lately, i’ve been spending my mental downtime revisiting my happiest years: high school, the late 1990s. a lot of people get angry – yes, angry – when you tell them that you really loved high school or had a great experience during those years. it wasn’t a happy time for everyone, and i get that. but high school was GREAT for me. i was free, truly free, in so many ways that the restrictions of being underage didn’t matter. i will never be that unburdened again, and when i need some emotional comfort, those memories are great little fuzzy security blankets.
a lot of my favorite stories from back then center around the man, but a lot of them don’t. [yes, i did have other friends and other interests as a teenager besides pining for my eventual second husband. i may have led you to believe otherwise.] this is one of those other stories, about one of my favorite people from my favorite time in life…
we’ll call my buddy flyboy. he was taking flying lessons when we met, and nearly 20 years later he’s a successful commercial pilot. but at the time, he was just a goobersmack teenager with a 1970s volvo and a drivers license. as an october baby, he was nearly a full year older than the rest of our class, so he got his license in the fall of 10th grade. when the rest of us were 14 and 15, this was big news for our social lives. flyboy would drive around and pick us all up, or we’d meet somewhere central, then we’d take off. we’d ride up and down the main east-west artery in our town with no destination in mind.
one of my favorite things about flyboy is that he gave nary a damn – he was his own weird, quirky, fabulous self with no regard for anyone else’s thoughts on the matter. he found the most uncommon things funny. he made the theme from the quick and the dead into a whole-class joke that lasted all four years of high school. he once started a three-week gag centered around “suicide is painless,” the theme from M*A*S*H, in our 11th-grade biology class. (and yes, we went to high school before columbine. i am fully aware of the many ways that the lot of us would’ve been pathologized for supposed threats to our fellow students based on some words we thought were funny and nothing else. that’s another post for another day.)
gas was stupid-cheap when we were kids, too. all of us could put in $2 each and fill up flyboy’s volvo for the whole night. but he never filled up the tank. nah, that’d be too linear. he would pull up to the pump, carefully dispense exactly $4.73 worth into the tank, and walk into the convenience store for a little debbie oatmeal cream pie. since none of us had credit cards at that age, this was a cash transaction, and as it happens, a little debbie cake was $0.25, making the purchase total exactly $5.00 with tax. he took a special form of joy in making those numbers line up. and because quirky teenagers find EVERYTHING funny, we all laughed right along with him.
i really can’t stress enough the importance of cars to how we lived as teenagers. we drove around, listening to mix tapes and talking. had i grown up in a place like where i live now, that wouldn’t have been my reality. how do kids bond without the kind of autonomy driving around together brings? i don’t even think it’s legal for a 16-year-old to drive 15-year-olds around where i live, and that is STAGGERINGLY awful to me. i mean, modern parents don’t seem to give their kids ANY space to be people on their own. kids in this area are more heavily scheduled than i am as a corporate middle manager. it’s horrifying. and you can only put the blame on the parents to such an extent, too, when montgomery county throws families into the child-protective-services system for letting a 10-year-old walk to the park. teaching your kids to be self-sufficient, which is arguably the best life skill my parents taught me, is illegal here.
there is nothing more vital to raising a teenager than giving him or her the space to grow into his or her own person. you shouldn’t parent your kid to be who you want them to be – you should parent your kid to be the best version of WHO THEY ARE that they can be. my folks did that for me. they let me hang out with my friends without stalking my every move like a microchipped animal. we got into flyboy’s car and had a small place to ourselves. all to ourselves. no keystroke-tracking software that records every thought your kid dares to have online. no GPS tracking. just us, alone and free.
for the low, low price of $4.73, i bought memories that remind me who i am and what i’m capable of being. it’s sad beyond reason that kids can’t give that to themselves anymore. we’d do well to give them that experience back.