Back-to-School Blue 

And what's happened to my baby?

I'm depressed. I realize you have problems of your own, and you probably don't like it much when your opinion writers lay our personal loads off on your backs. But looky, I've never denied that about half of why I do this column is to get things off my chest--have I? So if you resent me taking advantage of my position to cry on your precious shoulder, that's just too damn bad. If you don't like it, there's always Thr!ve , eh?

So ... the reason I'm depressed is because a couple of days ago, my little girl entered high school. High school!

And if that wasn't bad enough, she did it in Meridian. Meridian! Woe is meeeeeeee!

Insulting Meridian schools probably isn't the smartest thing I've ever done for my kid. After all, she's looking at four more years before she's clear of 'em, and there's no sense in making matters worse for her by pissing off the apparatus upon which her entire future hangs.

Besides, I don't honestly think Meridian schools have anything to be ashamed of. If it weren't for that special tax they imposed on Meridian parents this year, I'd have no real bitch. But maybe you don't know about that. See--as you'd know if you read the same stuff I do--the Meridian school district is up to its ankles in budget shortfall, being either 3.4 million bucks short or a few thousand kids long--depending on how you look at it. And to help make up the difference between what they have to spend and what it takes to turn out well-rounded citizens, one of the remedies they've decided on is to charge students extra to participate in extracurricular activities. Band. Choir. The debate team and basketball and drama and tennis. All those things in which youngsters can transcend the mundane and set themselves apart.

I don't know about you, but it was those extracurricular activities that gave me a sense (way back when I was a teenager) that preparing for adult society was about more than just getting pretty good at geometry and grammar so that we could get a pretty good job and pretty much just work for somebody else 'til we die. Sports ... the Arts ... Backgammon Club ... I consider them as the cultural soul of a healthy and balanced society, don't you?

And now they're charging extra for it. Not a huge lot, no. Fifty dollars per kid. And of course, no parent has to pay, as long as they're happy with their children being left out of the cultural soul.

But let's not be coy about what this fee really is: a user tax. Because we have leaders in this state who've spent several years eating away like dry rot at our public education system--promoting every snake-oil scam they could think of from vouchers to home schooling to Bush's "No Child Left Behind" gimmick--using absurd claims about how "pouring more money into schools doesn't help" as an excuse to pour less than is necessary--ignoring the counsel of education professionals, then blaming the "teachers' union" for everything that goes wrong--allowing explosive growth in the dumbest ways possible--and dismissing every intellectual pursuit that doesn't contribute to a drone's value in a Micron hive ... parents now must pay extra for their kids to take some pleasure out of school.

Aah, there. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I feel a lot better. And after all, it was only 50 bucks.

But that's not all that's been getting me down. Every parent has to deal with a natural melancholy over our babies getting all grown up and independent, no doubt. Only, I seem to be pretty bad at it. Maybe I shouldn't let it bother me that my kid went through her first 14 years like a Little League team goes through a cheese pizza ... but it does. Seriously, I can't watch her pick out her own school clothes without a Kleenex handy.

It's not that I liked her better as a little girl than I do as a big girl, not at all. But I miss all her questions. I miss being the wise mentor to a darling mind. My all-time favorite thing was how she said, "What's happening? What's happening?" all the time. She was like a sponge, I tell you. No matter what spilled her way, she soaked it up and thirsted for more. Whether she was confused, afraid, excited, happy, sad or merely curious ... "What's happening, Dad?"

This is what it's all about, I'd think. This is what we sentient beings are here for, the sacred mission we are given ... to pass our experience and wisdom and cultural soul on down the generational ladder and to each in our own small way, elevate the species.

Nowadays, she'd rather lick rocks than ask me what's happening. It's likely a teenage thing she's going through, and possibly, I over played the wise mentor role a tad (like when I'd turn a simple spider scare into a seminar on invertebrates). But whatever the reason, she isn't as curious as she used to be. At least, not in those things I'd rather she was curious about.

Take last Friday. We were eating lunch and I accidentally switched channels into the middle of Much Ado About Nothing, one of Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare movies. Fabulous, I thought. What a perfect opportunity to show her how funny, yet transcendent, Shakespeare is.

Only, by the time she finished glowering at me, the movie was almost over. Of those few lines of transcendent, funny dialogue she actually paid attention to, she remarked, "Why can't they just say what they mean and get on with it?"

In contrast, later that night I stumbled upon Jackass. (If you know nothing about the film, suffice it to say its creators go to extreme lengths to cover aspects of the human condition that Shakespeare wouldn't touch with a stick). I tried to turn the travesty off but it was like teenage catnip. Nothing I could say about how ignorant, how stupid, how vulgar and low and piggish that crud was could end her itch to watch that crud.

Trouble is, she's well into that age where kids want to fill in all the gaps we parents spend the first dozen years of their lives hustling them away from. It'll only get worse, I'm sure, but it's out of my hands now. My wise mentor days are over. From here on (until she's through being a teenager, I hope) the sacred mission of elevating the species--of passing on experience and wisdom and cultural soul--all that is up to good ol' Meridian High. Oh yeah ... and my ability to pay for it.

(I briefly considered dressing her up as a Boise person and dropping her off in front of Borah High every morning, but I chickened out. I was afraid if our deception was discovered, they might banish her to ... ack! ... Meridian!)

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