Thursday, September 13, 2007

I See Young People

The other day my supervisor and I fetched a sixth-grade boy from his classroom to work on /r/. The boy looked like he'd been dunked in paraffin. My supervisor, making chit-chat, asked him how he got his hair wet, whereupon the boy, drawing himself up a little, told her it was gel.

I laughed. Aloud. And not particularly softly. I mean, the kid was prepubescent. Who was he kidding? It took me only a few seconds to choke off the giggles, but by then I was consumed with guilt. He hadn't heard, right? Please tell me he was distracted enough by the wriggly tide of first graders that he hadn't heard?

It's just that, well, he was so terribly transparent. Being older than someone gives you this monumentally unfair advantage, in that you can often, using your own experience as a resource, see inside people who think they're opaque. My fourth year at conservatory I played on the Orientation concert, arriving several days before any other upperclassmen. I still remember how excruciating it was to watch the freshmen lolloping around with their urgent small talk and desperately friendly smiles.

Really it's indecent: why can't the old allow the young the privacy to fuck up, look silly, and conceive of their experiences as original without someone looking over their shoulder? I certainly don't want some fifty-year-old snickering at the transparency of my flailings over career and personal relationships.

Except it's so hard to avoid. As a child, I was pretty much in a state of constant indignation that people, especially adults, didn't take me seriously. It was the bane of my existence: why couldn't I vote, why didn't my opinions count, and who on earth did these adults think they were to be able to force me to do things I didn't want to do? (This particular brand of obnoxiousness might help explain the vaguely constipated expression that flitted across my preschool teacher's face when she ran into me the other day). Anyway, as a kid, I SWORE that when I became an adult I would take kids seriously. I would always listen. I would never laugh.


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