Last night, my wife and I attended Choral Fest, the annual concert given by all the student choirs in the Kenosha Unified School District. Each choir performed separately, and there were several numbers where the combined choirs, under the direction of a guest conductor, joined and sang as one combined choir. It was, as it has been every year I’ve attended, an impressive and stirring concert. There’s something incredibly beautiful about the sound of human voices singing live.
My wife and I were there to watch our daughter, a senior in high school, perform as a part of her school choir. My daughter is the youngest of our three children, and it occurred to me, as the concert went on, that we are nearly done, my wife and I, that we are rapidly approaching the end of a long line of events we’ve been attending for the past twenty four years or so. From preschool Christmas programs to youth sports leagues to award ceremonies to graduations, we’ve sat in auditoriums or sidelines more times than I can count. Soon that will be over, and we won’t have to suffer through crowded amphitheatres and uncomfortable bleacher seating and the inconvenience of the inevitability of the event falling on the same evening something else was planned.
One constant that I’ve heard adults complain about over the years, starting with my parents, is “kids these days.” I’ve been guilty of using this phrase myself. Amongst the crimes “kids these days” have been accused of over the years are:
– Having no respect
– Not understanding the value of a dollar
– Being lazy
These have always been, of course, legitimate complaints. Kids have always disrespected their elders, they’ve never understood the true value of a dollar, and, if not pushed, have always been lazy. These are and have always been among the fringe benefits of being a kid and things like respect and a work ethic are things that have to be learned. The part that the complaints get wrong is the “these days” part, as if these are sudden attributes that have only become evident with the latest generation.
As I watched the concert last night, it occurred to me that kids these days are really no different than kids ever were. Sure, they may be better at video games and understand technology better, and they might not have to work as hard as kids say, 100 years ago, but these are environmental and cultural shifts. At their core, where it matters, they are the same as they ever were. They are still kids. Scanning the assembled choirs last night, I noticed that they still come in all sizes and shapes, they still, when it’s not their turn to sing, have trouble sitting still, and they still have best friends that they whisper things to that make them laugh. I recognized, in some of the boys, the same longing glances at pretty girls that they have secret crushes on that I used to hope nobody noticed, and I remembered the mysterious combination of fears and dreams the world was when I was in 9th grade. It was easy to spot kids who were popular and kids who were not, kids mature beyond their years and kids who were struggling to contain their immaturity. These are the things that have always made being a kid both wonderful and painful, both simple and complex. These are the things that kids need parents for.
As my wife and I drove home from the concert, I thought about all of this, and I thought, our time is over. There will continue to be school concerts, softball and basketball games, graduation ceremonies, but we won’t be part of them. Kids will still be kids, and parents will still be parents, but whatever role my wife and I played in this cycle is just about complete, and at some point our children will become parents, and it will be their time.
This morning, I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items, when I ran into the mother of one of the children I used to coach in recreation league softball. It was the first time I had seen her in years. Her husband, who used to occasionally help me out with coaching duties, died unexpectedly a few years ago. Their son Jimmy was one of my all time favorite kids, sweet and funny, a good player, always respectful and courteous and well mannered, always with a beaming smile on his face. When I talked to her in the super market aisle this morning, I expressed my condolences about the loss of her husband, and asked her how long it had been. She said it was in 2006, nearly six years already, and I couldn’t believe it had been that long. I asked how Jimmy was doing, and she said great, although she wished he could find a job. She then asked me about my son, and I replied he’s doing well in college, that he is in his second senior year, to which she replied, he always was such a smart boy, and I said, just like a Father, if he was so damned smart he’d be out of school by now.
We said goodbye, and I continued on to the check-out and then drove home, thinking about her and her son and her late husband. He was such a good guy, and his wife and son are such good people. I can’t comprehend the depths of their loss, and I can’t comprehend what it would mean to be taken so soon.
Then I thought about the conclusion I had come to after the concert last night that our time is over, and I realized how wrong I was. My wife and I will always be parents to our children; it’s just that the role changes, that’s all. Children will always be children, and parents will always be parents, and if nothing else, as we go on, my job will be to make sure that this is understood.