My 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.
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.