All school year I work with incredibly bright, caring, and respectful 6th graders. They are truly the cream of the crop. By mid-October, we have a true understanding of each other. I understand not to give them homework over the weekend because it simply won't get done, and they understand not to talk to me each morning until I finish my cup of coffee. I understand that I need to repeat directions half a dozen times in order to have hopes that the assignment will be done correctly, and they understand not to show me their wiggly, loose teeth or any signs of blood. I understand that all learning from 5th grade vanishes from their heads over the summer and we're basically starting from scratch, and they understand that I need to be holding my stress ball when they tell me they didn't complete the homework because of a baseball game the night before. This mutual understanding takes hard work and patience, but it's certainly worth it to have a successful school year. As a result, I enjoy my job and look forward to waking up each school day and seeing these youngsters' eager faces.
The same is not true of random children I see on the street. No, I don't look forward to seeing a baby in a stroller that is taking up 2/3 of the sidewalk. I don't enjoy reading in a park that is infested with 8 year olds playing within inches of my body. Nothing can be worse than hearing a strange child whine at their parent...and then hear the parent give in to the child's demands. Living on the seacoast, a prime touristy spot in the summer, I am surrounded by the younger generation on a daily basis. I've seen fingers shoved so far up a nose that you'd think surgery would be required to dislodge the digits. I've seen toddlers playing on iphones at a nice restaurant, while the parents sit across from each other, depressed, speechless, and distracted. I've heard children crying because they didn't want to go in the water, then crying because the water was too cold, then crying when it was time to come out of the water. It's July, and by now I've surpassed my limit on time I can spend with people under 18.
Because of this bombardment of young people, and worse--their parents, I've developed several strategies to cope over the summer months. First, when I enter a restaurant, I now directly tell the host or hostess that I cannot sit near a family. If I am placed near a family anyway, I look slowly at the family, make eye contact with the children, then look back at the host and ask for a new table. If I am sitting in a park and a family approaches, opens their blanket, and settles near me, I sigh deeply, roll my eyes, and move 20 feet to the left. If I need to take public transportation and I enter a subway filled with school aged kids headed downtown for the afternoon, I silently turn around and get right off the train. I would rather wait 20 minutes for the next subway than take one filled with teenagers singing, "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" off-pitch for the entire 15 minute ride. These precautions are necessary. I am storing up my patience, gathering more each day and saving it for September. At that time, I'll need to smile and say, "Sure you can go back to your locker in the middle of class," and "I would love to attend another meeting about this," or "We took notes on this yesterday, remember?" Until then, I'll bide my time in a child-free zone, blocking out all sounds of high-pitched voices trying to infiltrate my peace.