Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Sometimes my job can be a bit surreal. Yesterday morning I cooked and served lunch to my senior citizens, which I do every Tuesday. I was encouraging them to fight to keep their Center going before budget season kicks in and uncertainty takes the lead. Some of them wondered how I was adjusting to turning 50. I just grinned, knowing no matter how I answered, someone would offer words of advice. To them a grin means I'm still winning the war against their enemy Arthur Itis.

How am I adjusting? That afternoon I sat down to teach the kids how to play Jacks. Yes, on the floor. Is there any other way? That's when I discovered how "un-childlike" these poor kids have become.

A little girl held up the plastic bag containing several small rubber balls and the jacks and with a perplexed expression asked me,"What do you do with these?" Another kid came up and at least knew they were called jacks but had no idea what they were for. So I sat down on the floor and showed them. They were amazed. I was surprised at how quickly it came back to me, that rhythm of toss, scoop and catch. When it was their turn, I just felt sad. It wasn't just their lack of coordination, which is understandable when you're learning a new task. It was the fact they couldn't remember simple things, like to toss the ball UP. It took 10 minutes of me chanting, "Up, scoop, catch after one bounce" for one of our 4th graders to grasp the concept. I kept on until he got it and grinned from ear to ear. In my head I heard a ghostly, "Remarkable!" that one of the Little Rascals use to utter in a drawl. One minute I was grinning, the next I felt sad. Who is their "Little Rascals" reference? A talking sponge? Or worse?

I worry about these kids sometimes. Not just because I'm older but because I still remember childhood so vividly. What will they remember? Eating junk food, playing computer games and watching movies they are way too young to comprehend. I worry because of the time they are growing up in. The neighborhood where they're growing up has citizens more interested in who has the most expensive sneakers rather than who made the Honor Roll at school. No, their badge of honor is learning gang signs and talking tough. What scares me is most of the time they don't know what they're talking about and the slightest innocent misstep could get them hurt. Badly. If you ask them what their favorite song is, all they can name are rappers. I can tell you where I was if I hear a song from my youth. When the get to my age, how are they going to hum along to "tunes" where men brag about violence, Hos and bitches wanting their bling? Where's their balance?

Sometimes I think that's why I'm a counter balance. As a kid I remember not liking classical music. My best friend's evil brother, who used us as his human guinea pigs in ways the military hasn't come up with even today, told me I should listen to it. First I was shocked because I thought of that music as definitely more cultured than he was. The second shock was finding out he was right...that to grow, you have to be willing to have an open mind.

So I bring my childhood to work with me. I tell them stories about being their age without resorting to stories that begin, "When I was your age..". They like to hear that I was shy, unsure and how I dealt with stuff. Instead of the adult who lords it over them with never ending rules and yelling, I'm the one who, in their eyes, survived childhood and can still laugh. Like a kid.

And I did see a little bit of "just kid" in them after all. When they finished playing jacks, they found the joy of spinning them like tops. Maybe there's hope for them yet.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

One of my favorite memories of my childhood is my dad sitting on the front porch playing jacks with me and my friends. I had never thought about the fact we still relate to the songs of our era - mine a little before yours :-) - and how we can sing along with them and still remember how we felt at the time. I can't imagine that as grandparents and great grandparents the children of today will be willing to share the rap songs so prevelant now - filled with violence and hatred and racist remarks. How sad for them that this is what the music? culture offers them.