“School is over! School is over! God, I want to run naked in the streets doing ballet leaps and shout it from the rooftops. School is over! Geometry is done! I hate geometry so much that I want to punch it right in the face. I was so excited this class was over, I almost baked my whole neighborhood a cake for not calling the cops every time my kid and I screamed at each other or for the amount of times they had to hear, ‘I’m going to beat you with this protractor!,’ although if I heard that screaming from a house with a teenager in it, I would probably laugh hysterically before saying a little prayer for the parent in there who hasn’t had to think about angles and measurements in two decades. Wait, three. Geeze, I’m getting old. So old, that not only do I not understand or remember geometry, I don’t understand common core or how to create a DNA strand. We didn’t do DNA when I was in high school, because we didn’t even know what it was back then. No, we dissected frogs and tried to let them go like the kid in E.T. did. We didn’t really have time for all this actual learning stuff.
I am sure I had some real teachers, but come on, I swear for an entire year, all of my teachers were coaches and had to teach something in order to stay being a coach. Remember them? I do. I’ll never forget my algebra teacher who came to school every day, yes, every-fricken-day, in a jogging suit. He even had different colored ones, but they always matched. Like, his jacket matched his pants, which matched his shoes. And history? Yeah, I ditched the whole year and showed up at the final to which the coach-teacher lean in and whisper, ‘Are you actually in this class?’ I passed it, by the way, just in case you’re wondering. I even had enough time at the end of the test to pierce my second holes in my ears and browse the newest ‘Seventeen’ articles while I waited for everybody else to finish.
Aw, yes, the 80’s. Life was so much simpler back then. Maybe it was because I was a kid and not an adult worrying about all the stuff we worry about with our own kids. Maybe having kids in high school is scary because of all the stuff I actually do remember from being in high school.
Like this one night, when I crashed the party I thought my 16-year-old-daughter was at. I rolled up on it, only to hear, ‘Drink, drink, drink’ pouring out into the air over muffled dance music, which immediately prompted visions of my sweet, little girl suspended in thin air with her feet being held up by two football players while she gulped in cheap beer while performing the obligatory keg stand. I jumped out of my car and raced to the front porch, paralyzed for a few minutes, trying to figure out what to do. Do I swing open the door and just run in? Do I call the cops? Do I grab a package off of somebody else’s porch and pretend I’m UPS? Luckily, I didn’t have to do any of those things, because as I stood with my hand up in the knocking position, the door opened and out came what looked like a 12-year-old boy who promptly announced he would get his ‘dad.’ His dad? There was a parent in there watching and allowing this pandemonium? Was he supplying all the illicit drugs and alcohol to these sweet, innocent, underage kids? Maybe he’s a drug runner. Maybe a sex trafficker. Oh my God, I’m never going to see my kid again. She’s probably halfway to the Soviet Union by now to be sold off to a Czar or something. Wait, do we still have the Soviet Union? We had the Soviet Union when I was in high school. Why do they keep changing names of countries? Why do they keep changing history? I have questions, d—it. Where is my phone? I have to bring up Goog — And just then, the door opens.
Out comes dad, who is in his native Swahili dress because he’s having a ‘traditional’ birthday party for his own 16-year-old daughter. The chugging? It was water. Yes, water. From bottles, and I even figured that out with the language barrier. And my kid wasn’t there anyway, but if she had been going to a party, that’s the one I would have wanted her at.
And you know how I knew there was a party there? Some kid ‘dropped’ the ‘addy’ on Snapchat. Yep, that’s how they invite kids to parties nowadays. They just post the address for EVERYBODY to see. I mean, I know back in kindergarten we learned if we brought candy for one person we had to bring some for all, but it wasn’t until my kids were in elementary school that we were required, like seriously required, to invite the whole d–n class to your birthday party or you had to find a way to smuggle in the invitations and hand them out at lunch so not to get caught by the ‘that’s not fair’ hall monitor. In my days, we hand-wrote invitations to the kids we wanted to invite, and when we got older, we posted fliers. What happened to the fliers? Kids these days have no idea how to use their creative energy to actually draw a picture with the information on the party, like the address and what local band was playing. Remember when you had to use the old ‘ditto machine’ to make copies of the posters? All I remember is you had to stick some kind of carbon paper in there and turn the handle, over and over and over again. I don’t even know what carbon is or what it does to you. I’m just glad there’s not a bunch of 40ish-year-old people running around missing an arm from contamination. But, yes, our kids, they don’t have to worry about that. No, just a screen shot and a post and viola, you have a guest list. Remember when you actually had to make friends, in person? Not anymore. Social media has made sure that everybody knows everybody, and what they had for dinner.
And now, summer. Oh yes, remember sleepovers? My friends and I had them every single night in the summers. We slept inside. We slept outside. Sometimes, we didn’t sleep at all. We laughed, gossiped, prank called people, did each other’s hair and gave each other perms. I have reenacted the scene from Grease where Sandy and the ‘Pink Ladies’ have a slumber party more times than I can count, been amazed that ‘Light As a Feather, Stiff as a Board’ actually works, innocently TP’d every single one of my friend’s houses with parental permission and fell in love under the stars when the air was warm enough to lay on the driveway and count those sparkly diamonds in the night sky for hours. That happened, too, you know.
I was 16 and in love with the man who would eventually become my husband. I don’t know if it was his perfect Billy Zabka haircut or his ‘Hard Rock Café’ sweatshirt and pegged jeans, but man, did I fall in love with him. So hard. Even though I now want to throw rocks at cars with big, loud, thumping stereos, back then it was a sign he was near. My heart pitter-pattered every time I heard the loud bass and I didn’t care that it was so heavy my neighbor’s art was falling off the walls as he drove by. No, all I wanted was my teenage love story and if there is one thing I will always remember about the summer of 1988 – it’s him. It’s him and long drives and wind blowing in my hair. It’s him and sneaking out and playing hokey pokey in a summer storm. It’s him and Chinese fire drills. It’s him and beach bonfires. It’s him and ice cream runs. It’s him and laughing until our guts hurt. It’s him and all-night phone conversations, you know the kind with the phones with cords attached to the wall.
But, just like scrunchies, bad perms, old copy machines and innocence, I lost him. And after he died, at just 45 years old, my future wasn’t the only thing that looked different. Surprisingly, my past did, too. As I looked back, suddenly everything made sense to me in my own little world. The chaos of being a kid, getting in trouble, staying out late, going to choir concerts and school plays, swimming, passing notes, and wishing you were in the leading role of any ‘John Hughes’ movie took on a whole new meaning. Because when the person you share that with, the person who held those memories, the person who reminded you of who were when you were young and who you always wanted to be is gone, the things of your past become that much more precious. That much more valuable. That much more priceless. When the keeper of your stories, your secrets and the person who knows what you look like in a rainbow shirt dies, you cling on tighter to those moments, those memories and that first part of your life more than you could possibly imagine. We are not meant to live without the people around us who remind us of what it’s like to be young. What it’s like to be free. What it’s like to just live your best life.
So, as my kids enter into the summer, I am encouraging them to remember. I am encouraging them to take mental snapshots of every moment, every blade of green grass, every lemonade stand, every hug, every popsicle, every sip of Coca-Cola and how it tingles in the back of your throat. I am encouraging them to breathe in and inhale the smell of barbeques, saltwater, hay, what the warm night air smells like when they sneak out, their perfume, nail polish and suntan lotion. Because, someday, they will want that memory. No, someday they will need that memory. Let them have it, moms and dads. Let them mess up. Let them fix it. Let them love hard and be loved back. Let them enjoy you and get in trouble and sleep in way too late. Because one day, life becomes messy. It becomes complicated, and they will never get another chance to just be kids. They will never get another chance to just be free. Let them be free. Let them have those hot summer nights. I would give anything to have one more with that man of mine. Just one more. So, I will secretly smile when my daughter has one. I will quietly chuckle when I have to ground her for sneaking out or doing something wrong. And, I will heal my old, broken heart as I watch her enjoy the beauty in just being a kid. Yes, my heart will be happy watching hers being wild. Just as it should be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “My Kid Is an Asshole, and So Is My Dog” are now available in print and kindle. You can pre-order her newest book here. You can follow her work on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
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