Inaction has consequences, too.  “These kids have been going to practices for years,” I warned her.  “So it’s a little late to start something truly competitive,” I said.

After reassuring her that she would have the best years of her life because of a friendly personality, a kind heart and a generous spirit, I shared my worries with a friend as soon as she got out of bed the next morning.

“She is an introvert,” I told her. “She holds back, and we might’ve encouraged it to keep her safe.”

“Then you know what, Katy?” my friend began, in a slightly edgy tone (which scared me).  “That’s when she picks up an instrument and she joins the band.”

I sat there for a moment.  I was in the band. I played the flute (because my cousin did), and then I switched to the saxophone (because my friend did), and then I tried out for the majorette corps (because my cousin and friend did).

“Since kids aren’t introduced to marching band until sixth grade, it doesn’t matter that she’s never had a lesson.”

I perked up.  THE BAND!

Why didn’t this occur to us?  She’s already a student of the Magnet School of Music at West Side Elementary.  Why wouldn’t she continue this interest? THE BAND!

That night (on my bed), I asked our girl what she thought about learning to play an instrument. Flute? Clarinet? Sax?

She curled her lip.

“Well, you have to do something,” I snapped. “That’s my new rule.  I don’t care if you run cross country or join the debate team, but if you’re worried about fitting in, then you need to find a group that will be a positive influence.”

“Oh no, it’s not that,” she exclaimed, fanning her arms in my face.  “I think I know what I want to do.”

I waited.  She smiled.  Then she laughed.  She tipped over on the bed and giggled some more.

“I want to play the drums.”

After a match of “No, you don’t” and “Yes, I do”, I withdrew from competition.  “You’re serious?” I asked.

“Yes. I want to play the drums and then the xylophone.”

“We’ll support you, but you’ll stick with it,” I replied, shocked that a book about Jackie Kennedy would be replaced by a biography of Ringo Starr.  A similar worry set in. Classmate reaction could go either way. Kids are so critical, especially of those who do something unusual. Fitting in and blending in aren’t exactly the same types of acceptance.

“I’m pretty sure that a tall girl with long, blonde hair and blue eyes pounding on a snare drum will most definitely stand out,” I said.

She never lost her smile. “And you and Dad can sit in the stands and watch!”

With bells on.