Sunday, August 23, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

I spent the better part of the weekend celebrating the end of my educational career. Well, not the end. I did go to college. But it was the ceremonial, ‘Aren’t we a fine bunch of adults?’ end that comes with the conclusion of high school.

We drove to Houston, got to Lisa and Billy’s, talked them into joining us at the party that night (thanks for going, BTW, guys—we had a blast with you!!!), got ready speedily, and then rushed over to the restaurant for the reunion. The getting-to-re-know-you chit-chat was pretty standard. Like all good social situations, it began with the weather.  When you take almost 80 people and cram them into a room that is about 60’ x 30’, it’s bound to be a bit warm. When the air conditioning at the aforesaid room, a Thai restaurant in a newly developed and pretty swank area of Humble, is quirky at best and belligerent at worst, you get the same “Well, they’re just making the room’s atmosphere match the food.” joke over and over (and over and over).

When the weather got boring—and it’s amazing how many times we kicked it around, never fully giving up on it throughout the night but coming back to visit it every time there was a lull in the conversation—we began dissecting our lives.  “What do you do these days?” “Do you have any kids?” “This is my wife. We’ve got a new baby and each of us has a kid from a previous marriage.”

I have to say, in some ways, it was like high school all over again. Everyone found their clique (nerds in back, near the air conditioned bathroom, party animals out front, smoking and bragging about how each one could drink the other ones under the table) and kind of stayed there all night. We would occasionally see someone who needed to be visited and we would go visit them, but we always came back to our groups.

I don’t want this to sound negative in any way, but in re-reading it, it kind of does. The point I’m trying to make is that we found those with whom we found comfort in the old days and I guess we provided the same comforts we did back then. And there’s nothing bad about being able to relax and enjoy yourself. You shouldn’t have to be on your guard all the time, and friends—good friends—provide that shelter, either in your formative years, while you’re trying to figure who you are in this world, or later when you’re meeting back up in your peer group and you’re trying to figure out who you became in this world and how you measure up to who everyone else became.

On the flip side of all of this, Harrison starts Kindergarten tomorrow. Like, in eight hours. I kind of just threw up in my mouth a little bit, thinking about it. I know this is an artificial rite of passage, since he’s been in Montessori school since he was 18 months old, but this is the real deal. This is the point at which he starts being guided and groomed to become whoever he’s going to become in this world. This is where his peer group is going to begin formulating and where he’ll find out which party line he’s going to end up falling behind.

We’ve joked that we’re trying to ‘nerd him up’ by getting him interested in Star Wars, Star Trek and video games so that he won’t be popular and thus won’t get into the trouble that the popular kids always seemed to get into at mine and Robert’s schools. While I don’t want my son to be a friendless freak who everyone hates and picks on, I really do kind of want him to not be in the top social circles of the school. I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to jump through hoops to keep up with the popular kids, always performing and always doing what the crowd wants to do. I want him to think for himself and be an individual who can come to conclusions on his own.

This, of course, severely maligns the popular kids as being mindless drones who can’t make a decision without a consensus poll, but the fact is, that’s the behavior I saw as a kid. As an adult, I understand what I’m seeing a little bit better, but it’s still what I see far too often.(I should probably say that the popular kids were by no means the only ones who got in trouble, much as they’re not the only ones in trouble these days.)

I guess what I want more than for him to not be in the top social tier is for him to look at any peer group and, firstly, see the individuals in it for who they are instead of as some larger part of a machine. Secondly, I want him to understand that when you choose to be friends with someone, you choose to have their problems become your problems. Similarly, their successes become your successes. Your peer group can be a blessing or a burden and only you can choose how it will affect you.

Which is all to say that 15 years after Harrison (and later Laura) has walked the stage and thrown his cap into the air, I really hope he is in the group by the air conditioned bathroom. They’re good people. They’ve got your back. They’re not party animals but they most likely won’t vomit all over your couch.

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