I taught a writing workshop last night at the local intermediate school and found myself in a foreign country. Having never had children, I didn’t spend my younger years taking my kids to school and attending school events. I’ve done a few interviews at school, but even those were a long time ago. It felt strange from the get-go. For one thing, I was old enough to the mother of all the adults present. When did that happen?
When I arrived, the doors were locked. Even during the day, they’re locked for fear of dangerous strangers. When I was growing up in California, our schools couldn’t be locked. The halls were all outdoors, but this place is like a prison, all indoors with very few windows.
A knock on the door got me in. Immediately a loud-voiced woman who looked too young to be a mom or a teacher started yelling that I had to sign in. Another young woman announced that she was the assistant superintendent of the school district and demanded to know whether I was a teacher or a parent. Uh, writer.
They brought me recycled paper, and we used recycled napkins to eat boxed pizza that could only be served by someone with gloves and a food handler’s license. What happened to moms bringing cookies and punch?
Attendance was poor; apparently last night was a big night for school concerts and sporting events, none of which I knew about. Luckily I didn’t pick the date, and someone else will have to recycle the leftover pizza and handouts.
As I began my talk, I realized the kids were barely paying attention and many of the words I used were probably too sophisticated, especially for the younger siblings who came along with their parents. I don’t know what kids know at various ages these days, and I haven’t developed that way of relating to children that some people, parents, seem to have.
I’m grateful that when I asked them to write, they did. A couple got so into it that they didn’t want to stop, and they were happy to read their stories out loud when they finished. The event was a success because they did write.
But all night, I felt as if I was speaking in a foreign language, the language of someone who doesn’t know how to act around children and their parents.