Thirteen

The contrasting number is 69, which happens to be my age.  Tonight I’m going to see Eighth Grade, a film about a girl trying to figure out who she is, how to be herself in the face of friends and parents.  I volunteer with 11-year-olds, kids who are starting to experience similar angst.

I tell myself that I’m an empathetic adult who can sense what kids are feeling.  After all, I used to be one.  Well, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I forget the young wallows of self-esteem, the despair of loneliness, the pull towards conforming so you can have friends.

So tonight I learn.  There’s so much I don’t know.  And I want to know more so I can love more.  These kids need love.  They need to have people in their life who “get” them, who “see” them.  I can be one of those folks.

And now the movie …

Kayla has full-blown acne and there are many who can’t see beyond the texture of her skin to find the person.  She hardly says anything in school as fear usually rules her day.  As the school year winds down, she wins an award … as the quietest female student.  And she shrinks some more.

In band class, as her peers try on the trumpet and trombone, Kayla gets to clang the cymbals.  Sometimes even that is too much – she can’t quite get the rhythm right.  Her world continues to fall apart.

Throughout the film, despite the pressures on her mind, Kayla is remarkably brave.  She creates Internet videos, full of tips for kids her age.  Apparently hardly anybody watches them but she keeps going.  A stuck up girl in her class is forced by her mother to invite Kayla to her birthday party.  Kayla knows she’s disliked and still goes to the party.  She’s a little overweight but still puts on her bathing suit and heads to the pool … where everyone awaits.  Waydago, Kayla.

It was painful to see how most of the teens rejected her, since she was deemed not to be “cool”.  Kayla initiates conversation with two of the “in” girls in the school hallway and they barely respond, staring at their phones the whole time.  Kayla keeps talking.

It’s so hard for dad, a prince of a single parent, to feel Kayla distancing herself from him.  There’s really no dinnertime conversation, just the phone.  At one point, he’s driving her somewhere, not saying anything for the moment.  Her response?  “Don’t be weird and quiet.”  He’s baffled.  It teaches me that sometimes I just won’t understand what’s going on in the teen’s brain.  There’s nothing wise I can say.  Just love them from afar.

Kayla has a crush on a boy and tells him that she’s created nude photos of herself (which she hasn’t) – anything to get him to be her friend.  Another boy tries to initiate sexual activity in his car, and she’s sorely tempted, but courageously says no.

In the fifty-six years after being thirteen, I’ve forgotten so much about the horrors that kept popping up back then.  And I didn’t have to deal with social media.  I left the theatre with huge love and respect for the young people who are groping through the mists to answer the question …

Who am I?

Moving On

Last year I volunteered in a Grade 6 class. I loved those 27 kids, and I still do. They’ve gone to another school and I rarely see any of them.

Today was a regional track meet for elementary schools in the area. I watched our Grade 5’s and 6’s in the morning and stayed to see some of my old conversation partners in the afternoon. They’re 13 and “on the road to find out”. Adults are okay but they need to be with their friends.

At various times, eight or nine kids came up to say hi. Last June they approached with hugs as we said goodbye for the summer. This time no hugs but still big smiles. Mostly these new teenagers didn’t have much to say. That’s okay. When I asked what they were most enjoying these days, shrugged shoulders were the norm. And that’s okay too. I was so pleased to see them. Soon they were off with their best buds, getting ready for their events or just hanging out. I smiled as they walked away. I know I’ve touched their lives but I’m of the past and the present has so many wonders to behold. May they have eyes to see.

Some of these kids may reappear in my life … or perhaps not. I’m fine with both. Go see what’s out there, dear ones, and who’s out there.

Mid-afternoon, one of the Grade 7 girls came over to talk. We yapped about this and that for fifteen minutes or so. It was lovely. And then she was bouncing away.

Remembering the past is pretty cool. Imagining the future widens my eyes. But any gifts I offer to the world are only in this very moment, repeated over and over till I die. Just like the kids, I’ll move on to the beings who choose to grace my doorstep.

Fifty Years After – Part 1

Cam and I went to visit Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto yesterday … our high school.  I had dropped in once as an adult, probably twenty years ago, but that had been a very brief peek at what had been.  Yesterday was the full meal deal.

After parking, we could have gone in the main entrance or the one by the auditorium.  Since as a teenager I was never allowed enter the school by the main one, I decided that as an adult I would stay consistent.  Besides, I used to hang out by the auditorium, sitting on a low wall next to the lawn.  In 2015, a wheelchair ramp was right up against the wall, making it impossible to sit in my spot.  Sigh.

As we walked inside, I looked at the left wall in the foyer for the many plaques which had featured the names of Lawrence award winners over the decades.  I was especially looking for one certain plaque from 1967 which included “Bruce Kerr” in yellow calligraphy on dark brown wood.  But the wall was blank.  Double sigh.  “No!  They can’t have gotten rid of us.  It’s my history.”

Cam and I slouched down the hallway to the office, where we explained our ancient status and asked permission to look around.  The secretary was most obliging and gave us guest badges to wear around our necks.  Before leaving the office, I did what any normal person would have done – I sang Lawrence’s school song:

Give a cheer for the good old gold and blue
Our sons will be always strong and true
We’ll go in fighting and get a victory
Our foes we’ll soon subdue
For Lawrence is going out to win
We’ll fight through our foes through thick and thin
Give a cheer for the team that’s out to win that game
And make that cheer a victory cry
Let’s go – we won’t stop until it’s victory
For the gang at LPCI

Victory, victory is our cry
V-I-C-T-O-R-Y
Are we champions?  Well, I guess
Can we beat ’em?  Yes, yes, yes!

Two secretaries smiled big time.  They told me that most of those words had been scrapped a long time ago.  Politically incorrect, you know.  Guess it was hard to fit in “Our sons and daughters will be always strong and true”.  Plus “fighting”, “subdue” and “fight through our foes” were just a mite too violent.  So today’s kids don’t know the song.  Triple sigh.

So began three hours of exploring our youth in the halls and classrooms of Lawrence Park.  The best was yet to come.