Lent 2013, Entry 24

The dad was struggling. Big time.

He wanted to do the right thing for his daughter. She seemed to show a prolific aptitude for academia and she was kicking hard against the homeschooling efforts they were committed to. Her argument centered on the fact that she wasn’t being challenged by the curriculum and the co-op they were involved in wasn’t pushing her as much as the kids in the advanced placement classes in the local public school. His daughter was frustrated and friction was now standard operating procedure in their home.

He was tired of the fighting. She was wanting AP classes for her last couple of high school years and he was pretty adamant that public school was out of the question.

I suggested private school as maybe a compromise as there were a few good ones in the area.

“They aren’t any better. In fact, those kids can be even more hurtful than the public school kids.”

It dawned on me that this wasn’t really about the daughter. This was about the dad’s past. I pursued that a bit and I was on target in this instance.

“They didn’t call it bullying back then. The cool kids could do whatever they wanted and us dorks just had to take it. This is why we spent most of the time just trying to avoid them and hang out in our circle. But I still remember a lot of the things they said and did. The swirlies in the bathroom. The being laughed at and made fun of. My wife does, too. It happened to her but in different ways but maybe even more hurtful. We made a decision that our kids wouldn’t have to ever go through that.”

Now, this guy was middle aged. He had a career. A mortgage in a nice community. A marriage over 20 years old. Kids that were plugged into church and pretty enjoyable to be around. He wasn’t a NFL quarterback or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company but his family had 4 cars (okay, 3 of them were gently used cars for his kids) and he had a cabin on the lake. But he still saw himself slotted in the same pigeon holes from almost 30 years ago.

Granted, my high school experience was different. I wasn’t on the A-list of popularity at our high school of 1,200 kids but I knew almost everybody since we either went to kindergarten or elementary or middle school together. We’d been on rec league teams in sports or they lived in our neighborhood and we rode to school together because the bus was for freshmen, man. Sure, I got made fun of on occasion for something stupid I did or some clothing choice or when a teacher called me out for misbehavior in the hallway when everybody was doing it. But I dished those things out, too, when it was my friends on the chopping block.

All-in-all, it was pretty normal. Homecoming dances and dates and toilet-papering yards and sneaking into R-rated movies and pep rallies and school elections and college boards and graduation. Then off to college and everybody became ghosts instead of flesh and bone to me. I had kind of moved on from high school because in college I really felt like I made a lot of huge life changes and my friendships seemed so much deeper since I lived in a fraternity house with a bunch of them. I was discovering broader interests in philosophy and religion and English that I think I just ignored in high school and was eating meals and doing life with people who all seemed to be doing the same thing…and throwing some really great parties, too.

The 10-year reunion was more or less the first time I reconnected with folks from high school. Not long after that, AOL and e-mail became a thing. By the 20-year, there were a few more electronic ways to keep in touch…and eventually Facebook let us see what those folks were up to almost every day.

In so many ways I feel like I’ve completely moved on from those high school years. Sure, there are some things that stayed constant, and I’m glad that I had those friendships and experiences (good and bad) and enjoy seeing what those folks are up to. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I really moved on.

I mean, my wife and I (she also had a pretty positive high school experience) just assumed public school was what we’d do with our kids. Was that because we had a positive experience or would we have felt like my friend who had a decidedly negative experience? Did we nudge our kids into the sports or activities that we enjoyed rather than waiting to see what their interests were? What about my emphasis to my kids on engaging the culture? Was that a reaction to my inability to do so when I was in high school? Did I push my kids toward the fringes because that’s where I escaped to in high school with the whole punk rock thing?

And, as I experienced more of the world, did I kick too hard against the parochial mindset of where I grew up? I liked the idea that my kids were seeing more of the world than I did when I was younger…but did I force that at the expense of simple family vacations and relaxing weekends at the river because I felt like those were the things that prevented me from seeing a bigger world that everybody seemed to be hiding from me? And when I discovered it, why did people seem to wonder why I was so into those places when “home was where the heart should be?”

When I look at Facebook…

…and as my 30-year class reunion will take place in the summer of 2014…

…I wonder about us.

And how much those years of experiences really stayed with us in positive and negative ways.

Because what my ideal 30-year reunion would be if there were some way for us to hear all 327 of my classmates’ stories of how they became who they are now. We have to be more than our Facebook pages tell us, and my guess is the high school years all have some degree of foreshadowing to them. What I know is that the more I think about it…

…the deeper truth is that those years had profound influence which I reacted to more than I’m aware of. Maybe Vonnegut was right when he said, “High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.”

Wanna read the article that sent my brain in this direction today? Check out New York Magazine’s article “Why You Never Truly Leave High School,” by Jennifer Senior. It’s a little more science oriented, but still some good thought provokers.