Finn bought a Barack Obama T shirt several weeks ago and has been wearing it to school. That may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but here in Alabama, in the conservative Tiny Kingdom, he might as well have gone naked and painted “I HATE FOOTBALL”on his butt and he’d have gotten the same reaction. He reported engaging in several “lively discussions” which I was happy to hear about. He was also on the receiving end of some insults, which were unfortunate but not unexpected. He garnered a few high fives in the halls as well.
Overall, I was proud that he had the balls to stand up for what he believed in a very visible way, especially at such a tricky age. He’ll be thirteen next month, and about fainted when I picked up cross-country carpool and got out of the car and walked across the parking lot to talk to a friend, thus exposing myself to his friends. I was dressed and everything, and I think I’m a reasonably cute mom, but he acted as if a haggard witch had emerged from the minivan specifically to embarrass him.
The day after the election he wore his shirt in celebration, although he said he was careful to remain quiet and let his shirt do the talking.
“But when I got to the cafeteria, it was awesome,” he told me. “Most of the lunchroom staff is African-American, and when they saw my shirt the man who helps replace the bins of food pointed and said ‘Cool shirt,’ so I said ‘Barack On.’ And the lunchroom lady said ‘Oh honey, how you doin’ today?’ and gave me like seven chicken fingers and usually they give you four.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
“My friends were jealous, but I don’t think the cafeteria ladies were spreading the wealth around. I think they were just celebrating.”
That’s a relief.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: My Name Is Anne Glamore and I Am A Member Of Curmudgeons Anonymous
Finn has succeeded in making decent grades, particularly in his Advanced Algebra class. At the start of the school year we drew up a contract with him, setting forth our expectations for his grades. The agreement stipulated that if his total GPA was above a certain number, he would be entitled to a cell phone.
This was his first year of junior high, and he had to learn to juggle numerous activities. In addition to the core curriculum he had the advanced class and two electives, Band and Spanish. He also ran cross-country every afternoon and of course kept up his once a week drum lessons. I was looking through scrapbooks recently and realized he’s on his third set of drums and fifth year of lessons– he’s well on his way to being able to replace Charlie Watts when he gives out.
Here he is with his first set of drums:
Here he is about a year or so ago doing a gut-busting drum solo:
I was positive Finn would remain phoneless. Algebra proved to be a challenge, and it revealed weaknesses in his study habits. We enlisted the help of the MasterMinds tutoring service in a last ditch effort to shore up his grades, and I’ll admit that I was snobby about the idea of tutoring, having never been tutored myself. When we got to the headquarters, however, we discovered that everyone who is anyone algebraically was being tutored, and the waiting room was a prime social hour. Plus, Finn’s tutor was much better than I was at explaining the commutative property.
So he’s entitled to a phone, and this afternoon we’re heading to Verizon to get it.
While we’ve been adamantly opposed to any technology for the kids that would take their focus away from reading and playing snipers in the front yard, I’ll admit that it will make things much easier on me once Finn is able to reach me when a practice is over, or when he has caught a ride home.
Tomorrow, for example, is not only Halloween, but also Homecoming, and Finn plans to walk from school to the village with a friend to watch the parade, then join other friends for Halloween activities, and then head to the football game. I’ll need him to check in with me and let me know where he is and who he’s with. He’s experiencing a new level of freedom, and so am I.
I’m taking the opportunity to upgrade my phone as well. I have the free phone that comes with a Verizon account. I need a phone with a QWERTY keyboard. I mainly use my phone to talk, but now I’ll be doing a small bit of texting and I’d love to be able to check all my emails and moderate blog comments from the phone as well. It would also thrill me to be able to tweet from my phone.
I’m completely flummoxed when I stand before the array of phones at the Verizon store and I figured I’d turn to y’all instead. Do I need a Blackberry, even though I’ve made fun of Bill’s addiction to his for years? Would something else like the Dare or Voyager or ENV2 be better? I’m committed to Verizon so don’t go suggesting that I get an iPhone, lovely as that sounds.
Now that Finn has three weeks of Junior high under his belt and is no longer quite so mesmerized by the bountiful offerings of the lunchroom, he’s had time to make new friends and gauge how the adventure is affecting his old friends. The stress and thrill of it all has already caused some friction.
The Tiny Kingdom has four elementary schools which run from kindergarten through grade six, and the junior high brings the students from all four schools together for grades seven through nine. Our elementary school is the smallest of the four, and Finn says he has several classes in which he’s the only kid from his school. He knows plenty of guys from playing sports, though, and seems to have made new friends quickly.
I sat Finn down for a frank talk before school started. I felt like he’s mature enough to recognize the social maneuverings that inevitably go at this age, and he’d be better equipped to deal with them if he was given a heads up about their existence. He’s never lacked self-confidence, and I wanted him to be prepared to stand up for his friends if they were ostracized, and to defend himself if his self-worth was attacked.
I told him that when I was in junior high, I saw people change. Some people decided that sports were the only thing that mattered. Others sought popularity at all costs. People who had been friends for years split up because one decided the other wasn’t athletic enough, pretty enough, or cool enough. Others drifted apart because they matured at different rates, their interests changed, or they found they had different values.
I even got down to the nitty-gritty and talked about girls and the way they can act at this age. I felt qualified to give this talk because I have a vagina and survived junior high. ( You know, there’s a reason we all loved The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink and those other movies that showed the cliques that form and the cruelty kids can inflict on one another. It’s because they’re true.)
I told him that he might see girls dropping friends in order to join a “more popular” group. He might see a couple of girls accorded special power, just because of their perceived status. What was important for him to remember was to be there for his friends, especially the girls, because they’re in for a rough few years.
We talked about first impressions being important. Teachers and peers form opinions of you quickly, and once formed, they’re hard to change. On the other hand, you should try not to make the same mistake. Don’t judge someone as a loser because he or she looks different.
It’s a difficult assignment – we make snap judgments about people all the time. As an example, I reminded him of my irrational prejudice against double first names, which are extremely common in the South. My first reaction is to conclude that the parents are either indecisive or snooty. I have absolutely no evidence to back up either of these determinations, and I must often remind myself that in fact I have many close friends whose kids have two first names. They are just as entitled to believe that mothers who name their children after Scandinavian countries are ditzy, to say the least. See? We’re all different. Our quirks plus a Coke make the world go round.
Bill overheard part of our conversation and thought it was unnecessary. Neither his parents nor mine ever had such a discussion with us. But when I look at Finn, I see a whole lot of me, and I would have appreciated a warning about what lay ahead.
We had our talk about a month ago. I’ve already heard through the grapevine that there are girls jostling for position, turning their backs on friends they’ve had since first grade, in order to be accepted by the “in” group. Social climbing never stops, and I surely can’t prevent it. I can only hope that Finn can see the bigger picture and be there for his friends, no matter how many first names they have.
I have a post up at Deep South Moms. Check it out!
Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Not A Normal Day
Now that Finn has made the exhilarating move from elementary school to the junior high, he comes home thrilled with the perks of his new school. He spends most of dinner taunting his brothers with the vast improvements in his living conditions while they listen, stunned that such scenes are actually possible and await them in just three years.
“Man, the lunchroom is beast,” he said while we were eating Bowties With Prosciutto last night. “When you go in there are these three cooler things like you see in a mini-mart and they’re filled with different drinks. One has water and the next one has juices, like apple juice and orange juice, and they’re in these awesome containers, not those tiny cartons like at the elementary school.”
“We have apple juice instead of orange juice this year,” Drew said. “But it’s frozen.”
“That figures,” Finn said. “Anyway, the third cooler is the best, and it has all this, like, Vitamin Water and other cool drinks in it.”
“Did you try one?” Bill asked.
“No way. I got a plain water in case the Vitamin Water is all sissy and stuff. But I think I’m going to try every single kind of drink they have until I settle on my beverage of choice.”
Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Virtual Book Club Meeting #3