Monday, July 26, 2010

Teaching Moments

I didn't take much notice of the teens in front of us until we got right near the head of the line. I counted them out--five--and realized the line was now longer than I'd expected, because they'd go up one by one to buy their movie tickets, like teen-agers do. Oh well, we were early and my legendary impatience with lines and slow customer service was at bay.

Up they went. One, two, three...

I watched them closer now. I'm obsessed with the behavior of young people around me. This is a new thing and absolutely--100%--attributable to AJ's growing older (he'll be 9 in two weeks). I don't want to be out of touch. Or worse, oblivious. I need to know what the kids are into these days.

The group was four boys and one girl. Gawky age, 14 and 15. Bad skin. Talking around each other, eyes averted. Not A-Listers. Closer to the bottom of the brutal teen pecking order than to the top, I wagered.

As the fourth of them--the girl--went up, a new pack of three boys came strutting around the corner of our back-and-forth line--thirty people deep, at least--and joined up with the waiting others. One of the newbies, hair Bieber-ized, said, "What movie are we watching?"

I tossed Emet a raised eyebrow and she returned fire with that face that says, "Easy, Tiger."

The girl came back from the box office and greeted the new guys with a grin as the last of the original five went forward. The three stayed where they were, right in the front of the line. I looked around at the people behind us, some of them with eyeball daggers drawn.

"You guys aren't really going to jump right in front of all these people are you?" I said, my right arm out like a Price is Right model, appealing to their sense of justice. It's about the people, not just me.

The girl cocked her hip. "Yes," she said, both matter-of-factly and defiantly. "Yup," nodded Bieber Boy. Although, unlike the girl, he didn't turn and meet our gaze.

Emet put a hand on my forearm, though it was unnecessary. I was in no mood to tangle, despite a faraway desire to stave in Bieber's smart mouth for him; do him a favor, you know, before he mouths off to the wrong person and finds himself at the bottom of a Doc Marten.

Emet, of course, is a pro in these circumstances. She deals with preternaturally annoying 6th-graders every day at school. "That's really not acceptable behavior," she said.

"We're not acceptable," said Bieber Boy.

"It's downright rude," Emet continued.

"We are rude." (I'm guessing this is not the captain of the Debate Team.)

Still, the kid hadn't turned around. His insolence didn't go so far as to trump his cowardice. I suppose Emet sensed that, as well.

"You should be ashamed," she said, and I saw the heat start to rise on his neck. "Someone should have taught you better."

And scene. Emet wins. There was no (un-)pithy comeback forthcoming. In fact, I swear the swagger jumped right off that young man's shoulders. He went up to buy his ticket and scurried off without a look back.


I'm sure later they laughed about the hippie and the schoolmarm in line. Straightened their spine and how they got what they wanted. For my part, I searched my memory banks for similar scenes from my adolescence (found one; okay two) and thought about ways to make sure no adult ever said something like that to MY kid. I've given variations of the same speech a hundred times to AJ. Something along the lines of, "I don't care if you grow up to be a firefighter/situational reliever/janitor/lawyer, I just want you to be kind, to show courtesy, to learn empathy and compassion."

You know, the things that parents say that kids never listen to. But maybe, if you say it enough times, it worms its way in there.

And yeah, "Inception" was tremendous, even if my attention was diverted at times while shooting spitballs at a Bieber-looking kid down in the second row.