Archive for parents

“Excuse Me, I Have to Take This Call.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by erikball123

One of the shows that I used to watch as a kid was The Cosby Show. I still value the wisdom and humor of Bill Cosby as one of the most influential forces in my life, personally. The show itself, which featured the life lessons of the loveable Huxtable family, lives in the annals of time as one of the most beloved television shows ever, and I can recite half of the episodes word for word. Sometimes I wish life was a little bit simpler, perhaps more “scripted” and decorated with life lessons, like that one episode where Theo was getting ready for college and he had to buy back is bedroom furniture…or the brilliant episode where the husbands of the Huxtable woman challenged each other to try and purchase the most romantic gift ever. It’s a half an hour of feel good moments that I cherish.

When I think about time, and how my time is spent…and this day and ages’ “normal day”…for some reason, I capture the image of Heathcliff Huxtable, the hard working obstetrician, trying with every fiber of his being to catch just a few winks on the family room sofa before having to go in for another shift at the hospital. This last round of unexpected call ins has kept him busy for hours…and at the height of the scene, Heathcliff rolls over and exclaims to little Rudy, who has interrupted his sleep, “Rudy, I just delivered over 100 babies…I need some sleep.”

I guess we all get to a point to where we feel like there is just no catching up on rest…and others’ perception of our plight is just simply not understood. (No matter how noble the cause.)

Now, I don’t deliver babies….ha! Yeah, God bless doctors…I can’t even stand the waiting rooms….I’m a simple High School Drama teacher…but I do feel sometimes that times are changing and expectations are extremely high with regards to how much time we are expected to spend in the efforts to be the greatest school on earth. Now, I promise this won’t turn into a sob-fest…but rather I’d like to take note that times they be a-changin’. Today, the parents of the students I teach are people my age, which means that I need to appreciate what these people are going through as they manage the trials of their children’s school careers. Yet, I don’t. I find myself frustrated…and pointing fingers.

You ever find yourself mad at someone, just because they’re going home at 3pm…and you have to stay for rehearsal…or an after-school activity. That’s all. They didn’t DO anything to you…there isn’t any REAL reason to be angry….but ooooo! They get to go home…and rest, and stuff. And I’ve gotta stay…and do stuff. Dang it! Shoot!

I have only to blame myself for being committed to many things…I like to stay active and involved…I love attention…I love working with the kids outside of class…and I bring it on myself. But, I get increasing annoyed with the 24/7, on-call status that I feel I sometimes am expected to maintain as a teacher. The emails I have to answer up to midnight from students and parents…phone calls I have to return…make-up test/assignment arrangements I have to make and attend…make-up auditions and “meetings” before an after class to “discuss” stuff. We’re on-call counselors, curriculum directors, tutors and mentors. On top of that…I work at the most wonderful high school in the country. A private school where I don’t have to worry about getting shot in the hallways…face drug deals in the bathrooms….and worry about gangs. And I sit here…annoyed and tired. Shame on me, right?

I guess I think about these sort of things because of the ways of the world that I recall when I was growing up. I recall my parents making me going to school no matter how sick I was. I would have to be puking or running a fever before I was allowed to stay home. Today…kids “don’t wanna” go to school…and they spend the day at home. (And I won’t get into the numerous unplanned vacations that are taken throughout the school year. That’s a subject for another blog.) I don’t understand the mind set of some parents. Perhaps they justify things because it’s a private school…and when you pay enrollment, there is a certain expectation. “I pay for this school…if I wanna pull my kid to take them to Hawaii…well, darn it, I’m gonna.”

I guess I’m not arguing about a lack of rest…or a desire to have a nightly vacation from school to recharge. I guess my concerns come from a lack of responsibility that we don’t enforce in today’s students. These are teenagers after all. The same ones that come up to me in class during group work and say, “Mr. Ball, where is some white paper.” “Um…right there.” “Oh, yeah.” Open your eyes…look around…and find the paper. If you cannot find it…after HUNTING for it….then ask. I’m afraid everything nowadays is being served up on a silver platter…and all our teenagers know how to do is ring the little bell and request another “thing.”

I guess what I’d like to see more of (because I always tell my students to stop complaining unless they have a solution!) is parents making their students more responsible for things. The text book stuff…it’s very important…but dude, even the smartest of smart people have to admit that some of the most important stuff you can take away from high school is the collaboration…the ensemble efforts…the trial and error of the everyday interactions. How can students learn how to identify a true success, if they don’t fail every now and then.

Hotlines are important. I think they are an integral part of society and should exist for many worthy causes. But have you ever noticed that hotlines exist primarily for urgent needs? I mean, rarely do you find a go-to source for mundane, everyday things? I feel like the age of technology and the turn of the decades (and this age of parents) expects teachers to drop everything for their students. I guarantee you….we do. (And for the most part, we WANT to.) But, when it’s after hours…or if it involves a hired worker to go above and beyond their expected punch out time…I beg of you to remain cognizant of the fact that this is not normal. If you get your hands on a teacher willing to spend time with your kid…this is a major good thing.

I can’t get mad at those people walking to their cars at 3:15pm. I can’t. God bless them. I don’t necessarily consider myself Heathcliff Huxtable either…trying to catch a few zzzs on the sofa before the next round. After all, I step into the classroom and take on these extra commitments myself, knowing full well what is expected of me. I just want the students and parents to know what is expected of them too. Perhaps that’s unreasonable. But, then again, I would settle for a half an hour of old-school life lessons from the Huxtable household. I guarantee you, unless little Rudy was puking or running a fever….girl would stay home.

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Frequently Masked Questions

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by erikball123

Today I mourn with hundreds of Faith students, parents and teachers at the tragic, unexpected passing of one of my students. She died in an accident while on vacation. We just started the new school year…and already my heart is heavy and I’m kinda mad at myself, because I find myself (in my efforts to make sense of all of this) questioning my own mortality. I suppose that’s a natural knee-jerk reaction. But, I’m mad because I feel like “how dare you focus on YOU at a time like this!”I suppose when tragedy occurs, the coming together of friends and family is what gives us peace. It centers our focus so that we may commiserate together. I look forward to a tough Tuesday as we head back to school.

For the record, this young lady was a student in my class…a hard-working, creative, clever, fun-loving beam of sunshine in my every day. I loved that she considered herself unique and had a will of steel. She was determined, she loved her friends and she never hesitated to stop me in the hall for a hug. On top of all of this, she loved her Lord, and I can sleep at night knowing she’s with her Father in heaven right now.

I remember when I was a freshman in college and my parents got divorced…I got so angry. I prided myself in having a great family life and this particular bomb, just blind-sided me. I couldn’t forgive my father for walking out. “This decision was obviously fueled by a mid-life crisis situation and a desire to find happiness”…I kept telling myself. How dare he be so selfish. I have always said, and I will continue to say, you create your own happiness. I was so angry at my dad for giving up on us.

Flash forward to today and the current tragedy…I continue to struggle with the question “why?”…I find myself in a similar spot. I’ve always said (from an ignorant Lutheran’s point of view) that it is okay to question God. It’s okay to go to God in anger, fear, resentment, frustration and sadness. Questioning is okay…so long as you DON’T STOP looking for the answer. That’s why I love God’s style. It’s a selfish man who demands results RIGHT NOW…but a caring, contemplative man who is willing to wait for the answer to unfold over time. God’s blessing of free will and patience is something I take for granted, especially when I want something. I want answers about this young lady’s death. The same investigative mind-set is snooping Facebook searching for details. (I had to physically shut my computer off in order to knock some sense into myself.) The bottom line…this tragic accident shouldn’t have happened to such a wonderful person, and I’m angry. At first I thought…you know what, it’s out of our hands, it’s God’s will. But you know something. That’s not right. God’s will does not include brilliant 16-year to die a tragic death. In Genesis, God didn’t want people to die. It wasn’t until Satan stuck his nose into things that the first tragedy occurred. It’s NOT God’s will. I’ll tell you what it is….it’s God’s PROMISE, that no matter what the devil does to us…no matter what tragedy befalls us…if we trust in the Lord and we know with our mind and our hearts that Jesus is the only way to heaven…then we will be saved.

There’s a cheesy moment in the movie “White Christmas” when Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face is sitting around a fireplace guzzling buttermilk and singing about how we should all count our blessings. I’ve never tried to actually sit down and count my blessings. I tried. First and foremost…hand-writing a list is something I haven’t done in a while! (Welcome to the age of technology!) I got to about #54 before stopping and thinking….this could go ON AND ON! There is a never-ending amount of blessings that we should all sit back and think about. Little ones, like my dog, the roof over my head, my car with working air conditioning, a job to look forward to every day, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and an amazing wife who I get to share life with. There are blessings we forget about…like my friend Joel in NY, who throughout all his schooling and travels and spunky, care-free nature, still takes time to reflect how none of it is possible without the Lord. He’s what I call a “secret witness.” Or even, the beautiful children being born every day! Or the beautiful people of this world who so desperately want to have children, but cannot. Silly things, like television shows that make us laugh. That songs we play over and over again on our iPods that makes us feel “normal” again. The feeling of peace and quiet that moment just before you fall asleep at night. The hot shower that soothes your aching, aging bones. The friend who does something nice for you (like, bringing you a Starbucks!)…or that Grandparent who still drops a letter in the mail for you every now and then.

I could go on and on. I cannot begin to tell you all the things I have to be thankful for…that I take for granted every day. Walking the halls of Faith Lutheran, I look into the eyes of hundreds of students. Students with goals, and dreams, and hopes and fears. I guess what’s hardest about all of this, is the fact that God’s plan is not necessarily laid out for us to interpret. I suppose it’s not expected of us to understand God’s will.

I think I need to study up. I feel myself confusing God’s perfect will with something else…a “Just Do It” or “Trust No One’s” soceity that tells us…”oh well, it’s God’s will.” God has bigger better plans for us. Those plans do not include accidents that claim people’s lives. I can trust that this young lady’s faith in Christ has delivered her to her Father, and that the devil has lost this one.

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m a power-hungry, control freak…who has to trust in God enough to relinquish control of this situation. To put this (like all my doubts, fears and frustrations) in God’s hands. I’ll try.

To the parents of this young lady…God’s blessings to you. I promise I will continue to pray for you and your family. I will not, even remotely, attempt to try and understand the grief you are experiencing. But I will say this…your daughter was beloved on earth, as she is beloved by our Father in heaven. I will miss her terribly.

Just so you know…my dad and I did make up. It wasn’t too long before I thought to myself, “well, you can’t stop loving your father simply because you can’t understand or, rather get-over a situation.” We talked it out. (It was rough at first.) Down the road he remarried. She a very nice woman. (Her name is Chene…I call them “the old Ball and Chene!” He hates that. It makes me laugh.) But, we do talk, and he and I have a very respectable, loving relationship now. I may not ever truly understand why he decided to get the divorce, but part of life is taking the good and the bad…wrapping it up tight in your head, praying about it…and then attempting to generate something productive with it. I think that’s what God wants us to do.

I will continue to try and do that with both of these situations.

Everyone needs a father, especially in times of struggle. Rest peacefully, knowing that you always do…and He always has an answer…whether you fully understand the questions or not.

Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Little People: Big Fight

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by erikball123

So, check it out…I broke up my first fight as a teacher this weekend. Don’t be so proud of that Erik??? Are you kidding me? It’s a milestone. In fact, most teachers (granted, of the athletic dept. variety, mind you) would argue that you’re not really a teacher unless you’ve scuffled with a sophomore or stepped between Johnny and Billy during their noon-time quarrel over Betsy’s honor. I say this to you fight breaker-uppers: “this drama boy from Illinois can sock it to ’em like a skilled teacher-ninja, when push comes to shove.”

Okay…so it actually was merely a pushing match that I stepped in the middle of and merely held a student at bay long enough to cool them down. I don’t really have an impressive story, or a shattered pair of D&G glasses to show off. In fact, the scuffle ended with the student and I talking it out, and it turns out the boy (who wound up truly regretting the incident and apologized for it later) wound up being a pretty nice kids, down on his luck.

COME ON! Leave it to me to get the one “fight” that ends with a freakin’ hand shake! I mean…help me out here! Throw me a bone! Let me drag someone by the hair, or disarm a switch blade! Now that’s the action! Ah….dang it. Oh well…I suppose I should feel thankful that it wasn’t any worse than what it was and no one really got hurt. But I can’t shake that hour after the incident when I couldn’t settle down, doctoring  a sudden case of restless leg syndrome and wiping the adrenaline from my brow.

I wonder sometimes if I would be cut out to be a dean of students or a principal, and I think this particular answered the question: absolutely not. I see students as these little people who are trying hard to be big people, but can’t quite figure out why the real big people are treating them like little people, when in their opinions, the world should begin accepting them as big people. (Sounds like a reality show on TLC.) But students have lost the fundamentals, haven’t they?

In watching this generation of kids come up through the years, and meeting and greeting with their parents, I’m going to suggest something absurd. I think the issues with students today begin with the parents.

Big statement, I know. (I’m sure to win friends with this one!) But, seriously, how can a student be expected to respect anything if they don’t have to respect anything at home. (Their personal ground zero…their comfort zone.) I have the privilege of working in a private school, so I don’t have many opportunities to break up fights. (Like the caged, death match I easily settled.) I say one of my biggest challenges with students is wrestling the sense of entitlement out of their heads. No one DESERVES anything and when your parents are sending you to a private school at great cost, before you even enter the door, there is a certain sense of expectation. (You’d better get straight “A’s” for the money I’m paying.) So, these unreasonable expectations are being piled on the already burdened students by parents who don’t have the privilege of working with them every day. You know something….state standards aside….a “C” on a paper is considered “average.” And yet I’d argue that 90% of the students at my school expect their children to bring home “A’s” or nothing at all. Is that a warped level of expectation? Or is it the mind set of this generation, that ultimately shelves the personal education and expects a cookie-cutter finish line? Hmmm.

The school where I was at when the “fight club-like” assertive altercation took place was a public school with a strong outer-campus fence. It was a great school, mind you…but it felt sterile and automaton-ic. I wonder what this student’s situation is like. I can’t imagine it being exactly the same as some of the students I teach…but I suppose I’m just as entitled to think that way. My guess is that all students to some degree hold their futures in such a personal way (as they journey through their every day routines) that the unreasonable goals of their parents, teachers, etc. pale in comparison to the ones they hold for themselves. The actions they take as a result, are merely responses to a call to duty of sorts that keeps this sterile, everyday refreshing and approachable.

This student felt disrespected, and acted out. Afterward he was remorseful, for he saw that the overall outcome was more overwhelming than the moment, and that grounded him quickly.

It grounded me too.

I joke about the event because that’s my action. I find great relief in making others laugh, and when I’m scared or if I need to question my worth, or challenge my walk with Christ…I can at least settle in the safety net of what I know. That’s all anyone does: big people and little people.

I have a hard time writing detentions. “Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum—-ah, here’s a detention. That’ll show him!” The temporary action doesn’t manage the problem. It’s an Alka-Seltzer. Takes care of the immediate heartburn…but it doesn’t solve the problem, especially if your prone to eating spicy food. Changing lives in the classroom is a challenge, and yet that’s what teachers are expected to do everyday. Teach, nurture, guide, protect, reward and serve.

I would hope that the goals of a parent for their student reflects the same goals the teacher holds for the student. A quick fix to any problem (at home or in the classroom) is as useful as breaking up a fight, or an Alka-Seltzer. Stops it…but doesn’t address the issue.

Hm. I wonder what the other students thought of me when they witnessed my breaking up that scuffle. “Dude, that teacher’s a stud.” Maybe not. “Don’t mess with him!” That’s right! Eh. Maybe….”Dang. Look away. Glad it’s not me.” We’re probably getting closer.

Do you suppose students who act out in class are ones that need attention? I wonder if they don’t need attention so much as they know that involuntary attention will be offered to them regardless through their classmate’s observations…and that in return aligns them, putting them in the same category in a defense against those who lead the class. An interesting thought…but I would hope that it wasn’t totally true. After all…I can handle one student…but if they gang up on me, I’ll see you in the water with the crocodile, Peter Pan.

Phew! What a weekend. Well, it’s back to night owl work. I have a lip sync to choreograph, and I need to sharpen my cat-like skillz (yes, with a “z”) in case a fight breaks out after they announce my group the winner.

BABIES: Lovely Lady Lumps. Check it out.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2009 by erikball123
Jane and Rachael on our last outing.

Jane and Rachael on our last outing.

I think it was right around the Lansing border, as we pulled out of the Old Navy parking lot when my niece began her rendition of “My Humps.” She’s three, and I don’t recall ever finding that particular song any cuter. It’s not even a cute song really. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it…but put any lyric in the mouth of an innocent twerp…and you have what in the theatre we call “a moment.”

I love children. Contrary to what my students, or friends might believe, I truly, truly do. I always joke with my friends that the reason Emily and I don’t have kids is because we simply don’t have the space for another kennel. Or that the day the dishes and laundry get to a breaking point, then we’ll just hire some help, or have a child. I joke of course. Kinda.

I think there’s an old proverb that says “The soul is healed by being with children” and I’m reminded of the simple joys of being around small children every time I visit my sister and brother-in-law and have the pleasure of chillin’ with my peeps, Jane and Rachael.

Emily and I don’t want children right now for several reasons, all of which are none of any body’s business. I will attest that raising a child and giving them positive support, care and nurturing is the most important thing in the world, and (with the consideration that both of us come from broken families) we are very happy with our current schedules and routines and wish to expand on these personal endeavors prior to adding another living, breathing person to the mix. We both recognize the immense sacrifice having children brings and we’re not willing to go there yet. For the record, I do not feel the need to apologize for this.

Which brings me to my next thought: I think that it is every married couple’s responsibility to identify the right time to have children. (Or to have children at all.) The Bible says to be fruitful and multiply. I will say (until I’m blue in the face) that I’m a privileged man to work in the school that I do. But, I would be remiss to say that I don’t see neglect, carelessness and disregard in every other child, most of the time…in even the wealthiest of families. I look at my own family. I think I was raised well. I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink, I stayed in school and got good grades…we even ate at the dinner table together. For the most part mommy and daddy did well, I thought. (I will, however, choose NOT to discuss how they dressed me, which is the basis for another blog post and truly the reason I got into theatre. That’s for another day!) But, It wasn’t until my younger brother’s senior year that my parents divorced and I found myself in more ways than one, completely independent.

All too often children these days are expected to be independent before they should be. Bottom line. don’t assume that resilient young man is not in need of a kind word, or that head strong young lady doesn’t need guidance.  Unrealistic expectations and entitlement issues override the proverbial group hub and catch with dad in the side yard. It’s not fair. A child is an investment…not a purchase. You can’t strap a child in a car seat and then coast out on fumes into adulthood. It doesn’t work that way. Every freakin’ step of the way….every burp….every nap….every diaper…every homework assignment…every cent of lunch money…every curfew…every haircut….every boyfriend/girlfriend….everything!….is YOUR responsibility as a parent until they move out of the house. Somehow…someway…society has it tucked away in their Blackberries that it is okay to circumvent these demands. Raising a child and those integral moments (yes, that includes acts of defiance and temper tantrums) are not something you can TiVo and deal with later. The focus needs to be 100% on the baby…and all too often it’s about the baby daddy. I never want to be a “baby daddy.” (The mere fact that this catch phrase exists proves that the focus has shifted in a certain dynamic in our society from what is truly important.)

My wife would be the best mother in the world, and if our child is half as smart and half as pretty as she is, we’ll have a winner. But, I also want to do the right thing. I’m still working on me. I’m still working on our marriage. I’m still working on being an effective drama teacher. I’m still working on being an actor. I’m not ready to put these things in the back seat yet, and until I am ready, I think it would be selfish of me to bring a child into this world KNOWING that they would take a back seat to my goals. I think anyone has the right to call this selfish. Absolutely. I’ll take it. I’d rather take it like this…instead of being called selfish when I DO have a child.

Right now…my wife and I don’t want kids. Poo-poo to your heart’s content. (Don’t even start on the whole “clock is ticking” thing. In this fast-food, instant coffee world we live in, I don’t wanna hear it!) I assure you, our minds won’t change as a result of poo-pooing.

This decision is the reason we get raised eyebrows in church. It’s the fuel that burns the ever-present dropped hints from family members. It’s the bait that traps questions like “So, when are you two going to have a child” every time we hold a baby. Arrg.

It is no one’s right to have a child. It’s is no one’s responsibility. It is everyone’s great privilege. I take that very seriously.

I love the fact that you need a license to drive a car, buy a gun, sell a house, own a dog, or to go fishing…but no one needs a license to have child. Anyone with a certain appendage and a little bit of time has the opportunity, and all too often I see the product of rash, or in some cases, no preconceived thoughts.

If you pack your lunch for the day, you think to yourself…”hmmm, I think I’d like an apple. That Twinkie would be nice. Better have a sandwich. I do like peanut butter. Oooo, apple juice!” It’s a process. You know what you’re getting yourself into and you know what to expect later. You don’t strap a blindfold on and shove whatever you touch into an empty sack and hope for the best…which is what a LOT of people do, unfortunately.

I know my child will be a handful, because I was a handful. I know my child will have “issues”…because I have issues. I want to be thoughtful in the decision making process…in the hopes that maybe someday I will raise a child that will likewise be thoughtful. Maybe I’ll never get there, who knows.

So, don’t hope that this post will end in an announcement that Emily and I are having a baby. Ain’t gonna happen. Instead, please help to remember that not every couple is like you and your significant other. The curtains close in everyone’s theatre and people don’t always don’t get to see what happens backstage or in-between scenes, so don’t assume that everyone has the same plans for what will appear center stage.

Instead, trust that each couple (ones with a million rug rats, and ones with zero kids) are making the educated and thoughtful decision to do what is right. I’m not suggesting that everyone’s mind is hard at work, and until the teenage pregnancy rate goes down, I’ll never say that, but I will suggest that thought “processes” are happening in even the most unlikely of places and it’s no one’s job to identify and then critisize that. (Which is probably my ultimate criticism of any friend who has ever raised an eyebrow.) In our case, we’re ensuring our potential investment down the road, should we choose to go that route.

Sheesh, this turned out to be the defense’s closing statement! Well…..good. Whether or not you like it doesn’t matter. Everyone will judge just the same.

But, it is my hope that no one would assume I haven’t already thought about what it might be like for my own proud moment when my child breaks into Fergie’s latest and serenades a friend. I’ve thought about it…and for now I’m not ready. I’m happy listening to Rachael and provide my own backing vocals.

We’ll both be in the kitchen eating out of the sugar bowl.

Help the “needy.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2009 by erikball123

Whoever invented the term “inner beauty” should be hunted down, bound with used Slinkies, towed to the nearest cul de sac and beaten with large sticks.

I know full well that by shouting from the rooftops that I’m a Dr. Phil fan will strongly effect my creditability in this posting. Some view this dude as a complete sell out, phony bologna with clinical advice as accurate as his painted-on smile. To a small degree, I agree. Anything on the boob tube needs a little make-up to remove the shine. But, in the big picture, I think Dr. Phil is a decent person who wants to do right, and puts things in the spotlight so that they can, at the very least, get attention. The dude makes a bundle doing so, granted…but I don’t think that deserves character lynching. That’s just being guilty of wanting to earn a really good living. Some of us would kill for some of that right now…so I won’t begrudge him.

Today he was talking about the “sexualization” of teens and how media is totally influencing those who do not have role models at home. I find this topic AMAZINGLY interesting. As a high school teacher in an upper-class, private high school I deal with student entitlement issues, social out casting and an overflow of arrogance as thick as the wallets they are used to receiving handouts from. It’s an uphill battle in some cases. But, you can’t get upset over things that ultimately aren’t within your control. These students are used to a certain way of life…and cannot be faulted for NOT thinking otherwise. They don’t know an “otherwise.”

I watched a promo for the upcoming Gossip Girl episode. (A show I admit I’ve never seen.) It showed a young man and women in bed…in a steamy, kiss-filled embrace followed by a discussion about how the girl might have accidentally married the boy’s best friend…and was he jealous??? Then it showed that they were in high school. They look 25!!

It’s farce. It’s all farce. It’s unrealistic to think of little Mary in my High School Drama class in a black thong (Why black? Well…I saw it on the commercial) in a steamy embrace…and talking about accidentally marrying someone because she replied “si” instead of  “I do” in a drunken stupor. It’s downright unimaginable.

I think it’s likewise unimaginable to think that ANY of my students are sexually active. But…and I’m impressing my “I suppose” theory here….I’m sure that’s not the case either. I bet there is a LOT I don’t know. To be blissfully naive sure seems nice on the onset, but when I look in the eyes of these kids who I have the pleasure of teaching everyday…do you want to know what I see? I see someone who has a fundamental void in their life that needs to be filled. Something is missing, and these impressionable hopefuls are filling these voids with what they KNOW. AKA: Gossip girl poo-poo.

I watch as they distribute off-hand insults on a daily basis. There are plenty of rolling eyes. Even their lingo. I’ve even used the word “creeper” in class. But, in a year that word will most likely follow suit to many other words of yesteryear (aka: “snap,” “Gangsta,” and “word”) and find a backseat to the next big trend. It’s a living, breathing, evolving mess of “whatever happens to stick to the wall at that particular moment.”

What they say…what they do…certainly what they wear…and how they “act” (in class, with friends, in social situation, and in gaining acceptance from members of the opposite sex) are all a part of this whirlwind of commitment that these “needy” students cling to. It’s what gets them through Anatomy class and any thing else that’s more than a mere speed bump in their day.

As a drama teacher, I have the great fortune of providing an outlet to students who are “needy.” Performance offers an opportunity to do something fun, in front of an audience, with the support of the ensemble that is usually followed by praise from the adult supervisor. Subconsciously isn’t that what every kid wants?

I watched as the parents of this 14-year old on Dr. Phil sat in a short skirt and tall boots, slathered in make-up as Dr. Phil and mommy argued about her rolling her skirt down to show her thong. Mommy retorted, “Well, it’s not her thong that she rolls..it’s her skirt and that’s what I have a problem with.”

I’m sitting there going….“how about NOT letting your 14 year old wear a thong.” Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m conservative. But, I know I’m not crazy. I’m a full-grown man with eyes and ears in the public like everyone else. Everybody has innocent crushes with a make-shift celebrities. The media demands it. (And don’t say you DON’T. Do I even have to go there, you Twilight fans!!??)

But, must we surpass reason in order to supply evidence that we’re all “in tune” with what society throws at us? Have we forgotten our moral and personal, family standards…or are we just sitting on them because it’s easier than cooking a family meal and sitting down together to talk about how the day went?

Another thing…I’m NOT a parent, so one could make the argument that I have no basis for comparison…but, it seems to me that mommy dearest on the Dr. Phil show has her priorities completely out of whack! This is a young lady that is desperately seeking something…anything. And you’re arguing about her thong. Honestly. Mommy is complaining about how hot the sun is on Earth and she’s standing on Pluto! The big picture concern is that mommy is not in touch with her daughter.

What I think we all need is an outlet.  Something that takes us away from what is “expected” of us and allows us to do something for us instead. People have hobbies, have guilty secrets…but, until we can find a way to channel these “needs” that are suppressing what is truly deep down inside of us…instead of letting them control us like a robot to suit the demands of a PLASTIC society…then we will fill these voids our students with empty hopes and invisible promises.

With that said…I think parents need to be huge participants…no, no…ADVOCATES in helping to find and encourage these outlets.

Every night this last two weeks I’ve been putting make-up on in preparation for the onstage role I’m playing in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Tonight a young stage hand asked me with a roll of the eyes, “how long does it take you to do that usually.” I answered about a half hour. She couldn’t believe it. It’s hard work making every line…ever contour and feature fit the mold I’m trying to create so that I might offer an effective character. For the theatre…that’s time spent in preparation for a show. I argue, in life…it’s now different. Whether it’s make-up or self education, manipulation or transformation…that preparation time is something parents desperately need to be a part of.

People use the term inner beauty as a means by which to avoid what is being displayed outside. It’s totally misused. We all have the opportunity to be beautiful. Inner…outer…no matter what you want to label it…it’s all you. And just like the lingering MySpace photo of you holding a beer in a drunken frat party…what you put out there for the world to see…you can’t take it back! This “you” is the only one you get. You get ONE SHOT at life…make it beautiful.

Parents…they need your help. How else are they going to perfect those contours and features?

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