Same as it Ever Was

dennis class photo 1980 cc-rMy son started fifth grade a few weeks ago. He went to school with a packed lunch and a bunch of new pencils and came home with schedule and a little bit of a crush. He re-established old friendships, invited the new boy to sit at his lunch table, decided to try out for the football team (read: soccer) and apparently, signed up for an Instagram account without my knowledge. I am pretty sure the Instagram part was to follow the girl he just might/maybe/ kinda/sorta like without realizing he might/maybe/ kinda/sorta like her, but we will leave that for another post.

From Angry Birds to Instagram in the space of a year. After my initial confusion that my son even knew what Instagram was and hey, when did he learn to use a hashtag (maybe he can teach me…), my next thought was the obvious.

Shit. Now I must have ‘the nude selfie will always come back to bite you in the ass‘ conversation.

There you go, Mom. I bet that’s not a conversation you would have had with me back when I was in fifth grade. If I had even thought about taking nude pictures, assuming I could find my Le Disc camera with its fancy built-in flash, you would have been able to talk me out of it by reminding me that the poor boy with the acne who developed pictures at the FotoMat in the center of town near Almacs would know what I looked like in my birthday suit.

In 1980 I was nine going on ten. My greatest wish was to be able to do a penny drop from the swing set on the school yard asphalt. A good day was the triumph of breaking through the barrier of arms when playing Red Rover or outrunning the boys in a game of boys against the girls tag. A good day was finding the perfect hopscotch rock, not stepping on a Chinese jump rope while doing the side/side bit of rollsies. A good day was hitting a hundred red, hot peppers.


In 1980 I  was listening to The Wall in Mrs. Tulemello’s fourth grade class, fist in the air, singing along to the chorus while solving long division problems. I was sitting cross-legged in a circle in Mrs. Mohan’s fifth grade class sucking on watermelon Jolly Ranchers while she read aloud to us from From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Skinny, gawky, over-bit and awkward, growing out my hair so I could wear ribbon festooned barrettes that flew out behind you when you ran, trading crushes, trying to figure it all out. In fifth grade my life’s sole goal was to be a hairdresser.

In 1980, I longed–with all my heart–for a pair of Jordache jeans. Today, my son longs for a MacBook Air. In 1980 I sat with my feet up on the threshold of my bedroom door, talking on the home phone. My son longs for an iPhone with an unlimited texting plan.

I did book reports and looked things up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, the 26 book set lining my bedroom bookshelf, gilt embossed spines in order. My son simply Googles it. The dictionary was sanitized, free of slang, a sanctum sanctorum. The other day my son asked why “Dick” used to be a nickname for Richard. I had to jump off the couch to make sure he didn’t just Google it.

In 1980 a cloud was a nimbus, cumulus, a stratus. Today The Cloud is something I don’t understand, and to be honest, kind of fear.

He is learning to type while I was still practicing cursive. He is learning about global issues, I was learning the state capitals. He does multiplication in some sort of way that looks like a tic-tac-toe game. I still have to carry my numbers over in tiny, little writing. He has the world at his fingertips. He knows what a hashtag does. I still sometimes call it a pound sign.

Just look at that penmanship...
Just look at that penmanship…

I watch him trying to find a footing with friends, figuring out where hit fits in. I watch him laugh at jokes his friends tell, jokes he no longer shares with me. I imagine that this year I may watch him start to pay a little more attention to his female peers. He is experimenting with independence, even with a little rebellion, though I hope he is significantly older than I was before he thinks it’s a good idea to try a cigarette. His desires may be different, but the longing is the same. The paths have diverged, but the destination never changes.

There have been so many changes between then and now, between 1980 and 2014. The world is a different place. I don’t believe that it is a more dangerous place, the dangers are just different. Less candy from strangers and more selfie karma, less stolen Pall Mall more Adderall. The things I longed for as a ten year old and the things my son does are different, the means have changed, but in my heart I have to believe that the trials and triumphs of growing up haven’t changed that much. The confused feelings of a crush, the way the world seems to unfold right in front of your eyes, the certainty that it has never done so for anyone but you.

Then again, there are some things that are the same as they ever were. Rolling your eyes at a parent, the fear tinged excitement of starting to do things on your own, the tingle of seeing that the girl you might/maybe/ kinda/sorta like responded to your Instagram picture. Wait, what??

It’s a good thing I caught him in bed reading the other day. Not a text or a chat message, but From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler of all things. A book I’ve been saving for him since I sat in a circle in Mrs. Mohan’s fifth grade class.

I just wish I’d had some watermelon Jolly Ranchers for him to suck on.


17 Comments Add yours

  1. hope doherty says:

    Read this twice. You trasported me (round trip naturally) to places only people like us can fully appreciate.


    1. dhonour says:

      Lol. You mean old people? 😉 I’m glad. I can’t tell you how much my grade school experiences feature in a lot of my current writing, both non fiction and fiction. I’m happy to share them.


  2. I couldn’t help snooping and reading your essay. It seems you’ve ticked a lot of your boxes, especially: “I want to live out of state. I don’t know why I just do.” Prophetic!


    1. dhonour says:

      I would have been, much like Frenchie from Grease, a beauty-school drop out. The rest of the bit, titled “My LIfe–All About Me” (see, I wasn’t’ always so good at titles) is full of superb bits of ten year old wisdom. It’s priceless.


  3. Deirdre Gallagher says:

    I love this piece! So true! And I love how you can bring me back to that time and place! Great job!


  4. dhonour says:

    Thanks, Deirdre. It’s amazing how vivid a lot of those memories still are. Now, middle school on the other hand…middle school I don’t remember at all!!


  5. aviets says:

    I think you and I had the same childhood. Though I hated Pink Floyd, I absolutely adored “Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” In fact, I think I still have a copy on my shelf, and I think it’s time to read it again…
    -Amy at


    1. dhonour says:

      I wasn’t a big fan of Pink Floyd later on, but singing that song in math lessons was delicious. As for the book, I was so glad that my son liked it (in fact he’s reading it for the second time now). Phew. Now, on to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and The WEsting Game….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. NotAPunkRocker says:

    I kind of wish we still had our Encyclopedia Britannica from, maybe 1985? Especially the special volumes on medicine and science. The content would be laughable more often than not, but they were such beautiful volumes.


    1. dhonour says:

      There was something kind of magical about them, wasn’t there? Just having them on my book shelf made me feel smart. And there was something finite and nice about it too. Today’s kids have 2600 volumes of information just pop up from a Google search. How can they possibly know how to separate the wheat from the chafe? And footnotes? Forget about it!


  7. Kathi Tesone says:

    Well done! A beautiful piece


    1. dhonour says:

      Thanks, Kathi! It’s always interesting to me how these pieces turn out. It started off being a humor piece about the differences between 1980s parenting conversations and today’s, which of course made me realize that the ‘things’ are different but the feelings really aren’t. Which, in the end, reassured me!


  8. Oh my… This is such a beautiful post. Everything about it… My son is still 4, but the differences between our childhoods are already so clear. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to handle the “complications” that come with growing up in the world of today.


    1. dhonour says:

      Thank you. You know, writing this out yesterday made me realize that even though there are a lot of differences, the underlying emotions (the good, the bad and the ugly) really don’t change. And in the end, I think that’s important. Growing up is wonderful, but it is tough too, whether you are looking it up in the encyclopedia or on Google. Some things really don’t change!


      1. Absolutely. And I’m sure our parents thought the same thing about and “our world”, and we turned out okay, right? It’s just the speed at which everything is changing those days terrifies me. And I hope with all my might it doesn’t really affect our connection with our kids.


  9. bernadetteyoungquist says:

    Oh yes. Nostalgia raining down on me! He will be just fine, and so will you!


    1. dhonour says:

      I know, and sometimes that’s just as scary!!


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