Making Out is a series centered on how issues observed in the high school classroom by writer and teacher, Jess Burnquist, translate to daily life in the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.
This past weekend, I chaperoned my daughter and 25 other students at our state Thespian Festival. If you think teenagers are overly dramatic, I would like for you to imagine being surrounded by teens who specialize in drama. For 28 hours. Some of those hours spent in confined spaces such as a bus. Some of them in wide, suddenly hazardous spaces such as downtown.
To be clear, the students were pretty wonderful—and my daughter made me proud so many times. However, being immersed in teenagers more so than my regular teaching/parenting duties warrant challenged me in ways I never expected. It was rewarding in ways equally surprising.
How many of us go through the motions of each and every day pushing our own needs to some faraway corner of time and space because we are mothers? If I were to pull out my half-finished, barely started journals from the last 17 years of my life—these years filled with mothering, I would be so embarrassed.
My goals have not changed in 17 years. Another way to phrase this is that I haven’t yet reached goals which I keep on a repeat setting. Those elusive little suckers such as: make time for reading, exercise consistently, be spontaneous more often.
Let me back up for a minute. My vision for the festival I was chaperoning included me getting the students to their specific workshops then using the time when they were occupied to grade, or plan for the upcoming holidays. I stuffed my backpack with student papers and a journal.
Our downtown Civic Center is lovely. There are fountains and tables outside if the weather permits. There are coffee shops too. It was the perfect setting for some professional and personal development.
Hahaha! Hahahahaha! Ha.
Quickly, my backpack began to feel like an albatross of all that I would never accomplish. The to-do lists piled on. My daughter gave me stink-eye when I reprimanded one of her classmates for deciding to tie her shirt into a knot near her breasts in order to show off a temporary tattoo she made in a theater arts workshop. And, yes, I admit I was extra irritated by the girl’s flat, flawless torso.
There were emotional friendship triangles that needed refereeing, periods that started in girls who forgot to bring supplies, boys whose egos needed boosting after being shot down by targets of flirtation.
On the evening of the first day, when I finally sat down about 30 minutes before our students were to perform, one of our girls realized she had forgotten her purse at the restaurant some 8 blocks away.
I tried calling the restaurant and the kid who answered the phone put me on hold too short a time for me to believe he really even bothered to check for the missing purse. When I arrived out of breath, because I was keeping pace with a junior who runs track and has legs 4x longer than mine, the kid who answered the phone was standing at the counter, his shoulders slack.
As I started to explain that I was the one who had called he interrupted me in a bored voice to say, “Yeah, I checked and like I said, it’s not here.” I nodded, turned and looked under one booth, then the next where the purse sat undisturbed beneath a bench in a darkened space. I felt genuine envy of that damn purse.
“Thanks!” I said bitterly dangling the evidence of his laziness in his reddening face.
While our students’ performance was artistic and brilliant, the play I had to sit through beforehand by a different school’s theater troupe was not. The phrase what-fresh-hell-is-this- what-fresh-hell-is-this echoed in my brain until it finally ended.
When we returned to our hotel, I reminded myself of my good fortune. I had my very own hotel room. Tonight is mine, I declared. Tonight I will do yoga in peace! Tonight I will starfish myself on that bed and listen to music and write in my journal.
After I finished the 10:45 pm room check, I returned to my room and pulled out my journal. When I woke up, the page I had turned to was full of drool not ink. The drama teacher was knocking on my door to be sure I was getting ready for breakfast and check out. “We need to store our luggage in the lobby,” he said through the door. I hadn’t even changed into pajamas before passing out the night before.
After breakfast with seven students, we walked back to the conference center. The kids went to watch a main stage play and I finally managed to steal a moment to myself. It was beautiful outside. I found a table near a cactus garden and in the sunshine. I had a view of the doors where the students would let out after the play. It was the perfect spot.
I took out my journal. I was exhausted. Dare I give myself permission to just do nothing? To tilt my head and receive the sunlight and air and breathe without the sounds of any adolescents? Yes. Yes, I would do just that.
I inhaled and closed my eyes.
“DUDE! LET’S DO THIS!”
I had seated myself in the juggling workshop zone—the students had been receiving initial instruction around the corner. Bowling pins were whizzing and balls were being tossed in every direction. I began to laugh. And then I couldn’t stop. For a full five minutes I was near hysterical.
Students began to move away from my table. I thought of picking up my phone to make it seem like I was in actual conversation, but I was laughing too hard to do anything.
I had managed to insert myself into a physical metaphor for my life.
Instead of faking a conversation, I decided to participate. I asked for three tennis balls and received some great coaching from a set of sophomores I didn’t know. At least I was achieving my goal for more spontaneity.
“You’re a natural,” the instructor said to me. He was right.