I just returned from chaperoning a high school trip to New York, taking 85 dance students to see shows, take classes, and explore Manhattan. Granted, I was one of several chaperones so it wasn’t as arduous as it sounds, but it was still exhausting and challenging – try explaining to a huffy teen girl that “bed check” means I have to check that she’s actually in her room, so she can’t just text me that she’s going to bed. However, in general I can report that there is hope for the next generation; these kids were for the most part polite, poised, and open-minded, as well as eager for new experiences. The school is incredibly diverse, so I talked to a 17-year-old who works two jobs to help support her family, I compared notes on international travel with a 15-year-old who accompanies her successful entrepreneur parents to Asia a few times a year, and I learned about different dance styles from a serious ballet student who is on the hip-hop team. Of course, they’re also typical teens – one of their favorite outings was going to the Times Square Forever 21, not because the inventory is any different from the store at the mall back home, but because they wanted to see what it was like to shop at midnight (yes, the stores are open that late) and to scout for celebrities. (The whole trip made me feel a bit like Jane Goodall researching chimpanzees, observing an entirely different species and trying to decode their communication methods – I’ve finally learned text shorthand, LOL, but I’m still not sure whether Instagram is a noun or a verb. And the multiple layers of irony can be confusing – do some of them actually love Hello Kitty and Justin Bieber, or is it a joke?)
My 16-year-old son was on the trip – mostly with another chaperone’s group, since the organizers realized no kid in his or her right mind wants to spend a high school trip with a parent! – and he came back one day very proud of having bought two LPs in a vintage record store (records being as exotic to these kids as 78s were to us!) When I explained my turntable had been destroyed several moves ago and I didn’t have anything on which to play his new treasures, he replied, “Oh, they’re not to play, Mom, it’s all about the aesthetics.” (I also love that the records he chose were by Rush and Frank Sinatra – how’s that for fusion?) My father used to worry that the world was going to hell in a handbasket because my generation didn’t grow up listening to saxophones, but when he saw that numerous pop stars like Huey Lewis or Bruce Springsteen featured sax players, he was reassured. Likewise, I sometimes worry that the next generation is too coddled, or self-absorbed, or uninterested in reading classic literature, but watching this large a group of kids up close was extremely reassuring. They included the younger students or the eccentric kids, they were polite to the adults when we asked them questions, and they were as excited about taking class with chorus boys from Newsies as if they’d met a movie star (although the girls also squealed when they spotted Shia LeBouef’s name on the marquee for an upcoming play).
So I can confidently report that our future is in good hands – and now I can go soak my feet and sleep for a week to recover!