Too cool for school

Now I know how my mom must have felt.

You try and try to impart your Wisdom of the Ages, earned at great personal cost over the years, to your kids. You speak in koans and proverbs. You find yourself sounding uncomfortably like one of those "The More You Know…" commercials (feh).

And they just. Don’t. Listen.

Fisher’s class had a field trip on Friday and I volunteered to chaperone. Lots of fun, even though I forgot my camera. We went to the Museum of Western Colorado, the park for lunch and on a walking tour of downtown GJ where the kids mapped out the city blocks and admired the zillions of "Art on the Corner" sculptures.

Now a little bit of backstory: Earlier in the year, Fisher made friends with a second-grader. We’ll call him Hayes. I know Hayes’ mom slightly from other social contexts, and my friends and I have always agreed she’s a bit of a nutter. I met Hayes’ dad this year at the back-to-school BBQ Jim and I hosted, and he and his wife are a singularly well-matched pair of nutters. So I was a bit concerned about Fisher and Hayes being fast friends.

But Fisher’s teacher reassured me that the two of them were actually quite a nice set–Hayes is into the same things Fisher is, namely science and Star Wars. And I was happy.

Then Fisher came home sad-faced a couple of weeks ago. "What’s the matter?" Didn’t want to talk about it. "Did something happen at school to upset you?" Yes. Didn’t want to talk about it. "A class thing or a friend thing?" Friend thing. "Will you give me a hint?" Hayes said the "S-word" to him. "Which S-word?" "Shut up." And he told Fisher he couldn’t play and to go find something else to do.

Cue major mama-tiger mode. Snarl. SNARL.

But I didn’t want to interfere, so I spent the next several days sussing out the situation as calmly as possible. Fisher’s behavior when I picked him up from school proved a sort of barometer of how things had gone with Hayes that day. Did he run backwards to the car, give Rhys a big hug when we picked him up at preschool, tell me to look in his backpack to find something coooool? It was a good Hayes day. Did he scuff reluctantly along the sidewalk, scream at Rhys to stop air-guitaring along with the White Stripes, "accidentally" leave his backpack in the car? It was a bad Hayes day.

Anyway. We now return to the field trip.

This was the first chance I’d had to spend such a prolonged time with Fisher’s class. It always amazes me to see the range of personalities in six- and seven-year-olds and realize that there’s no such thing as a typical first/second-grader, and that if there were, Fisher would so not be it.

So Hayes came swaggering on to the bus. His dark-brown hair was tipped orange with peroxide (nothing new there) and he was wearing a black pleather motorcycle jacket festooned with zippers and angry-looking pointed studs. I was secretly quite glad the teacher had him sit near her and not in the back of the bus where my little brood was seated.

At the museum (pretty cute for a small-town museum), one of the exhibits is a mock-up early-20th-century schoolroom, complete with attached student desks, 1905 science textbook and "chalk pencils." The first- and second-graders crowded obediently around to hear the docent talk about school in the olden days. Hayes, however, had to be escorted away from a large display case of firearms to join the class, at which he protested, "Man, that 45-caliber was freakin’ sweet!" (insert eye-roll on my part) He then marched into the faux classroom, seated himself at the teacher’s desk, swung his feet up and announced "I’m the teacher in this class!" At which all the teachers and teachers’ aides standing near me muttered comments like "Ah, that’s our Hayes."

Then we broke up into small groups and proceeded to take over the museum. I kept a pretty tight rein on Fisher’s group as we headed through the mock mine tunnel. Hayes promptly slipped away from his group, followed us into the tunnel and regaled us with a running commentary: "Dude. Did you know this tunnel could crash down on our heads at any time?" (at which cute little Leslie, who has cerebral palsy and a very suggestible frame of mind, clutched at my hand in terror)… then, on seeing a mannequin dressed up like a hard-rock miner, "Hey! A dead guy!" …then, in front of the display of naturally fluorescing rocks, "Wow. Rocks. This is sooooooo fun. I can’t believe it."

And now the heartbreaking part of this story: as Hayes shoved past Fisher and went strutting out of the tunnel, Fisher turned to me with Pepe le Pew hearts in his eyes and said:

"Hayes is so cool. He’s like the coolest boy in the whole class."

All sorts of lectures and tirades immediately popped into my head… but I refrained from launching into any of them. I merely observed, "Really? He seems kind of annoying to me."

How many years will it be until my fabulously dorky, Princess Bride-quoting, photographic-memory-possessing boy finally figures out that cool is not cool? And why do I have the sinking feeling that anything I say to hasten that development will fall on hero-worship-deafened ears?

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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8 Responses to Too cool for school

  1. Gwyn says:

    All I can say to you about this situation is–be aware.
    I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. Instead I have a very angry 19 year old,(who was much as Fisher sounds when he was that age) who I hope will get through it.
    Sorry I’m not more helpful. You do your best, stick to your principles consistently and hope it all works out eventually. The jury is still out at this house.

  2. Cyndi says:

    I went through similar with my son. Finally I asked him what was up. Basically said the kid did X, Y, and Z, all which seemed rather mean and generally not appropriate. My son just looked at me and said it didn’t bother him. So I backed off. I did increase the comments I made about people treating each other and themselves with respect. And tried to increase his exposure to “better” kids…
    Good luck!

  3. Deirdre says:

    Wow…you told it so well that I’m scared. My little guy is only 3 so his friends are still the children of my friends. There is a great essay by Anna Quindlan on the worst pain of parenting is witnessing your children’s emotional pain.
    I only recently stumbled on your blog, via other scrapping links—and love it. Hope you’ll update this story down the road.

  4. OMG!!!! Hayes goes to my Son’s school…… now how could that be???? I think all Moms have a Hayes in their kids life!!! I love this story….. 🙂

  5. Amy Sorensen says:

    I am SO hearing you on this one. Sometimes it feels like everything I’ve learned in my life is pointless, because you can’t hand it down to your kids like you can an old blanket. What good is knowing that cool is SO not cool when your kids still have to learn it on their own?
    Hugs to Fisher. And to you!

  6. Mimi says:

    Oh man, Molly – as they age, the battles, change, you know that.

  7. Missy_G says:

    This situation is the one that scares me the most as my son gets older. Good Luck!!

  8. Kim Goldman says:

    Molly hang in there and BE THERE for your little guy.
    DS had something like this happen in 6th grade. After the brat in question ruined a brand new $50 backpack I bought my son by writing nasty demeaning things on it in permanent marker, I took the backpack to his parents house and gave them a piece of my mind. They ended up paying for the backpack, I never allowed the kid near our house again and eventually the crowd of kids turned on him. He became a pariah though we had already moved by then and know this only because we stayed friendly with one of the other kids and their family.
    In a less aggressive but equally mean way the girls start this even earlier.
    There’s a 5 year old in my 4 year old DD’s class. This kid was held back a year this year. They have gone to the same school since my DD was 18 months old. She thinks this other girl is so cool (because she is older) and loves that she is in her class this year. I have never been really comfortable around this kid or her parents but kept quiet.
    Fast forward to Halloween party this year. Other kid is dressed as cheerleader, my DD as a kitty cat. Other kid walks up to my DD and looks her up and down and then rolls her eyes and says, “you have GOT to be kidding”. I was so angry I wanted to slap her. DD was so hurt and tried not to show it. I told her what a great costume she had and got her involved in another activity.
    My DD is a good year younger, can read and write already(the other kid can’t), has tons of other friends at school and it breaks my heart to see her hero worship this kid who is just a bad influence. I’ve been working real hard to make sure that my DD’s self confidence is not undermined by this little brat without actually putting down said brat.
    We had a similar situation last year with a kid a year ahead of her that only wanted to play with her when other “older” kids weren’t around. Eventually, by pointing out how hurtful that was she quit being so fawning on the other kid…and what do you know, the other kid started treating her better. That kid, at least, was a good kid just being a 4 year old. And my DD learned to spend some time with the younger kids at school too remembering how much she liked to be with the big kids when she was one of the younger kids.
    This year’s kid is, I fear, bad news.
    Good news is it is our last year in the same school I think.
    Stay close to your boy and reassure him that he is really FAR cooler than this jerky kid.

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