I have noticed an interesting and somewhat depressing characteristic of adulthood. As soon as we become old enough to buy a beer, marry, and carry a gun in a far-off war, we lose our faith in the young. We begin to believe that along with our mortgage payments and love handles we carry infinite wisdom. We believe that we are right because we have lived longer than they have.
Why is that, I wonder?
I am oh-so-guilty of this crime. As a teacher, I have begun to believe that I know the right way to do things. I feel like I am responsible for every report, every paper, every reading assessment, every game. My hand is surely the one that is needed to guide and shape and turn and insure that the final product will meet adult specifications. I am the grown up here; you can’t trust this bunch of…….well……kids.
As a Mom, I am even worse. Which is just ridiculous.
I remember talking to my Nana once, when she wasn’t feeling well. I suggested that she call her son, my Uncle Bob. The Doctor. The one who once treated Rose Freakin’ Kennedy when she was sick. My Nana simply shook her head, and said, “No. I need a doctor.” In her eyes, my Uncle the successful vascular surgeon was simply and forever, “the baby.” I thought she was being silly.
Until very recently.
This past weekend, my two beloved sons, aged 19 and 21, drove 15 hours to Chicago to protest against the NATO summit. I was hugely proud, almost busting my buttons, knowing that they were being brave and unselfish and were willing to stand up for what was right (as they simultaneously experienced the adventure of a lifetime and forged an unshakable bond for the rest of their lives). I was excited! But I was scared out of my mind, too.
I kept seeing my boys, my sweet baby boychicks, faced with the power and might of a major city’s police force. I imagined them being suckered in by the romance of the disenfrachised masses, facing the police and taunting them into a reaction. I imagined, with perfect 20/20 internal vision, a baton hitting the tender skulls of my best beloved. I thought I knew best; I didn’t trust their judgment. I kept texting them advice. “Stay safe!” “Do what the police tell you to do.” “Don’t get arrested! Please don’t!” I was sure that they needed my sage advice!
And then there is school. I have given my students permission to perform a play. I let them write it, organize it, direct it. They are responsible for the sets and props and costume. Go, kids; its all yours!
It sounds so good in theory, but in my head? Oh, in my head. In there, in the dark and scary swirls of my teacher brain, I was thinking things like, “Whoah. They think they can make a crane for the funeral scene. Poor innocent wretches….” I was thinking “They can’t remember all these lines…” and “How will they know how to arrange the chairs on the stage?” I felt, I have to admit, just a wee bit smug. I just knew they would need me to make it work in the end.
My sons went to Chicago, marched in the streets, lent their voices to the anti-war message. But they didn’t fall for the drama or the provocation; instead, they recognized the restraint of the police and the self-indulgent hyperbole of the entitled few who wanted to make trouble. “They think they live in a police state?”, wrote Matt. “I think they need to learn Arabic and head to Syria for six months, and then we’ll talk police state.” When the police told the crowd to disperse, my son told me, “We happily obliged.”
Well, gee. They showed wisdom here. Maturity, wisdom, restraint.
Who knew that such a thing was possible?
And as for the play in my classroom?
The kids have written a play based on a book, “Belly Up”. They have written themselves (and me) into this murder mystery about a famous hippo named Henry. They have included all of the major plot elements, and all of the key characters, while adding in countless pratfalls, poop jokes and crashes (they are, after all, fifth graders). The kids who “can’t write” have created the richest jokes. The kids who are always quiet have become the directors. The unable to focus ADD crowd have become set designers. And you know what? Without an opinionated adult to tell them how it must be done, they have created a huge working crane. Made of cardboard.
I guess the kids are alright after all! Maybe I need to let go and let them lead the way, huh?