From the invite alone, I was apprehensive. My children have a pretty set schedule: Bedtime, 8:30 p.m. It may get to 9, maybe 9:30 p.m. on a weekend or if they take a late nap. However, 8:30 p.m. is prime sleeping hours for everyone. My bedtime has been 8:30 for so long, that even at 40-years-old., I start to get quiet and comfortable after dark. So I found it strange to receive an invite for a child’s birthday party starting at 7:30 p.m.
My friends don’t typically celebrate my fluidity, and I found this as an opportunity to stretch. I walked into a trampoline park at 7:15 p.m. for a child’s birthday party and … I was disturbed. There were young people everywhere. So. Many.
To see that many young people together is not inherently bad. There are young people everywhere in schools, but this wasn’t a school. It was at night. The mating rituals were in full display and truthfully, I was disturbed. I felt old. I knew I was wrong but there was nothing I could do about it.
I tried to tell myself repeatedly, “They’re children.” Didn’t work.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go.” They can always go home.
“Why can’t they have some fun?” They can have fun.
Then it hit me: I didn’t trust them.
This realization made me sad. I sat down beside this large Black man. He was there with a small boy around the age of my youngest son. Black man head nod to see another dad present. Then we started.
“You think they gone make it to 9:30?” he opened.
“Nah,” I responded. “It’s too many of ‘em. The foolishness gone jump out.”
He looked around and said, “Yeah. I can’t see how a parent saw this and left their children here.”
I tried telling him, as much as I tried to remind myself, they’re just kids, but a young brother walked up and playfully hit a young woman. It’s clear this childish banter is still a thing. Where does the play fighting, the chasing, the yelling come from?
I looked at the brother sitting next to me and we laughed and told each other be careful and look out for our kids as best we can. And as my children moved around the park, so did I. In the moving, I saw how young the teenagers were. They were pretending to be adults the best they could. The tough guys modeled rap music. The sassiness of the girls is displayed all over social media.
It made me wonder what teaches them differently. At my age, I can reflect and see how sad of a deal it is. The labels, real or fake, the haircuts and hairstyles— the whole is a symphony conducted by media. These kids are young and surrounded by consumer culture. They’re judging their insides by the outsides of others and are constantly being told what is and isn’t. Imagine being conditioned to see yourself as less than while being told how to be everything.
I have always wanted to be an amazing parent. I would often talk about my son and what I wanted for him well before I became a dad. I knew what I didn’t have and what I wanted to give, and as selfish as it might sound, I want to be adored by my children. I want to feel worthy of being loved. I know how hard it is to be a child and how alone I felt and still sometimes feel.
Our children are lonely. They need guidance. They need to learn from people who see their value. There are so many voices vying for their attention, and we need to find ways to support and structure their lives and learning. They are indeed our future.