Please send Botox~I have 12 more years of high school

Oh, Molly Ringwald…you still know how to break my heart.  You were on the Today show talking about the 30 year anniversary of The Breakfast Club. 30 years.  That’s how long it has been since I started high school.  Poignant timing Molly. Nicely done.

My first-born registered for high school this week. It was a new experience to sit back and watch her do it on her own…no parent login wanted or required. I took a picture of her while she registered. She said, “What are you doing???”  She is rounding the bend to 14 and I feel and hear the click of my seatbelt as I get into the roller-coaster that is high school.  I’m documenting dear girl- because I am in shock.

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When I was in 8th grade, I was shopping with my mother one day at Calhoun Square in Minneapolis and we were looking at Benetton sweaters. I remember because I was very fixated on Benetton sweaters in 1985.   Obsession.  I’m wearing a grey and cream mohair number in my 8th grade photo. I can’t locate the photo this minute so I spared you my unfortunate hair and the heavy aqua-green Clinique eyeliner on the inside rim of my eyes.  Good Lord.

Anyway, just outside the store, we ran into a friend of mine from school.  She was with her mother and grandmother. The mothers made the usual small talk, with my friend and I rolling our eyes at each other and when we walked away her grandmother said, “Oh, you girls are going to have so much fun. High school: It’s the best years of your life.”

We walked 20 paces just out of earshot, when my mother grabbed my elbow, faced me squarely and said, “High School is going to be great. It will be fun, but it is not the best years of your life. That is ridiculous. I know what she said, but it’s not true.”

It wasn’t her usual uplifting pep talk but she was right about high school and nearly (at last count) a million other things. There were some good times and some not so good times and it was four good years for me…but not the best four by any stretch of the imagination. Does anyone really think those were the very best years? Let me know if you did-I must have been doing something wrong.

As a teenager, I told my parents everything. I mean everything. No sugar-coating. If I knew you growing up, and you did or said something that fell anywhere outside of the lines, I told my parents what you did and they didn’t judge you nearly as harshly as I likely did. My parents had a very ‘open door’ policy which I have tried (am trying) hard to replicate but I am missing one critical element.

I need to work on my poker face.

My parents, particularly my mother, never flinched. Sometimes, (evil teenager tactic) I would tell her things in a dramatic way. Sometimes I would casually toss out little grenades while waiting in line for an ice cream cone or at the bank just to see if I could get a reaction. No. Complete doe-eyed and calm. Unflappable.  I remember one time I talked about cutting off all of my hair.  My mother said, “Well, it’s only hair.”  I didn’t inherit this skill from her and when my daughter tells me things I try to exude calm but I can already tell…I’ve said too much.

With my face.

Because I’m not just worrying about my daughter. I’m worrying about the kids she grew up with. I’m worrying about her friends. And the friends of those friends. And the friends of the friends of the friends.  And all of the kids that belong to my friends.  It’s a lot of people.  I really so desperately want them all to make it through adolescence in one piece physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. High expectations.  Unrealistic expectations.  I’ve already seen a decent amount of the texting activity and adolescent posts and comments on Instagram the last couple of years. Yikes.

Spend 6 minutes on ask.fm. It will make your stomach turn. It’s the updated version of a slam book but anonymous. Kids are bolder when they are anonymous.

I have some apprehension about the next four years. There is a saying “Little kids. Little Problems. Big Kids. Big Problems.” Maybe it’s because you think you have more control when they are little. They have less access to the world and vice versa. I’ve considered that it’s easier when they are little because I figure I might still have time to fix things I’ve screwed up when they are 3 rather than when they are 17 with one foot out the door.

The 80’s were a ‘simpler’ time as they say. Unlike as pictured above, a cell phone, containing a live feed of everything everyone else is doing/saying/posting/photographing did not always accompany me. If I didn’t get invited to something, it was 6 days until I found out, if ever. I logged some serious time on the phone after school but only with friends, people I knew well. I had no contact with kids from other schools or other grades that I barely knew like modern children do. I had no ‘virtual’ friends, only real ones.

I also spent a majority of my time outside of school at Minnesota Dance Theater in downtown Minneapolis. This allowed a distance from the school drama because I could retreat to my dance friends and talk about school/girls/boys with no repercussions since they didn’t know any of the players. Sometimes it made me feel like a bit of an outsider at school but that had pros and cons and now I believe mostly pros. I was in my twenties before I knew that there were drugs at my high school. Newsflash: Drugs were available in the late 80’s in suburban MN.  However, you couldn’t have gotten any from me, I wouldn’t have even known who to ask.

And- I think I was just so fortunate to have the relationships that I did.

I had some really good friends and many lifelong friendships that originated in high school. I was in hysterics at lunch every single week. I got kicked out of Psychology class for “excessive laughter”.   I cried many times-in French class.  Maybe everything seemed more hysterical because all I ate for lunch were french fries, cookies and pop for four years.  Sure there was some friend drama and minor disagreements but nothing that followed me into adulthood. I felt like I knew a lot of my classmates and their families really well. (Please don’t quiz me now…now I have to consult the yearbook and five other mutual classmates) My graduating class was about 380 people. She is going to a high school of 3,000.

I dated good, decent men.  Well, they were just boys back then.  Apologies if they are reading this and wanted to be characterized as dangerous or edgy.  Who knows…maybe they were but they were only thoughtful and considerate to me. They never hurt me in a long-term psychologically damaging after school special kind of way and I hope I never hurt them in that way. I know many people who had a relationship in high school that set them on a course that they could never seem to correct. They had been devastated at age 15 or 16 from a 90 day relationship and struggled to fully recover. I hope nobody hurts my daughter in that way. I hope she doesn’t hurt anybody in that way. She and I have discussed this quite a bit. I’ve tried to encourage her to tread very gently because these are fragile times even when people don’t appear very fragile.

I was/am not/never will be a big risk taker. I’m still waiting for my rebellion.  But there was still danger back in the day.  I was in more car accidents in those four years than in the subsequent 30 years and I didn’t even drive. I was at a football game in the fall of 1988 at Cooper High School wandering around in a big group of friends and some other kid (a spectator)  lifted up his shirt showing he had a gun.   Threatening a friend. Oh, and all the drugs…apparently. HA! Things seemed innocent then.  What are they like now?

School was just plain easier. My 8th grader has already faced more academic rigor and certainly more math than I ever did K-12. She probably had won that race by 6th grade. I was thinking about how I took Typing as a class in high school. Typing. By the time my brother got there 4 years later, it was called Keyboarding. My oldest son is in 5th grade. He finished up the keyboarding program before the first of this year. He’s done. They are coding.  We are living at warp speed.

The pressure on students today seems astonishing compared to what I endured. I had very little homework and even less competition with my classmates academically.  I’m less concerned about her academic performance going forward than I am about her mental state. Can she stay afloat? Can she manage the classes, the friends, the extra-curricular things, the testing, the competitive culture, the social media?

Can I?    Again, working on holding my expression perfectly still.

So I will enjoy now.  The sweet comfort of the known. Middle school.  Who knew that middle school would seem like a panacea?  In the fall, it feels like we are embarking on an amusement park ride starting at orientation and ending (ideally) with Pomp and Circumstance. So we are on this ride together. I’m just hoping it’s more like the Merry Go Round at the State Fair and less like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney.   And I hope she holds my hand the whole time.

And I hope I can conceal the fear on my face.

I don’t need Ambien: I have Minecraft.

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Confession: I’m not a very patient person and I can be a very poor listener. Parenting often takes copious amounts of patience and the listening skills of the most seasoned therapist. Beyond the simple maintenance issues of keeping a family fed, clothed, clean, groomed, organized, well rested, prepared, not sword fighting in the kitchen, etc. is the ceaseless demands of “watch me”- “play with me”- “listen to me”.

It requires attention. I can hardly believe how many hours I have  devoted to just paying attention.  And I want to be a patient listener…I want to be mentally present and a lot of times these are the best parenting moments.  Just listening.  But then there are all the things I’m forced to listen to including:

1.Complaining.

2. Whining.

3. Bickering.

4. Crying.

5. Fighting

6. Protesting

7.Blaming

8.Yelling

9.Sighing (LOUDLY)

10. …and Minecraft.

Minecraft has become a bit of a problem. Between IKEA purchases and having Minecraft on a PC, handheld device, Xbox…not to mention Minecraft posters, books, t-shirts, magnets and a MINECRAFT nightlight that was gifted to us! we are very big supporters of Swedish exports.

A lot of the sharing from my daughter takes on the flavor of “So then she said this and then I said that and then he said that and then I said this and then she said that…can you even believe it?” I’m paraphrasing here but you get the gist.  This is what much of the day consists of for her.         I get it.    (I mean…not always…but middle school is middle school and while I think some things about it has improved, it’s still like doing 3 years of hard time. That part hasn’t really changed in 30 years)

A lot of the sharing my sons do runs along the lines of, “So I was in creative mode and built this house which I could use if I switched it to survival mode because of the walls and I was thinking of buying a skin pack. Can I buy a skin pack? It might not be worth it but if I did, I could change Steve and make him look more like how I imagine him and then it would look so cool in my mod when the zombies come.”   Um…what?

“Mom, come down here and watch me play Minecraft!”

I go. I go quickly.  I mean…my sons are asking me to be part of what they are doing.  I’m in. These opportunities seem rare.  And so I watch them play this game for a bit with their mouths gaping open and their little fingers flying across the controllers and I really try to pay attention. I watch. I try not to wonder if is this really is training them to code?  Or is it really training them to live in this exact basement when they are 35?

And 38 minutes later, they have done it. They have made a pixellated sheep move 10 virtual feet. They have spent 38 minutes of their lives and mine creating what looks to be a pretty sad little monochromatic Lego world.  Great.  I was present and they seem pleased to have me as their witness to this grand fake sheep accomplishment.

But then (this is the part that hurts me) they want to TALK about it.  Oh God, help me…because when they utter more than 10 words on the subject of Minecraft, I feel a wave of exhaustion engulf me.  It suddenly feels like 3am and I’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner and had 3 glasses of wine and I’m wearing cozy pants and it’s a little warm in here and I’m reading the tax code…

Generally speaking, I think my sons are interesting people.  One is more “existentialist interesting” and often causes me to ruminate on the bigger questions of life. The other son is more “he might actually join the circus someday” interesting.  He is like watching a car crash…I’m often frightened but still can’t tear my attention away.

But they both talk “Minecraft” and my eyes glaze over and my heart rate slows and I have to fight to stay engaged.   I have pinched my own leg HARD while they were talking about it to remind myself to throw in some “Mmm’s” and “Wow’s” when they looked at me expectantly.

I grew up with video games. I played Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Pong…the classics.  We had nearly every gaming system in existence during the 80’s.  My brother was (is) an avid gamer.  I just don’t remember EVER having a game that we felt was worth discussion.  My brother never (to the best of my recollection) talked about Mario’s outfit or the layouts of level 5. When the console was off…it was over.

So what is it?  Is it that modern kids spend so much time in virtual worlds that it has taken on more importance? Is it because they feel invested having made the world?  How can the very game that has captivated these boys and much of the world be SO BORING to me? Or is it geared toward the male gender?  I mean even if it were more relational (for me), I don’t think I care whether or not Steve starts dating Creeper and they move off the farm into the city.

I asked my son what he likes best about it.  He paused for a long time and said, “I guess it’s just the excitement of survival.”

And that’s what I’m choosing to like about parenting today.

The excitement of survival.