I was a college counselor for five years, from 1999 to 2004, working with high school juniors and seniors on a daily basis. I loved the job; it was fun, the kids trusted me and confided in me, and it kept me young in a way that few other things ever could or will again.
One of the best compliments I ever received was at the senior prom in 2002, at which I was one of five faculty members invited by the class to chaperone. I was out there on the dance floor, nine months pregnant, dancing and jumping up and down in three inch heels and a maternity dress, and one of the kids came over and gave me a hug. “You’re so cool, Ms. Green!” she yelled to me over the music. “It’s like you’re one of us!” I’ve never felt cooler in my life.
But eight years after ending that career, I’m feeling farther and farther away from being “one of them.” Now pushing forty, with two school-aged kids, I have a feeling that if I were to go to prom today, they’d see me as more like one of their parents than anything else. Which is, frankly, the way it should be, and I am totally okay with that. But I’ll admit, sometimes, I miss those days of knowing what it’s like to be a teenager; of being on in the inside instead of wondering what is going on in those crazy heads of theirs from the outside. Of feeling young and cool, and not old and lame.
Back in September, as you may recall, I hired a college kid to help me out with driving my kids to their after school activities a few days a week. I just couldn’t be at occupational therapy in Santa Monica and at the ice rink in Culver City at the same exact time, nor could I be at my son’s fencing lesson and my daughter’s basketball practice at the same time, either. So I found a really nice, responsible twenty year-old to come three days a week and take one of my kids in one direction while I took the other one in the other direction. She was great. She was on time, she was polite, she was a good driver, and she texted me whenever she got my kid to where they were going, so that I would know they had arrived safely.
As the months went on, she also began to text me when she was running late, or to tell me that she was bringing her cousin with her that day, or that she got an internship at a preschool and couldn’t work on Mondays anymore. She texted me when her grandmother was sick and she wasn’t going to be able to come, then again when her whole family flew in to be with her grandmother and she was going to hang out with them, so she couldn’t come. And again when her car had a problem and she wasn’t going to be able to come, and when it was the holidays and she had a party so she wasn’t going to be able to come. And then, at the end of winter break, I got a text that her class schedule had changed and that she wouldn’t be able to work on the days I needed her, so could we switch to different days?
I texted her back that I was really sorry, but different days were not going to work out for me, because I needed her on the days that my kids both had somewhere to be, and I didn’t have anything for her to do on the other days. I asked her if she could still work that week, though, since classes hadn’t started yet and I was caught off guard by this, and I really needed her the next day.
To which she texted back, I have an advisory meeting tomorrow. To which I texted back, ok (even though what I really wanted to text back was, are you freaking kidding me, except, you know, with a different adjective that begins with the letter f.) And that was the last time we ever communicated with each other.
It was weird. There was no closure, there was no sense of whether she was angry or I was angry, there was no opportunity to talk it out and hopefully end on good terms, there was no chance for my kids to say goodbye. (Although, they weren’t that upset. It turns out she only listened to country music in the car). But I realized something: I’d just been broken up with – or maybe I broke up with her? – by text message. A classic, teenaged rite of passage, from what I understand.
For just a moment, I was back to being one of them. Hmmm. I never thought I’d say this, but I think it’s way cooler to be one of us.