Simon started junior high last week--seventh grade. Any of you who loved junior high, please raise your hand? No takers?
So it wasn't without a ridiculous amount of anxiety that I sent Simon off to school last Tuesday, his backpack slung confidently over his shoulder as he headed down the street to meet up with his friends. Later that morning, Ron went out to buy him a cell phone at my urging. "But he doesn't need one," Ron said, "He's 12. Who's he going to call?" "I didn't say he needed one," I told him. "I need him to have one. It's for me, not him, okay? (sniff sniff)"
And I'm happy to report that I didn't call him the next afternoon to ask him when he'd be home. I sat in the front room, pretending to read, waiting for him to walk in the door, which he did about five minutes after I expected him to. Still, I didn't call.
Until the next afternoon when he was about two minutes later than I thought he'd be. He was 2 blocks away and not at all put out with me for calling.
I'm admitting here that junior high is harder on me so far than it is on him. Because I remember it.
Sixth grade comes back with near-perfect clarity: the first boy I ever had a monstrous crush on (Scott last-name-withheld-to-protect-the-innocent),the hideous outfit I loved (off-white skirt; green shirt; green-and-white-striped knee socks; those black, canvas Mary Jane shoes you can get even now for $5, so imagine how much they cost almost 30 years ago), my favorite teacher (Mrs. Floyd), the note-writing and sleepovers and seances and secrets.
Seventh and eighth grade blend together, probably because they were in the same wing of the school, with clarity as well.
I remember the boy (bigger than my father) on the bus who threatened almost daily--while the bus driver laughed--to rape me. I remember the boys, several years older than me but still in my grade, cornering me in the hall to grab at me, making me late for class but unwilling to tell the teacher why. I remember the girls who left me notes on the locker-room wall, promising to beat me up after school. I remember the gym teacher who called me back from across the basketball court so, he said with smirk under his mustache, he could watch me walk away again. And he did.
Although I don't recall those years with as much fondness, I do have some nice memories as well: Latin class; Mrs. Floyd still paying attention to how I was doing in school; my realization that I wanted to be a writer someday on whatever scale I could; my best friend, Lisa, whom I still stay in touch with today; the bus driver (the same one who laughed at the idea of me being raped) turning the bus around and driving me and the rest of the kids still on it back to school after I cussed him out and called him an idiot for not letting a kid whose brother was threatening to kill him get off at my stop; having the principal tell the driver to take me back home because I was a good kid; my realization that I knew how to stick up for myself and others; my "trailer-trash" friend and our obsession with Duran Duran, whom talked about endlessly while we sat outside her trailer and she smoked cigarettes.
I know growing up is about learning to handle the bad and appreciate the good and hopefully grow from both. And I know watching your kids grow up is about panicking the entire time, often to the verge of tears, while you wonder if they're telling you everything. Or anything.
I never told my parents any of the bad. It wasn't that I was afraid to; I just didn't realize I should. Would a cell phone have changed how I handled those situations? Would I have dialed them up on the bus and told them about the big kid in the back who scared the crap out of me? Would I have called them from the locker room to ask them to report the coach? I don't know. And I don't know how much of the good I told them either.
But I want Simon to know I want to hear from him. I want him to know I'm on speed dial. I want him to know I keep the phone on and near me all day in case he needs me. I want him to know what happens to him--the bad or the good--matters to me. And if a cell phone reminds him of any of these things, then I need him to have one. And perhaps he'll realize he needs it--and me--as well.