Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back to the Future: Eighth Graders Do the Eighties

Super Son will be going to high school next fall. What better way to mark the transition from eighth grade than a farewell party filled with references to that most enchanting of decades, the 1980's?

I had a total blast volunteering on the middle school party planning committee. The core group of 8th grade parents were well organized and creative. The woman who chaired the event was a delight to work with. There were many mothers and fathers willing to help that evening, supervising a variety of '80's-themed activities for the kids. One dad constructed an elaborate "pac man maze race" of cardboard walls on the floor of the gymnasium, through which teens had to traverse on little scooter boards.

Other adults spent a lot of time preparing great decorations for the event: giant rubik's cubes from boxes and construction paper, a wall-sized "We are the World" globe with adjoining butcher paper so the kids could sign their names and leave words of wisdom, a ginormous painted cardboard boom box in the room with the DJ.... everything was fun and colorful.

Yours truly was in charge of the signs for the activities. I was ready to prepare wording for the posters by cutting out letters by hand, only to learn that the school has this amazing die cut machine. It still takes a bit of time to set up and then glue everything on, but it's a fraction of the time I used to spend back in the early '90's when I prepared school bulletin boards. I'd originally planned to incorporate clever '80's song titles or lyrics into the signs; Games Without Frontiers for the board games,, I thought of Kick it Good for the hackysack area. You know, like Whip it Good? Yeah, well YOU try doing this. I gave up and just made easily understood signs. Some of the activities were timeless, like Ping Pong and a Shell Game. Others were super popular in the '80's, like Trivial Pursuit. There was even a photo booth with a Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, with Indiana Jones-style hats for the kids to wear.

Professor X and I were entertained by the '80's fashions that some of the parents and many of the students wore. Big hair, side ponytails, shoulder pads, polo shirts, leg warmers and Flashdance-style necklines were rampant. So were lots of smiling, laughing teenagers. I got my kicks by pretending to be outraged that some of the music wasn't from the right period. I was pretty sure that The Macarena was invented by Al Gore in the '90's, and although she's a talented young singer, Taylor Swift wasn't singing Love Story at the age of two weeks; she was born mid-December 1989. Still, everyone had a wonderful time even if there were egregious anachronisms. Which would be an awesome name for a band, don't you think?

About an hour and half to two hours in to the three hour event, reality began to hit some of the attendees. The end of their middle school days was nigh upon them, and they were going to have to say goodbye to many of their friends since they'd be attending different high schools. Increasingly, some of the girls' eyes got suspiciously pink, and the boys' faces became more somber. Excited shouts and laughter gave way to outright crying.

Not the Goblet-of-Fire-Hermione's-upset-because-Ron's-been-a-total-butt-about-the-Tri-Wizard-Ball kind of crying.

More like the Goblet-of-Fire-Hermione's-emotional-because-she-realizes-that-things-are-going-to-be-different kind of realization.

Super Son was very quiet on the drive home.

I asked him if he'd had a good time. He said yes, and thanked us for all of our work on the party. But I saw the post he wrote on his Facebook wall:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... In the beginning, it was fun, but by the end of the party I was so sad and depressed...

I've spoken with him in the intervening days, to encourage him to continue to keep in touch with those friends who will be going to school elsewhere. But we both know that things will be different. It's only the first of many transitions he'll make, one of the rites of passage we've experienced. As in so many cases, I draw upon my own life and relate tales of my past and the feelings I've felt.

I'm reminded of a Simple Minds song from 1985, Don't You, written for a movie soundtrack. Five points if you can identify the movie.

Slow change may pull us apart
When the light gets into your heart, baby

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't Don't Don't Don't
Don't You Forget About Me

Will you recognise me?
Call my name or walk on by
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down, down

Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I've reconnected with a number of old friends from the eighties. I was thrilled to get back in touch with a dear pal from college who stood up at my wedding. (When some of Professor X's students came over for a potluck a couple of years ago, they saw our framed wedding portrait and laughed, saying "Oh, that's so eighties!" I recollected with no little amusement that my gown was a reproduction of a 1940's gown. And my hairstyle was based on Lauren Bacall's in To Have and Have Not. Stupid kids.) That's really what it's all about; no one wants to believe that they'll be forgotten, that a friendship will end simply because friends are no longer together all the time.

I'm glad that these young people are mourning this, that they're aware of the loss they're about to face, because it proves they've developed good relationships. I hope they'll use the social networking technology to keep in touch on a frequent basis, but also get together in person as often as possible. I know it was written in the wrong decade, but Bowie said it well in Changes:

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

(turn and face the strain)
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I remember those teary days when it really was the 80s.

What a lovely post, Holly.

kyooty said...

It sounds like a great way to end the year and the school time. I did read somewhere that the friends that your kids make in HighSchool are the ones that they will keep forever you know? But now I think for some that it maybe has shifted to University/college as now young adults stay in school longer?

Bee said...

Both of those songs remind me SO MUCH of my own 80s high school experiences.

To me, the fact that the kids WERE sad about leaving speaks volumes about what a great time they must have had, not just at this fab, super-creative party, but in middle school. Sadly, I can't say the same. Leaving was easy . . . but is that a good thing?

I loved your descriptions of these events and was mightily impressed by your recall of the 80s!

Lisa said...

What a fun way to transition the kids, even though it was ultimately bittersweet. I'm watching The Dancer go through something similar as she leaves high school. She said on more than one occasion that she wasn't ready to leave.

Now she's teetering between. And some of the younger friends she'll leave behind seem to be naturally giving her a shove. There seems to be more sniping, more drama of late.

I loved this post, Holly. And for the record, I have a wedding dress that literally shrieks 1988.

Michele Renee said...

My high school graduation, college grad, and wedding day photos are 1980's. What a great party and a great post. If I were there I'd have to be escorted out crying because I loved the 80's so much.

momiji said...

There is an opinion that the older we get, the less we think and remember our early school days. It would all be more about college days. I disagree. I still remember those early school days with warmth and a good degree of nostalgia. And I know many people for whome it is also the case.
You and other parents contributed to make one of those memories that your kid will cary through his life and it will become one of the stones of his foundation.

P.S. I am finally back from silence and many other trepidations and am reading you anew with immense pleasure!