chaperone

by bam

so i tiptoed into the junior high gym last night, wielding a cigarette tray of glow sticks.
it was my ticket in. i took it, gladly.
it was my boarding pass into the realm of the boy-meets-girl, girl-asks-boy-to-dance, girl-mob-rushes-boy-mob that passes these days for the eighth-grade graduation dance.
i had signed up weeks ago. months ago, probably. as one who loves an archeological dig, especially one in real time, one in the now, this, i knew, could be instructive.
i might, i figured, pick up a few tidbits i could use. like how in the world it is that boys and girls grope their way through the uncertain world of beginner romance. especially here on the leafy over-the-top north shore in james bond’s big, big year, the real deal, ’007.
(the decorating mamas took that one to the limit, parking a jet black ferrari, i kid you not, on the school’s front lawn. an interpreter had to explain to me that bond always drives a ferrari. oh. a local police officer spent his shift guarding the shiny car. good thing wednesday night is not a big night for crime around here; the officer was otherwise engaged, keeping pawprints off the pricey hood.)
i also knew i might discover what sort of trouble these little darlings might get into in, say, the bathroom, where i was told to keep my eye out for more than two feet in a stall.
it all sounded like news i could use.
and, oh, it was.
but, alas, i got the beginner tour. i was on the early shift, where mostly there is lots of boys with boys and girls with girls, and a curious abundance of jumping up and down.
i missed the advanced class, the end-of-night shift. that’s when, apparently, the slow dance kicked in. that’s when i really might have learned things.
oh, well.
blessedly for my manchild, i barely caught a glimpse of him all night. saw him whooping into the gym, arms flailing. but that was it. i stayed my distance.
and besides, it was my job to pass out glow-stick bracelets from my cigarette lady tray. i was mobbed, i tell you.
children on the verge of high school seem to like to grab the candy-colored straws, the ones that look like you could suck out the kool-aid powder from inside. only this kool-aid glows when you crack the straw.
the eighth-grade children didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t kool-aid. they draped their every body part in glow. there were kids, by the time my shift was up, who were walking serpentines of neon.
it was rather psychedelic, if i dare say so, if saying so doesn’t date me from the days of woodstock and just beyond.
but anyway, back to why i was there in the first place. as one who long stood on the edge of a dance floor, combing the crowd for bits of telling detail (for work, mind you, not for personal entertainment, although i’ve always found it highly entertaining), i thought this scene might be ripe for a cherry-picker like me.
and besides, we have entered a whole new world over here in the boy-meets-girl department.
once, not long ago, girls were stationed firmly on the other side of the globe. as if a line had been drawn across the hemisphere, and Y chromosomes dared not cross the line. girls and boys steered clear. did not speak. barely even at a family dinner where the boy and girls had known each other since they were drooling, since back in the days of diapers changing willy-nilly next to each other on some rubber mat, their mothers randomly yanking naked little legs into the air, wiping bottoms.
but that familiarity was ancient history. the deep freeze of at least third through fifth grade meant that all exchange of word was odd, was fraught with tribulation.
in our house the thaw did not arrive in earnest until perhaps last year. and while i’m barred from saying much in this department, let us say that it is now a subject that tests my very finest tea-leaf-reading skills.
there is much, too much probably, eighth-grade group analysis of who likes who and who should ask who out. and rather than leaving the matter in the hands of the interested parties, there is the unfortunate inclination to take matters into group hands and mob the poor, dear once-interested parties to the point that all interest crumbles into ashes on the floor.
it makes for broken hearts and much head scratching. what to do. what to do. how to mend the broken fence.
i tell you the sight of a heavy-hearted manchild at the breakfast table is enough to leave you soggy in your cornflakes. no wonder i broke out in shingles.
so it was with some hope of getting a bead on the eighth-grade social whirl that i set out to be a chaperone. i hobbled home knowing little more than when i first hoisted the glowsticks.
i know that eighth-grade girls are beautiful. and the boys, so handsome in some cases you can hear the hearts acrackin’ down the road. i know the sweetest sight i saw all night was the girl who walks with braces and a walker dancing hands-to-shoulder with another girl who took the time, who had the heart, to not leave the one in braces alone, off to the side of the gym. i know that i would like to nominate the sweet heart for a nobel prize.
i found out later that i missed the slow dance. missed when one girl leapt up and twirled a boy i know onto the dance floor, only to motion to the one he used to, sorta-still-maybe likes. and she, the used-to-sorta one, shook her head no, and refused to dance.
so this morning at breakfast there just might be a heavy-hearted someone across the table from me and my soggy cornflakes. i wish i had some wisdom. but all i’ve got are glowsticks that have lost their glow.

some of you, i know, are far advanced in all of this, and i don’t mean because you yourself have suffered through. i’ve done that myself. what i mean is you have been the grownup in a house where children’s hearts are twisting, breaking. and you are left to sop up all the sorrows. or at least the ones you can. anyone got wisdom on how to chart these bumpy waters? anyone with a funny story from an 8th-grade dance? i could use a good guffaw today…….