I wiggle in my too-low, public school stackable chair, elbow-to-elbow with the other eighth grade parents as we wait for the classroom modified production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was handed the crumpled-at-the-bottom-of-the-backpack invitation early the same morning by one of my girls, Twin A.
My heart warmed – she wanted me to come. She quickly shut that notion down by explaining that she would receive extra credit if I attended. I then looked over at Twin B and asked if she would like me to come to her class as well. She didn’t exactly say it this way but let me translate the look – no amount of extra credit is worth the potential embarrassment of having you near me at school.
Twin B’s play was performed the week prior. So Twin A’s invitation marks my last middle school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream until I have grandchildren.
I look around and wonder how we all got so old. In my twenty-two years of parenting four kids I have noticed that middle school parents look the oldest. As many of us arrive at a decade where we become invisible to much of the world, our middle schoolers see us as all too visible. We become like a chronic cold sore on their lives. It’s a sad, tiring reality that eats away at our recent heroic status as an elementary school parent.
When you run into these same adults at high school back-to-school-nights you realize that they smile more and even though they look visibly older, their newly rediscovered lightness makes them seem younger. We give each other that knowing nod, like a salute, silently acknowledging we have survived middle school.
From the audience, all we see is a chaos of legs from behind the sheets hanging from the ceiling. After a brief, breathless introduction from a gleefully exasperated teacher, the first kids emerge from behind the curtain.
They radiate a lovely awkwardness as they stand unnaturally in their halloween-like collage of costumes whose themes merge Little House on the Prairie with a toga party. Boys play girls and girls play boys. They switch roles mid-play so everyone has a chance to perform. Titania, the fairy queen, is first played by a lithe blond and then, during her lovesick scene with Bottom-turned-ass, she is played by a tall gangly boy wearing wings and a tiara.
They are a bit uncomfortable with the language, some more talented than others, but I admire their memories and overall enthusiasm. The first boy cast as Lysander delivers all his lines using a rap cadence and moving his hands to the beat of his voice. I can tell that he anchored his lines by using a physicality that makes me want to head bop along to the rhythm.
I’m softened by the random bursts of laughter and the odd wrist grabbing when the play called for the actors to hold hands. I watch the mom next to me tear up. We sometimes forget that they are still children, hovering in the fleeting sweet-spot before adolescence truly takes hold.
We know what’s ahead – events will fall in front of them, like dominoes, once pushed. I’m a person who has thoroughly enjoyed adulthood more than being a child, so I don’t mean to be gloomy, but many of the dominoes are not easy.
Being still with that awareness is one of the hardest parts of parenting.
Each of my children has been assigned A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the eighth grade. The play’s themes of identity, youth, attraction, mischief, and alliances are a natural fit. Adolescence, like the forest for the actors, is a place where the lines blur between sleep and wakefulness and emotional turbulence and emerging sexual identity reign.
We, the parents, are like the staid adults of the play, trying our best to impose the status quo by making ultimatums in an effort to restore the peace. But like the dreams of the young actors, our efforts are an illusion. This new generation will find their own way in a future that we will never fully understand no matter how hard we try to stay current.
Youth will always takes its place in the world. We had our time in the forest. It is the way it should be.