It’s Thursday, although I am writing this at around 10:30am on Tuesday. I have some things going on, and so this week, I’m writing ahead!
After a disastrous school year, Thursday marks the final “in-person” learning day for my youngest. They’ll end the school year with the one class most disliked on the schedule (at this point I’m just praying for a passing mark. I am not sure that will be the case, nor do I think my youngest cares), which in some sick way, sums up the experience of seventh grade pretty darn accurately. Say what you will about Covid, children, vaccinations, and infection rates, I have seen firsthand what this pandemic has done to my kid. The coping mechanisms just aren’t quite there at 12 or 13, and while I certainly feel for teachers and what they’ve gone through this past year – I wish more attention was being paid to our adolescents. It isn’t just about the loss of learning – which I would argue is probably the least of my worries at this point. In my opinion, it is about the social and emotional development that has been lost at a very delicate age. As I said, say what you will. I just know what I’ve seen as a parent.
When I think back to 7th grade, I can remember my grades being very just…okay. I cranked it into high gear come high school. Middle school though? I just remember the struggle of simply trying to figure it all out. I think I probably got A’s in English and Band (naturally!). However, the rest of my classes were a different tale. (world history, science, and math!) I don’t even REMEMBER world history beyond my teacher’s name (A very tough and stern-faced Ms. Jouregi!) and based on that, I’ll bet I was lucky to end up with a C in there. My math teacher was the toughest on campus. I know I got a C in that class without even having to think hard about it. I hated math at that age. Then there was science. Now, my science teacher was nice enough, and I didn’t mind the class. I’m guessing I probably got a B. They weren’t great grades, but they kept me (mostly) out of trouble with my dad, who saw no reason why I couldn’t bring home straight A’s. That knowledge, that I was very much under the highest level of fatherly scrutiny, is what kept me striving (and/or stressing) for better.
What truly kept yours truly from descending any deeper into murky, adolescent-filled waters known as depression and anxiety, were my friends. Things were so different in 1983 than they are in 2021. Computers were something my dad complained about when he’d get home from work. Cell phones? Uh, our phones were in hanging in the wall in our kitchen. I didn’t even have a phone in my bedroom until I was nearly finished with high school. We had two TV’s – one in the living room which was governed by my father and the college football schedule, and the other was in their bedroom. I can still remember the joyous evening it was bought and brought home from the store! I was convinced we were “finally” rich! My choices of combatting boredom on a Saturday afternoon were pretty simple: help my dad in the yard, clean the house with my mom, or hide in my bedroom so that I could read a book (which never really worked – they always found me in record time). Getting online, playing a video game, or chatting with friends wasn’t a thing at the time. School provided both my learning, and my escape from the sort of fascism otherwise known as PARENTS (a group I have since joined). My friends were my sanctuary.
I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – this band saved me. It wasn’t as though I listened to the words and somehow found the answers I needed (although that’s no slam against Simon), it was that Duran Duran gave me something to talk about. Being a Duran Duran fan brought me into the lives of other Duran Duran fans. When school was tough, either academically (I can distinctly remember getting up during the middle of a math test and hiding in the bathroom until another student was sent in to see if I was alright. I was, but I really wasn’t.), or socially (I can still remember the sneers from the pretty, but very mean popular girls in the hallway where our 7th grade lockers stood, as I walked by), I could count on my small but mighty group of five girls. We’d meet up during lunch, laugh about how much we detested running the mile for PE, or whisper conspiratorially over how much we hated the popular girls. Plenty of our discussions revolved around John, Simon, Roger, Nick and Andy, but many others did not. I felt like I belonged, and largely due to a shared love of Duran Duran, I did.
I think about my youngest, and try not to worry. They’re going through a tough time right now. It is difficult to know who you are, or what you want to be at 12 or 13. I think it’s even tougher when the group you identify most with at the moment are all online. They collectively become this sort of enigma—people you think you know, but you don’t really KNOW. (Sort of like a band we all “know”, am I right?) The current world is completely different from 1982, no matter how much we try to pretend or insist otherwise. My youngest has views of the world that are wider, more colorful, and far less inhibitive than mine at the age of 12 or 13. While most of us would agree that overall, it is a good thing—I’d also say it makes life, and the options within, far more complicated than I ever dealt with, and I had real life, flesh and blood people to cling to, hug, and yes—even shed tears with. For the past fifteen months, most of my child’s time outside of school has been spent in the company of a computer screen, with screen names serving as identities for people they’ve never met, in corners of the world they will likely never visit. While the world has become smaller in some sense, it is also a lot less living and breathing.
My husband and I have lost our own fair share of sleep this year. It is impossible to know, even in a good and normal year, what we are doing or saying that will come straight back to bite us in the backside later on. While Walt’s stroke was at the tail end of the last school year, much of his rehabilitation has taken place during the current one. Each of our children has needed to make necessary adjustments to their expectations of the role their father occupies. I too, have needed to do that. It has not been easy. The youngest has spent many a morning riding in my car or sitting in my room before school, tears rolling down her cheeks, as she expresses what her dad has done on that particular morning (or evening before) to upset her. The filter he barely chose to keep well-oiled pre-stroke is mostly inoperable at this point, and he sees no reason the rest of us can’t learn to cope. It is maddening even on the best days. I can’t help but wonder what I would have done at 13 if it had been my dad. Likely, I would have retreated to my room, to my music, posters and magazines. I would have had my friends, Friday Night Videos, and MTV. What does my youngest really have?
The fact is, life is different. The whole internet is at the fingertips of whomever is at the keyboard. In just a few clicks, not only can someone watch hours of old, classic MTV, but those of any other classic television program, not that my kid would watch. No, they’re far more into anime, role-play gaming, Discord channels, and art. Whereas I collected pinups, my kid draws them. This group creates an entirely different sort of fan-fiction than I have ever seen, complete with intricate back stories for every character (their stories follow the Warrior book series by Erin Hunter) along with computer-tablet drawn sketches that are eventually animated and put to music I’ve never heard before. Who needs a group like Duran Duran to fawn over, when one can work through life’s most gripping and complex issues using characters who are in fact, not people at all, but cats?
Life has been difficult this year for a number of reasons. It is true that I’ve spent a fair amount of time tossing, turning, and worrying about outlets that I didn’t think my youngest had available. Perhaps kids today just have more choices than I did, though. While none of it erases a pandemic, and there is bound to be evidence that at least some of my worries were and are still warranted, I can also see that perhaps my darling child didn’t need a band like Duran Duran, or friends she could reach out and hug. There is more to the world these days, even if I long for simpler times.
I know that as years pass, the memories of seventh grade, and even “that awful pandemic of 2020″ will likely fade. It might not seem that way now, in the same way I didn’t think I’d ever wake up on September 11th again without thinking first of the twin towers. Life experience, though, tells me that eventually even the most acute pain will eventually begin to subside. Even if math is completely failed, and the rest of the subjects show similar, I suspect that the experience my youngest will need to sort through, having to get back up and move on, will provide more of a learning opportunity than the subjects themselves. (Just pray I can find this patience when the dreaded report card arrives at home.)
Even so, I’m pretty grateful I had the video(s) for New Moon on Monday, or the pinups on my wall, to soothe and confide in back in my day. I agree that today’s kids are lucky to have so much available at their fingertips, but I am thankful I grew up during the time I did.