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Travails of Modern Youth

May 20, 2010

My sister in law is doing student teaching this semester, so we are keeping an eye on the boys, ages 9 and 7, after school.  Up until recently I had been meeting them at school and walking home with them.  But now I’ve decided to outsource the walk to them–part of growing up is learning to walk home from school unsupervised. 

Plus I was getting tired of having the yummy mummies look at me as if I was something they might have scraped off the bottom of their Balenciaga Boho Chic boots.  They really do dress up to pick up the kids after school.  I don’t.

Yesterday, the boys were a little late and I decided to go out to check on their progress.  I spotted them halfway down the street, limping painfully along, backpacks unslung and dragging on the sidewalk.

I knew there was no problem.  In fact, their exaggerated air of fatigue and exhaustion made me think they were trying out some histrionic ploy in the hope of avoiding extra math drills or something like that.

On reaching the front door they threw themselves over the threshold and collapsed like beached dolphins. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

They emitted groans so patently manufactured I burst out laughing.

Seeing that the game was up, the younger boy slowly got to his feet.  “We had cross country today.”

“What’s that?”

“The whole school had to run from Coyle Park back to the school.  Twice.”

I wouldn’t want to do it, but it wouldn’t exactly qualify as “cross country.”  Or even a marathon.  It’s about four kilometres, or two and a half miles.

We made it to the kitchen and my wife provided cold drinks while they related the tale of horror.  Once every semester, in order to promote fitness, the entire school goes on this, admittedly poorly named, “Fun Run.” 

The boys think that even their normally sadistic and unreasonable teachers would never make them do anything so awful and that it must therefore be a government mandate that all children be made to suffer by running. 

They confessed that they had prayed for rain.

I decided to find out more about the dynamic of fitness in today’s elementary schools.  And, as usual, learned that things are very different than when I was in school.

First, technically, everyone has to participate.  According to the older boy, only “people with broken legs” are exempted.  But further questioning revealed that any malady can get you a pass, but if it is not obvious (e.g., you’re not in a cast) you need a parental note requesting that you be excused. 

In this era of all-inclusiveness, the non-participants are not excluded.  In order to make them feel as if they are almost participating, the walking wounded are brought to the start/finish line where they are allowed to sit on the ground (as befits their incapacity) while the rest of the students run.

“You know, a lot of people cheat,” the nine year old informed us.

“How can you cheat?”

Apparently, Wall Street instincts are present even among elementary school students.  Some of them have found a way to beat the system.  Plus, like Wall Street, the regulatory system isn’t what it should be. To be excused, you have to give your parental note to your own teacher in class.  But when everyone gets out to the starting gate, different teachers might be supervising.  So a bunch of future Madoffs without notes just sit down with the infirm and watch the rest of the suckers run.

Once the running starts, the teachers form a gauntlet to protect the kids and also to exhort stragglers and the lazy to actually run.  I asked, “What do they do if you just walk?”

“They tell you to run.”

“But what if you still don’t?”


Now that is another big difference.  In high school I had a gym teacher named Mr. Bonfiglio, who I’m sure was in the witness protection program.  He had tattoos before it was fashionable. 

He used to run with us and if you finished behind him you were subjected to verbal abuse that would make a rapper blush.  Worse, you then had to “give” him as many push ups as he thought you needed to do in order to build character and prove your worth. 

Plus he would not suggest that we run faster.  He didn’t know the meaning of the terms “request” or “recommend.”  He would say things like “If you don’t get moving, I’ll put my foot so far up your ass your breath will smell like shoe polish!”

In those days they could get away with things like that.  And we believed him.

Things have changed.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2010 1:21 am

    I love the shoes!!! One of the most frustrating things for me in the last years of teaching before I quit to work at our family business was the increasing number of parents who would try to clear every obstacle in their child’s path.

    I had parents request that their child be exempt from my required reading list because their child didn’t find anything interesting on the list. The whole I idea of the list was to expose them to different authors and genre. Their child had their own series of books that they enjoyed reading so they shouldn’t have to read these.

    I had parents request that their child be placed in a different classroom than I had assigned for the fall because they had a personality conflict with the teacher. My question to them was “How do you know they have a personality conflict if they have never had that teacher before?” Their answer to me was ” We don’t want them to have a difficult year.”

    How are these students going to ever hold a job if they have never had to deal with a difficult person or situation in their life because Mom and Dad have cleared their path of every obstacle they foresee as a potential problem for their child? Will they ever be employable or capable of a serious relationship?

  2. May 21, 2010 10:44 pm

    haha, esp “they threw themselves over the threshold and collapsed like beached dolphins.”


  3. May 22, 2010 1:51 am

    Around here such behavior is referred to as being “Drama Queens” when their behavior is exaggerated beyond the circumstances.

  4. May 24, 2010 4:19 am

    I would have loved the chance to miss a few hours of ‘regular’ school for a couple miles run any day at that age. I think I’d still prefer the chance to blow off work for a jog, even through the rain!

  5. May 27, 2010 11:24 am

    Ha! I used to live on Long Island (I was a nanny! But that’s story for later…) and the moms in my ‘hood LOVED to schmooze and look important at the bus stop. I just didn’t get it…who are you impressing? Other moms? The nanny? The bus driver? Seriously.

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