“You don’t understand: things aren’t the same as when you were in school.”
This is the response I get whenever I try to suggest anything about school, or studying, or homework. And yeah, I get it: we didn’t have iPads when I was in school. And of course scientific discoveries haven’t just stood still. But I also don’t get it: I’m pretty sure no one has discovered a new Civil War battle, or a new definition for a restrictive clause. And I’m also fairly sure that no one has yet developed a way of studying that doesn’t involve actually looking at the materials. But most of all, I am absolutely positive that the best way to get the best grades is still the old tried and true “less partying/more studying” route. Of course, that last remark was when I really stepped in it, because it was met with an addendum to the usual, “Things are different now” speech, namely, “And unlike you, I actually have friends.”
To be honest, I wasn’t hurt; I defy you to find anyone who is the parent of a teenager who doesn’t have elephant-thick skin. And I wasn’t frustrated: I know that every piece of “rejected” advice I’ve ever given is not, in fact, discarded, but rather has just begun the arduous process of “sinking in”—just like rainwater has to make its way through dirt, and shale, and limestone before it finally reaches the aquifer, words of advice have to drip through teenage scorn, and doubt, and angst before they finally reach the brain.
No, the emotion that I was feeling was simply chagrin: chagrin that not only don’t they understand the person I was thirty years ago, but that they are so thoroughly convinced they somehow actually do. That, of course, and the fact that they are so utterly and bizarrely wrong. Wrong about me, and wrong about the entire world I was living in. It’s as if they think that instead of living from 1984 to now I have somehow managed to live from 1084 to now. It’s as if instead of trying to argue the merits of flashcards I’m trying to argue the merits of the longbow.
To hear them tell it when I went to school movies cost a nickel, I had to share a writing slate with Abraham Lincoln, and my idea of a fun time was sitting in my room with the shades drawn and the lights off listening to my Janis Ian albums. On my Victrola.
What they fail to understand is that people and places and realities actually change very little in thirty years. Sure, things change on the surface. I look no more like I did in high school than an iPod looks like a Sony Walkman. (Man, I wish my changes had gone in that direction, too.) But just like an iPod and a Walkman both have essentially the same function, 1984 me and 2014 me are still essentially the same as well.
And, as scary as it might be for them to contemplate it, 2014 and 2044 them are still going to be essentially the same. Maybe that’s the real problem: maybe acknowledging that people and problems don’t ever change all that much is just too real. Too scary. Too depressing. Because who wouldn’t like to think that there might be a brand new you—smarter, kinder, way better-adjusted—just around the corner?
Or maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe the “things change” speech is really just about getting me to back off with my nagging, a ball thrown in the opposite direction in the hopes that I’ll chase that and not the whole issue of grades. After all, that’s what I would have done, back in my day.
That is, I would have: if we had invented balls yet.