TAMPA, October 1, 2012 - My sons are in their second year of middle school. Jacob and Zachary left a small, private Jewish elementary school to attend a slightly larger public middle school located in a rough section of town, nestled between three churches and five liquor stores. We moved for them to attend this particular facility so to say we’ve endured some transition issues would the understatement of the year.
But here we are in our second year and thrilled with most everything so far, even with experiences which aren’t necessarily thrilling. If I’ve learned anything, it’s this - when tweens experience a change in their worldview, parents need to pay attention and keep up.
Oh, and wine helps.
There are many differences between a rather innocent childhood spent in a nurturing elementary school and the perfect storm of preteen angst and hormonal differences in a population that is starting to require deodorant.
Then: Jacob and Zachary attended school with children who responded to frustration in two ways: they either threatened to curse or threatened to sue. Most of the time, they called Daddy. Now: My kids attend school with young adults who learned to say the F word in pre-school. And why sue when you can hospitalize?
Then: My boys simply dropped their belongings in the hallway when they had recess. In plain view were books, money, electronics, and stock options. Nothing was ever stolen, although risky investors were mocked and belittled. Now: My kids have been introduced to the idea that lockers need locks. And stuff still winds up missing.
Then: My kids got picked for every sports team. Most people credit their Irish heritage, but my relatives can’t bend over and touch their toes without putting an eye out. No, my sons’ athletic tendencies are the result of Husband’s Ashkenazi/Ancient Hebrew genetics. Think: Moses. Last year, this easily gave our kids the advantage over schoolmates who followed more in the Woody Allen tradition of Judaism. Now: Schoolmates like Keyshawn Robinson* and DeWayne Carter*make my kids’ Ashkenazi heritage look, well, Ashkenazi-like. I’m worried that the only way to get Jacob and Zachary on a team is to talk to their Coach. “I’m working on a column about why you hate Jews. How do you spell your last name?”
Then: My boys flirted with girls who wanted summer homes on the beach and good earning potential in a mate. Now: Girls want guitar players who can lick their own eyebrows.
Then: My kids enjoyed home-cooked, kosher-vegetarian, gourmet, and conflict-free lunches from a local company that brought in catered meals with a song and smile. Now: They endure the school district’s idea of vegetarian options (read: grilled cheese and potato chips). It goes against the lunch lady’s contract to smile.
Then: My kids socialized with open-minded Jewish kids who typically, though not always, seemed to enjoy socializing with other Jewish kids. Now: My boys meet students like “Christopher” whose mom doesn’t even want him around Jewish kids. “Didn’t that happen to Daddy back in the old days?” Jacob asked. Daddy nodded as if remembering a pogrom. Jacob told Christopher, “Anti-Semitism is so ten minutes ago. Come on kid, we’re *in* now.”
Then: My kids took embarrassing school pictures, with parted hair and missing teeth, that will come back to haunt them during future rehearsal dinners and/or bond hearings. Now: They have the option of paying extra to whiten teeth and erase blemishes in school pictures.
How’s that for complete and utter nonsense?
“Our sons are in middle school,” I said to Husband. “If they’re not documenting how ugly and awkward they look in pictures that will last forever, then they’ve missed half the experience.”
Give me credit for at least trying to keep up. Please pass the wine.
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