A New Light
So we're here now, I say. You've been heading here all year, getting all suerenoed out, and now you're looking like this. I do some standard stuff about choices, about decisions, about how you never need to feel like anything has gone so far that you can't stop, turn around, and head in a different direction. He pushed back on how this isn't any different than getting in trouble last year, when the worst thing he ever did was talk too much and be annoying, all of which is easily debunked and deflated. I talk about friends, what we should look for in our friends, and how our friends don't always help us show our amazing. In the last five years and eight months, I've had this conversation many, many times.
I run out of steam a little, and there's some silence. I let it sit because I am not afraid of child-generated silence, and then E. says: "I don't know how to have fun."
He repeats it, looking right at me, all that vaunted eye contact. "I don't know how to have fun." And then, "I have no imagination."
I'm floored and flummoxed, prepared with nothing, when my parents, who are visiting from S.Florida, pull up in their rented Kia. I tell him I don't believe those things are true, and to go back inside and apologize to his grandma for fighting. I tell him we'll talk more. I leave feeling ineffectual and weak. A kid offers this extraordinary level of openness, directness, honesty, and I respond with... what exactly? In sixty-eight months of teaching, no kid has ever said something like this to me.
Some thoughts since then:
■ He's probably right. Where is the model of teenage fun that doesn't involve something illicit, illegal, or not age appropriate (in either direction)?
■ He probably has less imagination than he should, based on a reliance to have fun constructed for him, a product of too much T.V., too many movies and video games, too much Great America, too many examples that fun is a passive thing to be experienced, rather than a product to be created. Language itself promotes this mindset: "having fun."
■ What an interesting take on (minor) gang affiliation! Forget the stuff about belonging, generational inertia, cultural identity, fitting in, and living in no-choice neighborhoods, E. is drawing a clear connection between his increased gang-affiliation and resulting beating with an inability to construct and conceive of fun. It casts the problem in a wholly new, and much more approachable light.
■ I (still) don't know what to say to him next Tuesday.
We talked about the difference between a full shower and a strong coating of Axe Body Spray.