Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School dances, iPods, and me in the middle

It wasn’t exactly synchronicity as much as coincidence that landed me early last month with the two duties on the same weekend: chaperoning my first middle school dance for my 12-year-old son and his peers, and teaching my 71-year-old mother to use her new iPod.

“Which one will be more likely to make me run screaming from the room?” I mused on Facebook. And this, to my husband: “If I wake up Monday morning with a head of gray hair, you’ll know it was one or the other: either the dance or the iPod tutorial session.”

The staff member from the recreation department who provided an orientation to the chaperones fifteen minutes before the dance began made it clear that our main duty was to make our presence known. We wouldn’t be administering breathalyzer tests or peering under stall doors in the bathrooms, he assured us: any potential trouble of the sort that these particular middle schoolers are likely to get into tends to dissipate instantly when they see an adult approaching. “If you see kids scatter when you walk up, you’re doing your job right,” he advised us.

He also noted we had been wise to choose a winter month to fulfill our yearly chaperoning obligation. In the warmer months, he said, chaperones have to monitor the exterior doors because kids tend to try to slip in and out of the building during the dance, which is against the rules; but on a January night with temperatures in the teens, he didn’t expect this to be a problem. And as soon as the kids started arriving, I could see why he was so sure of this: boys and girls alike were dressed as if they were headed to the beach, with t-shirts, tank tops, camisoles and spaghetti straps. Had any succumbed to the temptation to slip outside, the punishment would have been dealt by Mother Nature, not by a chaperone, in the form of probable frostbite.

One significant difference between dances when I was their age and now is the recognition that kids who don’t feel comfortable dancing should still have a reason to go. So now, two activity rooms are open side-by-side: one for dancing and the other for games of basketball, ping-pong and Wii. In addition, there are tables in the hallway for chess players. Chess at a school dance? Something for everyone, indeed.

But in the course of the evening, I also discovered that this particular setup gives a whole new raison d’etre to middle school dances. Far more than any time spent dancing in Room A or playing basketball in Room B, the majority of the kids spent their time trotting up and down the hallway to see what was going on wherever they currently were not. Back and forth, from one room to the other, with the occasional bathroom stop for the girls (in groups of no fewer than five or six, naturally): the main activity of the night could most accurately be summed up as Seeing Who Is Where. No doubt it’s clear at that age that whichever of the two rooms you’re in, there’s always the strong possibility that you’re missing out on something much more interesting in the opposite room.

The next morning, my ears still buzzing slightly, I headed to my parents’ house to give my mother the first of what would eventually become a dozen or more (and counting) lessons in using her iPod.

I give her credit for effort. I imagine it can’t be easy to learn this kind of technology when you’re in your 70’s. So far, we’ve gotten as far as turning on the iPod and switching from one album to the next. Yes we still have a lot of ground to cover, but Mom is sticking with it, and she turned out to be better than I am at navigating the iTunes store.

I’m proud of my son for having the self-assurance to dance within view of his chaperoning mom, and I’m proud of my mother for approaching new technology with verve, if not a whole lot of comprehension. I like to think these experiences make me part of a sandwich generation. From dances for pre-teens to iPods for senior citizens, we all – myself included – seem to be reaching new stages every day, and I feel lucky to be in the middle, assigned the challenging and ever-intriguing role of facilitator.

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