My sons had been in sixth grade for over two months when I decided to assess the situation.
Remember, they were attending a public middle school located in a poorer section of town, nestled between three churches and five liquor stores. Add to this culture shock the fact that we moved from a rural area to a more urban environment for them to attend this particular facility. To say we endured some transition issues would a vast understatement.
If I’d learned anything, it was this – when 11 year-olds 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 environment and the perfect storm of preteen angst and hormonal differences in a population that is starting to require deodorant.
Then: My kids 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 were attending school with young adults who learned to say, “Fuck you, mom” in pre-school. And why sue when you can kick some ass instead?
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 were being introduced to the idea that lockers need locks. And shit still winds up missing.
Then: My kids got picked for every sports team. Most people credited 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 Marc’s Ashkenazi/Ancient Hebrew genetics. Think: Moses. In elementary school, 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 were making my kids’ Ashkenazi heritage look, well, Ashkenazi-like. I worried that the only way to get Jacob and Zachary on a team might be to talk to their Coach. “I’m working on a book 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: Pre-teen 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 were enduring the school district’s idea of vegetarian options (read: grilled cheese and potato chips). It goes against a 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 sometimes 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. Jake 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: Middle school gives us the option of paying extra to whiten teeth and erase blemishes in school pictures.
How’s that for complete and utter bullshit?
“Our sons are in that transition phase between childhood and adulthood,” I said to Marc. “If we’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.