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Doorway Dramas

How to interpret the parting words of your children on their first day of school:

Child number one:

Daniel, 15, known for his street-art sensibility and well-honed edge of sarcasm, wearing candy-red Vans, black Levi's ‘Slim Straights,’ inside-out Nike t-shirt (he scorns logos), knit cap, and fashion-free backpack, his shoulders slouched, his iPod in his front pocket, his hands shoved deep into his jean pockets, turns to me before leaving the house to walk the mile or so to Berkeley High, and says, “Tell me the truth. Do you think my seeming lack of interest, my droll but humorous character, and my partially revealing attitude is crucial to my identity and will help people better themselves?” He doesn’t smile (even though I respond with a laugh and the question, Can you explain what you mean by that?), but turns and trudges down the front steps with a look of world-weariness (as I shout for him to come back and get the lunch I made for him), and continues to slump down the road pretending not to hear me even though I am now standing on the porch holding up his lunch and declaring my refusal to chase him down with it (we have a history of this) coupled with warnings about how hungry he'll be at lunchtime. He disappears around the bend without a word or glance.

Child number two:

Now take Kyle, 12, popular with the ladies, loves to shop (especially in Chinatown), has shoulder-length hair and a sort of Zen attitude (meaning a tendency to put off today what can be done by Mom tomorrow), is considered “chill” by his friends but something of a clown by his older brother, comes downstairs wearing unlaced stomper-sized skater shoes, purple Levis ‘Super Skinnies,’ and an oversized white t-shirt (purchased in Chinatown) that shows crossed chopsticks and reads Got Rice?, shoves an entire piece of peanut-butter-and-jelly toast into his mouth (this requires all ten fingers), gulps it down with a glass of milk, and heads for the door, saying, “Get ready world. Big boy is comin’!"

Child number three:

And now Cameron, Kyle’s twin, who is the opposite of Kyle in every way, by which I mean he doesn’t have a facebook page, prefers skateboarding to shopping and Spongebob to Southpark, is still attached to his baby blanket, and isn’t much of a reader but is good at math, has come downstairs wearing regular blue jeans and a regular blue t-shirt, his face in a frown not because he hates school (which he does) but because he’s just realized that the haircut I gave him the night before wasn’t a bad dream after all but a very real nightmare and wants his “old hair” back because he looks like Little Red Riding Hood and when I say Are you kidding? You look great! (and he does), slumps over his scrambled eggs and toast, and can’t get a bite down as I’m bubbling away with optimism over the coming school year. Leaving the house wearing the same hangdog look, his skateboard tucked under his arm, he says, “I don’t know how I’ll be able to concentrate in class when all I can think about it how ugly my hair is.”

Subtext (child #1): Under the guise of regretting the termination of summer and the loss of childhood, Daniel is enjoying the irony and satire so popular with his age group by practicing his right to torment me. But try as he might to play superior to me and the rest of the world, his actions speak louder than his words or attitude, ie., he got up early that morning with his alarm, voluntarily took a shower, had a good breakfast of oatmeal, toast, and a pear, and was out the door and on his way to school with plenty of time to spare. Note also that he WALKS the mile plus to school (and back), and although he doesn’t admit it when I shove a homemade lunch at him, he has money in his pocket for a Subway sandwich, which is what he and his friends sometimes buy off-campus at lunchtime, and will probably eat a second lunch when he gets home (the one sitting by the door).

Subtext (child #2): God knows what will become of this child. How does a twelve year old develop that kind of brass? John and I both shake our heads when we look at him and say, “He didn’t get it from my side of the gene pool.” So I put it down to an artistic soul. After all, he’s a musician. Did I mention he plays piano and cello? Case closed.

Subtext (child #3): The hair fixation is only to get him through his first day in seventh grade, which he’s slightly nervous about because he’ll be on the upper floor of the school with the eighth graders rather than on the lower floor where the “little kids” are, and believe me he will have forgotten about it (his hair) by the time he reaches the end of the block, and will find his classes on the upper floor, settle in with his new teachers, pay attention in class, do what’s expected of him, bring home all the required materials, and be happy the rest of the day. And that’s why Cameron, of all three boys in the family, wins the pat on the back for the best start to the school year. (Just kidding. His brothers get pats, too). 

Note: After school that day, Daniel came home reasonably enthused, and Kyle came home in a flying-high good mood. But when Cameron came home looking glum and collapsed in heap on the couch, his head buried in his hands, and I asked, "What happened?" and he said, "Detention," I was shocked that my prognosis had been so wrong. What a terrible mother I was! He really had been upset about his hair, and he really couldn't concentrate in class! With me standing there feeling ashamed of myself, alarmed, and terribly empathetic, Cameron let me stew like that for a minute, and then sat up, smiled, and said triumphantly, "Rib tickler!" (i.e., "Joke. Funny, huh?") 

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Glad to know...

I'm not the only one trying to get inside the head of some middle and high schoolers. I love your descriptions and analysis, Veronica. Great post!

Shana McLean Moore