“I’m really surprised they don’t have a playground.” He tells me, eyebrows raised to meet blond bangs.
I am not surprised. This is middle school and as far as I can remember all they need is a basketball court for the giant boy/men to throw good natured insults more rapidly than the ball, a cafeteria to host the “spot lights on me where should I put down this tray before I drop it” and the band room that one might use as a hiding place. Not that I know anything about that.
Now that he can open his locker recess is the next big challenge.
“So without the playground (or friends) what did you do during recess?” I ask. Probably this is not on the supportive parenting question list but I want to know. The kids I have seen are barely kids. They are enormous, and decidedly not like my pasty pale dork.
Just this morning Oliver lived out his punch line falling for no apparent reason off of his breakfast stool. He popped back up with a face confused and amused. “I don’t know how that happened.” But he laughed until milk ran out of his nose and dripped slowly from his chin. I imagine this in the lunchroom and turn away. My ability to protect him ended at 6months when the antibodies from my breast milk stopped shielding him from viruses. He has navigated the world, bumpily, ever since.
At tea yesterday a friend tells me about her sixth grader’s charter science and tech school. “They are all so nerdy.” She tells me with a smile. I think about Oliver’s after school report, where he told me that he didn’t get lost in the hallway, that he only gets to pee three times a semester in each class, and how he lowered his voice when he explained that when the teachers leave the room the kids use the F word. And the N word.
I am pretty sure my friend’s kid is not listening to such talk at his lab bench.
We shouldn’t be making a bold political statement by sending our kid across the street to his neighborhood public school. Yet somehow we are. In the face of a low ranking, and even lower reputation the school is trying to rebrand. There are 750 kids in three grades. The enthusiastic principal is trying to address neighborhood parent concerns about teacher communication and the shuffling morose attitude of middle schoolers.The school plays loud music as they enter greeting each kid with a series of high fives. Oliver’s seventh grade honors math teacher called the parents of each of the 4 sixth graders in her class to see if we have any questions. I thought detachment was consitutional- both in rights and attitude of middle schoolers but if it can be changed by a high five, or 3,750, why not give it a try.
Despite his efforts the upper middle class families are not embracing their school. The kids leave for private school with green campuses and white faces. They leave for charter school with specialties in tech, and art, and a few that are simply mixed middle schools like ours. But theirs are better than ours because they siphon more money and attract involved parents. John Oliver did a bit on charter school last night, his piece focused on embezzlement and other worst practices, but even at their best I question their impact on complete communities.
Walking him across the field later that morning on my way to the coffee shop he stops to look at the large gaggle of driving age looking students. “I think a lot of them have hit puberty” he tells me. “Maybe that’s why they don’t have a playground.” He stops and gives me a hug and a kiss right there in front of 200 strange kids. “I love you mama” he tells me. I watch him walk forward, head held consciously high. I expect I will lose him in the crowd of kids but as I stand and watch his blond hair is easy to spot the entire hundred yards through the door. The music has started now and the teachers have their hands up. Some of the students meet their eyes as they high five their way through the sets of doors.
I imagine Oliver is one of them.