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Oh, Princess Jibbitz!
I have a tendency to get in over my head pretty quickly. I’ve learned a lot about pacing myself from the last four years of living with chronic fatigue syndrome, but I haven’t learned enough. Since entering the recovery phase of this illness, I find myself wanting to make up for lost time–fit everything in, pay everyone back.
Perhaps that’s why I offered to pack five kids into my station wagon and drive them 45 minutes each way to attend an indoor, bounce-house birthday party Monday night. Three boys were packed into the row behind me. O and the only girl, nestled into their booster seats in the way back, were mostly oblivious to the boobs, bras, and balls conversation taking place in front of them. It was an odd glimpse into daily playground talk, and I was honored that they weren’t censoring themselves on my account. (Not to mention, entertained, particularly when Max* urged G to search on ‘build a B-R-O-U-G-H’).
The most fascinating aspect of the boys’ conversation was how they looked to each other to know when to laugh–to figure out what was and wasn’t cool. When Max, the oldest in the group, pointed out to Ethan*, “G has Selina Gomez on his ipod!” Ethan took the cue and laughed. I called back, “So, Max. What do you listen to at home?” Max replied coolly, “Trans-Siberian Orchestra.” I glanced back in the mirror in time to see G and Ethan exchange looks–trying to find a clue in the other’s face as to whether the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was to be made fun of or respected. Not knowing how to react, they moved on to the next topic.
Moments later Max discovered G also downloaded a Justin Beiber album. “Oh, my GOD!” he screamed. “You love Justin Beiber?” “Wait, wait,” Ethan interrupted, “Do you love Justin Beiber’s music or do you love Justin Beiber?” G squealed, “I love Justin Beiber!”
This wasn’t the answer the two boys were expecting (nor was I), and again I saw glances exchanged. They knew how to respond to a boy who listens to Justin Beiber, but what to do about a boy who loves him? There was a pause then they went on to the next topic–who has a crush on who followed by who has touched a bra, or brough. Of course at this pre-teen stage there was a yuck factor, and they were talking, mostly, about empty bras. (To the disgusted delight of the other boys, G took the conversation up a notch by giving bra details–how they squish, what colors they come in, how they hook.)
The next two hours flew by in the chaos of loud pop music and sugaring kids, and I didn’t catch anymore conversation, if there was any. I tried to keep an eye out for G, but O insisted on returning again and again to the little sink in the bathroom–the highlight of the party for him. Meanwhile, my mind kept wandering back to the conversation from the car. What made a kid like G, who just moments before had to remove the butterfly and princess jibbitz from his crocs, admit to loving Justin Beiber and handling oh-so-disgusting bras?
And, that’s when the obvious hit me. These kids don’t have any more of a clue about what is and isn’t cool than I do. I spent as much time at the party trying to figure out what 8-year old boys are into as the other 8-year old boys did. We have, it seems, some time to work with here–maybe a few years, maybe just a summer, where we actually get to influence what is and isn’t cool. It was okay that Max loves the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for the same reason it was okay G loves Justin Beiber–there isn’t a larger social context for these things yet.
Granted, our little parent voices aren’t much competition with all the other influences we parents have to contend with, but it’s something. And, there’s more we can do while our kids are still young. Events like Stand-Up to Bullying Day, are popping up all over the country, giving us a template for change, and a louder voice.
And so, after a long evening, the sugared kids, now supplied with long, plastic sticks (“magic wands”), climbed back into the car where they proceeded, seemingly, to re-enact police-brutality scenes. After I pulled over and took the sticks away, they turned their Harry Potter bookmarks into weapons. After I took away the bookmarks, the little ones started reaching up and pulling out Max’s hair.
Finally, back in the quiet of my home, fighting a host of CFS symptoms which flared somewhere in the noise of the evening, I found myself both swearing, again, not to take anything else on, and, swearing again, to find a way to make a difference in our community–to make it better for G, to make it okay to be G.
*the children’s names were changed