Friday, May 27, 2011

Ready or Not

I don't want to name names-- Wait. Stop. I do want to name names. But I won't. I'm bigger than that, I think . . . or I hope. Or maybe I'm not bigger at all and just want to say I am, which will make me seem bigger, but really I'm quite small and only want to seem bigger, which makes me that much smaller by comparison.

My point:

My son, the 14-year-old who wants to make things right after making them wrong, has one particular girl at school with whom he most definitely does not get along. It's gotten ugly in the past, though just how ugly, I don't know since he is a teenager and therefore by law and nature is not allowed to tell me everything (and sometimes not anything). I just know it's gotten ugly enough (and I'm talking arguing here and personality conflicts, not abusive name calling or bullying) that this child's mother felt the need to scold my son loudly and angrily in public in retribution for an exchange my son and her daughter had had weeks earlier. As my son told her, "I'm sure you want to believe everything she told you, but there are two sides to every story. I'm sorry you don't like what you heard." And he hasn't spoken to this girl since.

Now, I didn't find out about this public scolding until a couple of months after it happened. That's just how my son rolls: he sees no reason to involve me in issues like this because, in essence, they're non-issues for him. But he knows they won't be for me. And then the non-issues become issues for him, because, as a Mama Bear, I have a very hard time seeing straight when it comes to my children being humiliated or simply hurt in public. My parents protected me and defended me and never for a moment thought to question whether they should, whether I was to blame in part or whole. And their protection and defense of me made me want to always be protection-worthy and defensible. It made me want to be a better person.

Because my son didn't want this non-issue-now-an-issue to become an even bigger issue, I held tight and simply told the mother that in the future, I hoped she would come to me about any problems she or her daughter had with him.

That was several weeks ago.

Tonight, my son's school is in the midst of a big graduation party for its 8th graders. (A post on shooting for mediocrity will follow at a later date, because, really, when did graduating 8th grade become such a huge celebration? And if we celebrate 8th-grade graduation with a prom-level party, what are we going to do for prom? Still, I admit I got suckered into the hubbub.) And he found out yesterday that this same girl was holding a pre-party party for all of her friends . . . and all of his. Obviously, his name wasn't on the invite list. Nor were ours, since the party was for parents as well. Was I offended? Not at all. As I told a friend, I'm of the belief that people can only give offense if you're willing to take it.

But was I upset? Oh, yeah. Because, I wonder, aren't we, as adults, supposed to set an example for our children? Aren't we supposed to be teaching them about kindness and making peace with each other and second chances (or 3rd or 70 times 7)? Why do we too often model that exclusivity is acceptable and that whatever is self-satisfying is sufficient?

My son was fine about it all, of course. I was the one with the headache that wouldn't go away until he came home from playing football with his friends after school, happy and looking forward to the dance. Still . . . this was wrong. Pure and simple wrong. The wrongness wasn't in not inviting my son. The wrongness was in making sure he was the only one not invited. Fortunately for him, he didn't feel excluded.

I spent several hours at the school this morning getting the gym ready for the dance. More parents spent all day yesterday decorating. More were expected this afternoon. Parents also helped out with chaperoning, providing food, and volunteering to clean up tonight. Many of the girls bought new dresses for the night. Plenty of moms and dads were surely doing what I was doing an hour before: ironing shirts and making sure our sons had belts on. I can only imagine (because I don't feel like actually calculating) the number of collective hours the parents of these 8th graders spent in making sure their kids would have a good time tonight and making sure they were "ready" for the party.

But I think, perhaps-- No, I think, definitely, that it wouldn't hurt any of us--me included--to spend a few more hours making sure they're ready to be presented to the world, loaded up with generosity and kindness rather than hairspray, makeup, and matching socks.


AngryBaker said...

8th Grade graduation must be getting bigger all the time, because I keep hearing about it. I usually shake my head and wonder why, but I also do that with kindergarten graduation as well. As silly as they seem, what are you going to do? He looks great, btw.

I'm not sure how both of you can be so calm about all of this, but props to you. I have this theory that 85% of people never stop maturing after junior high. They just get stuck in that mode of operating, understanding, and interacting. I expect adults to act like adults, but sadly I realize that the majority are still working out their immature issues from decades ago. And it also seems they like to use their own kids as the vehicle to do this. Unfortunately all too often, the mean girl becomes the catty woman/ over-involved mom.

It reminds me of that incident a few years ago when a teacher flunked all of her students because they were all cheating on a final exam. Well, the kids were all affluent white kids and their parents didn't think the punishment fit the crime, so they complained and threatened litigation until the teacher was fired. So go ahead and cheat kids, we'll have your back and crush anyone that gets in your way.

Val said...

I'm so impressed by his mature response to the parental intervention. Sounds like he's dealing with it just fine by himself - you've got a good one there!

I guess I see 8th grade graduation not so much as a celebration of accomplishment as a moment of reflection on a transition from childhood to being a teenager - a sort of goodbye to the past years and look what we have ahead of us. Maybe that's why it hasn't bothered me to have celebrations. Plus, Z's school calls it "closing exercises", which gives it a different emphasis.

paccc69 said...

I can see why you blog... I was angry too, until I got to the end of your blog and realized how cathartic your conclusion was.

Bobbie said...

SOooo true, AB. I feel like I'm dragged back to middle school way too often for someone my age. And the story about the cheating class and the teacher getting fired is disgusting but becoming more the norm of behavior, it seems. Makes me want to run for the country and start my own chicken farm. :-)

And Val, I like "closing exercises" much better. I can see the celebration of transitioning from childhood to young adulthood being worthwhile. But I think I'd like that to be the emphasis rather than who's wearing what dress and how much cleavage is it okay to show.

Chris... I'll miss seeing you this summer.