As school starts in Tampa Bay, just remember the kids are in hell
They will do strange, inexplicable things. It’s all part of the process.
It's time for students to board the one-way bus to Misery Town, a.k.a., school.
It's time for students to board the one-way bus to Misery Town, a.k.a., school. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Aug. 5, 2022|Updated Aug. 5, 2022

Believe it or not, it’s already time for class. Wednesday is the first day for public school students in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, time for parents to lean close to the mirror and ask, “Is this a new liver spot?”

For adults, this moment brings plentiful intersections of anxiety. Gun violence, political reindeer games, teacher shortages, money woes, Marissa from the PTA with the ballet flats. While these issues all affect children, it helps to get inside their sweet, malleable minds for perspective.

While we ready for our totalitarian future, let us board the mental wayback machine and remember that the dilemmas of youth are typically timeless, precise and bizarre. We may never know our kids experienced these defining moments until the day their adult variants admit that, in eighth grade, they kept nail clippings in a Sprite can, or wrote all the Savage Garden lyrics in ballpoint pen on their thigh, or hid a Hot Pocket under the bed to create a super-species of ants.

We have a new middle schooler in my house, which is hard for me to wrap my degenerating cells around. I would like to believe I was just there, though it has been (unintelligible) years.

This transition is triggering memories of my sixth grade year at Palm Harbor Middle. The must-have fashion items were: Calvin Klein overalls (God help you if yours were from Walmart), babydoll shirts from The Limited and miniature backpacks atop regular backpacks. Stop asking questions! We needed that many backpacks! I owned none of the above. Instead, I wore a SILK SUNFLOWER VEST and MATCHING CLOTH SHORTS and FAKE KEDS, and there are receipts.

That year, my oral history states, I also hoarded metal spoons. My parents packed brown bag lunches with Jell-O cups and spoons from the kitchen drawer. In theory, I was supposed to bring the spoons back. But I was 11 and concerned with vests, so I stacked the spoons in my locker and pockets of my backpack.

Why? I already told you, kids have soft brains. And why didn’t my parents ask where all the spoons were? I don’t know. I probably came home reeking of Love’s Baby Soft, moody about a boy who wore the same Marilyn Manson shirt thrice weekly and never washed his hair. I wouldn’t talk to me either. I was a freak who collected spoons!

Eventually, the spoon stockpile was too big to face, like the daily news in Florida. I had to bring them home, but how to casually get 16 spoons in the house? The problem was feeding on itself (with a spoon). Avoidance, the only answer. The spoon collection grew unwieldy, and utensils started rappelling off my person like a Universal movie monster made of cutlery.

One day on the way to class, I heard a clink. A spoon had sprinkled from my Eastpak (JanSport was the cool backpack) and landed on the pavement. I halted in horror. It’s one thing to have the wrong clothes, but it’s another thing entirely to be Spoon Girl. I had to play this off.

“Hey, is that your spoon?” I asked a student. I don’t know what I thought would happen. That she would be like, “Wow, thank you, I have been looking for this spoon,” and then I could be popular? No. I don’t remember her name, but I will remember her reply and withering smirk on my deathbed, words bursting in my head as my last two good cells vie for victory.

“I don’t have any spoons.”

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I asked my mother recently if she had any memory of me hoarding spoons, and she said, “Not at all!”

Exactly. As school gets going, do the basics to ensure the children don’t end up crying in an investigative Netflix docuseries. Then, give them space and grace to sit on a commodity of silverware and work the problem out on their own. Know they have their own proverbial locker of spoons. These are the necessary steps to becoming a fully formed person who can battle both tyranny and Marissa’s autocratic snack sign-up sheet. The cycle starts over now.

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