Today was my 6th grader's half-birthday. I like to celebrate summer birthdays during the school year because, in elementary school, I always felt a little left out when kids brought cupcakes and chocolate into class and we all sang "Happy Birthday." My birthdays were spent outdoors with trees, pools, and cousins. (Clearly, the grass is always greener... I would later learn that the school-birthday kids envied the summer birthday kids because they never had to follow up a party with homework.)
Last week, the half-birthday was on my mind, so I asked him, "What year were you born in, anyway?"
I think my jaw actually unhinged itself from the rest of my skull and clattered to the floor. Kids born in 2000 are still supposed to be finger-painting and speaking one-syllable words, aren't they?! I did not mention to him that 2000 was the year I went to prom--twice, and in the same awkwardly fitting dress, dancing an arm's length away from both dates and avoiding all possible forms of eye contact, small talk, and pleasure. (We likely would have danced two arm's lengths away, had the whole concept of dancing not required us to actually touch. Come to think of it, I don't think I've danced much closer than that with any man in the eleven years following prom.)
So I refrained from the prom reference because a) that's just awkward, and b) I'm already throwing out things that date me: using Full House clips to demonstrate cause-and-effect, asking if anyone knows such-and-such a Disney song. The seventh graders have asked how old I am, and since there's a safe age gap between them and myself, I answer honestly: 27. This, I have found, is a better approach than the tricky let's-integrate-math-into-the-English-curriculum approach, wherein you say, "Well, I was born in 1984. You figure it out."
Upon hearing "1984," their mathematical brains immediately stop functioning and flip over to that part of the brain that stores information from the Guinness Book of World Records, like how long the world's longest toenails are. They rummage around in that brain sector for awhile. Instead of subtracting 1984 from 2011 to get 27, they decide (much more practically) that 1984 was after dinosaurs but before color TV, and then they look at you like they're waiting for you to sprout a cane.
The 7th and 8th graders are writing letters to authors, which is the kind of thing I wish I'd done in middle school. I got to hear Lois Lowry speak in Minot during my fourth grade year; at that point, I hadn't read Number the Stars or The Giver or any of her books that I'd later fall in love with. I didn't get to The Giver until 8th grade, at which point I drafted multiple letters begging Ms. Lowry to clear up the ambiguous ending and tell me what really happened.
Out of embarrassment, I never sent them.
Years later, she would write a sequel and then a third companion to The Giver, neither of which was remotely as good. She attributed the new books to all the letters sent in by pleading fans who needed to know what happened next. No disrespect toward Ms. Lowry is intended, but in some small way, I'm glad my discarded letters were not part of the contribution.
Anyway, I started drafting a new letter to Lois as an example for my kids. "Are you really gonna send this one to him?" an 8th grade boy asked.
"Her. And yes, I really might."
"It's not a him!" another boy piped in. "You keep calling her him!"
That somehow devolved into a conversation in which the boys decided that I should really be sending more fan mail to male authors. One suggested his favorite: "John Flanagan!"
"You're right. I hear that works all the time: write a letter to a random guy you've never meet and tell him how much you like his books, fall in love, get married. Also," I pointed out, "John Flanagan is in his 60's."
Then again, I was born in 1984, so we probably have a lot in common.