I recently had to administer the strangest admonishment. I need to talk about it, because it was so bizarre. But, a little background first.
I coach an Academic Triathlon team at my son’s school. It’s a group of five 7th grade boys. Good kids. Nerds, all of them, but that’s the em-oh of the school. My son goes to a bona fide geek school, and it’s a good fit for him. I like the boys, I like coaching the team. I enjoy the company of dorks, because I was one myself. Now I’m not so dorky anymore compared to other moms, so it kind of makes me feel like the queen of the nerds or something, to have survived and conquered geek-dom and have wisdom to pass on to the new generation.
Anyway, a while back these kids started spelling out internet abbreviations in conversation. One of the AT kids would say something and one of them would respond with, “Arr-tee-eff-el” and then laugh. When my husband got home from work, we conferred quickly and quietly in the bedroom closet (our only private place) and came out to gently try to put a stop to this in our son.
“You’re embarrassing yourselves!” I told him. “Those are internet abbreviations, you’re not supposed to SPELL THEM OUT when you talk! You kids have got to make even just a little effort to blend in with the general teen population. I know you kids are brilliant and kind of out of the loop, but you cannot go around doing that, you sillies!”
My son insisted we were old fogies, from the dark ages and didn’t know anything about kids today. To piss him off and illustrate how asinine this was (and show off our own vast knowledge of chat-room talk), we used abbreviations whenever possible all throughout dinner.
“This pasta needs more salt, kay-double-u-eye-emm?”
“Yeah, eye-eye-arr-see, you used to use a different seasoning.”
And so on.
Well, the kids showed us what for when later that evening, we were in front of an earlier TiVoed sit-com and iCarly responds to Sam, “El-oh-el.” Now, I may be old, but I know that iCarly is cool. Dee-aych and I stood corrected.
We spent the remainder of the evening irritating our children by reverting back to the teen-speech of our era.
“There’s a new Top Gear on tonight, CHOICE!”
“Yeah, I tried to tell people about how funny James May is on the show, but everyone thinks he’s grody.”
“People can be so ignorant.”
“To the max.”
My kids threatened to barf. They would have called us hosers, but they don’t know how to use that word properly in context yet.
So, I backed off and took to rolling my eyes privately when the AT kids would spell out letters. Until one of them dropped the bomb—
“Double-u-tee-eff?” One kid asked of another.
“Eff-you.” Another responded.
I whipped around with my eyes ablaze.
“No!’ I shouted. “No, you cannot say that!” I caught myself and what I was yelling about and started laughing a little.
The kids were struck dumb, sending rapid-fire telepathic texted abbreviations to each other with their eyes WTF, oops! How does she know what that means? IDK! NW she chats, she’s like old, so WTF?? Oops! IDK! BC! Just BC!
“Yes,” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I know what that means, and we’ve been through this before. You guys cannot swear in front of me! Got it? That includes abbreviated swearing.”
So, this is what it means to be old. I don’t know who was more shaken up by that ridiculous conversation, me or them.
The first time one of them dropped his viola case trying to get his stuff in the car and shouted, “Oh, shit!” I ignored it. The child had clamped his hands over his mouth and literally ducked as though I would beat him, but I just pretended not to hear it. It was a viola case afterall, those things are goddamned expensive, I’d have reacted with exactly the same word choice if it were me. It spread quickly that I was tolerant of curse words, and really I am. However, they started taking advantage of that, swearing casually all the time and I had to reign them in, explaining that it’s really kind of disrespectful to be swearing openly in front of me, when I’m supposed to be somewhat of an authority figure, and it’s also really a double standard, since if I were to swear openly in front of them like that, I’d get in trouble with their parents and maybe the school. They understood that second part a little more than the respect for my being an “authority figure.” I didn’t like having to curb their swearing, I mean, I LOVE swearing, but it seemed like the responsible thing to do.
When I was a teen, we watched movies like Better Off Dead where it was the epitome of comedic hilarity to watch the parents reading up on the teen lingo, trying to communicate with their children. I’ve got the 411 for now, but I won’t 4EAE, and I wonder … where can I get my hands on one of those books to teach you how to keep up? It’s just a sad turn of events when you realize you’re no longer the one poking fun, but the one receiving the poke instead.
I do not understand the yellers. The people who cannot live another moment unless they tell you just how badly you just fucked up. I really don’t get it.
I’ve been the recipient of yelling on two occasions recently, and yes, I readily take the blame for having erred. Once was at the very first Academic Triathlon meet that I’ve ever hosted for our school. I was supposed to read the scene for the P.A.R.T.Y in a Box for the audience before the first team performed, and I forgot. I realized as soon as they started and planned to go up and apologize and read the scene after they were done. It was MY team, so it wasn’t like this was causing some unfair disadvantage to anyone else. In the 5 minutes they were performing, something like eight people came up to me—stood in line behind each other—to tell me that I was supposed to read the scene before they started. I cannot even fathom standing in a line and hearing several people ahead of you say exactly the same thing you intend to say and still go through with it. Really, what did they expect me to do about it at that point? To make it worse, three people called me at home the week following the event to tell me that I should have read the scene before the kids performed. How do you respond to something like that?
The second incident was just yesterday. The car in front of me turned the corner to get in the line in front of the school to pick up the kids. Then it was my turn and as I turned the corner, I realized that the cars weren’t moving up as much as I anticipated they would. I had misjudged the amount of space available and part of my car would be in the crosswalk, but I couldn’t put my car in reverse back around the corner. I was pretty well committed to this awkward situation. I’ve seen it happen to other people. It’s not always easy to gauge from around the corner how much room there is, but since the line behind you extends out into another intersection down the street, you want to scoot up and keep things tight. I’ve also seen cars honking at people who are waiting for adequate room around the corner and aren’t turning when the people behind them think they should. It’s a high-emotion corner. I’ve never been honked before. Truth be told, my daughter prefers that I get there later so she can hang out with her friends, so there usually isn’t even much of a line by the time I get there, which is fine by me because this whole situation seems to turn grown ups into a bunch of squabbling idiots. Anyway, so once in a while, somebody misjudges the available space and their ass is blocking the crosswalk. Yesterday, it was mine. One kid approached the crosswalk while I was left dangling out in it, and he had to wait about 90 seconds for the line in front of me to move so I could scoot up out of his way. In that 90 seconds, a woman stopped at the stop sign coming the other way rolled down her window and made angry arm gestures at me. I made a “What?” gesture myself and she shouted, “What’s the matter with you? There are KIDS trying to cross the street!” and continued with the huffy arm movements and scowling face as though this was the worst offense against humanity she’d ever witnessed. OK, yes, I did in fact screw up. In the years of picking my kid up at that school, this is the first time I’ve misjudged the space, and I’ll be careful to not do it again. But, what exactly would she have me do about it right then? Her yelling at me actually delayed the child’s progress home by a few seconds because I was distracted by her when the car in front of me moved up and I could get my tail end out of the crosswalk.
I don’t understand the yelling. Is it that people need to be so right all the time that they just can’t stop themselves from pointing out someone else’s error? Even if a bunch of people already have? Even if pointing it out will do nothing to change what’s happening now? I obviously figured out the P.A.R.T.Y in a Box thing and fixed it at the first opportunity. The car situation is bigger than my little error yesterday, but it might serve everyone better if a long-term solution is proposed to the board, rather than just continuing to honk and shout at each other at the street corners. As for me, I’ll try to just avoid it by getting there after the line is gone.
But, the thing I really don’t understand, is what I asked before … how do you respond to people when they do this? Not just at the moment, but later, when you have to see them again? I may have committed an unforgivable offense, the lore destined to passed orally from coach to coach through the rest of time when I forgot to read the scene from the P.A.R.T.Y in a Box at the January 11th Round Robin, but all those people who lined up to alert me of my fuck up again, and again, and again and then called me at home to make sure I knew I fucked up? I’ll never be able to look at them like they’re normal human beings again. I feel like Mel Gibson in Signs, pointing these people out to my kids and saying, “See that lady? I don’t any of you spending any time with that lady alone. Understand?” Because what kind of people DO this? The lady in the car yesterday, what am I supposed to say to her when I bump into her at some pot luck? My husband suggested I ask if she’s over it yet. She won’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about because she probably goes around yelling at everyone for everything and my most horrible crime against children there at the crosswalk will be long forgotten. But, I won’t forget her. Her twisted face looking comically demonic from behind the windshield, her wild arms gesturing violently through the SUV’s open window. The scene has been burned into my brain forever. The honkers are no better. How do they greet each other at the soccer games after they’ve just been mechanically screaming at each other day in, day out? We have to live together on this planet. We have to do our best to make our way through interactions with each other. There will be bumps. There will be accidents. Mistakes will be made and corrected. I know I am embarrassed when I screw up, but I’d be even more embarrassed to make such an ass out of myself rushing to point out someone else’s screw up. To err is human, to have a big screaming hissy fit about it is just stupid.
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