Into the Lion’s Den, Sweet Child

I wasn’t sure whether it was the angel wing tattoo on her back that spanned to each tiny shoulder or the hideous nose piercing that made her look like she had a permanent booger. Another girl decided that it was appropriate to wear the teeniest of bloomers and a matching black bra under her white tank top. Far be it for me to judge a book by its cover, but I wasn’t at some cheap college bar.

I was at Wal-Mart. And these chicks were shopping for school supplies.

School supplies. It’s damn near 11:00 on a Tuesday night, I’m at Wal-Mart with Cameron, 13, and I’m getting a whole new outlook on the students she goes to school with, the poor thing.

Take, for example, the parrot sisters. With their dyed green and pink hair, they were what would hatch if a woman had sex with an African Macaw. They even appeared to squawk at each other when fighting over the last three-ring binder.

You know, every generation has a sad story to tell about how they had it tougher. And although I still think today’s kids appear to be a bit softer with a bizarre sense of entitlement, I have to give them credit for the crap they face in school every day.

Cameron is caught up in the throws of adolescence, a late bloomer who’s surrounded by the pressures of being popular and wearing name brand clothing from an industry that started pushing the sexual envelope when she was 10. Most of her friends are further along the road of development than she is, and although Cameron’s nature is to take life’s challenges in stride, I know that she has her difficult days.

I can relate; I didn’t start shaving until I was in college. When partying across the US-Mexican border in Juarez, where the legal drinking age is 18, bouncers wouldn’t let me in the clubs for fear of losing their jobs. The fact that I was a twerp, the physical polar opposite of my older brother, who at Cameron’s age wore size 13 shoes, only added to my frustration.

I thought about all of this, Tuesday night, as Cameron feverishly fought through the aisles for notebooks, index cards and wide-ruled paper amongst her peers. Maybe kids have it tougher, I though to myself. Just looking at the little bastards choose pencil bags and locker mirrors brought back that despicable feeling I used to get on the first day of school. As I watched Cameron weave through the aisles, I truly felt scared for her.

In another life, before kids, I didn’t think like this. Hell, I never thought I’d be scavenging the earth for a green sports bra, either. When I was growing up my biggest school fear was getting detention for showing up at school without a belt. We had regular bullies, sure, but even today’s bullies are more sophisticated, where a nasty, threatening tweet packs the same kind of gut-wrenching blow of an uppercut.

Then there are the boys, those little shits. What can I say, I used to be one, in many sophomoric ways still am one, and I know what goes through their twisted kittle minds. Dropping her off at school is like throwing her into the lion’s den and that really scares the crap out of me. Now, my wife and I can’t stop her from going to school or raise her in some invisible force field, but I can provide her with important tips to increase her situational awareness:

  1. A boy who forgets to zip his fly probably forgot to wipe his butt.
  2. Stay away from the class clown. He doesn’t get enough attention at home and will constantly need everyone else’s approval. It’s also safe to say that he looks at a ton of porn.
  3. Boys who wear skinny jeans and refuse to pull them over their asses do not know what self respect is and it’s a strong sign that nobody is kicking those asses at home. 
  4. I don’t care if being “Emo” is in, any boy that spends more time on his hair than you do is not worth your time, especially if he uses a straight iron.
  5. The late Randy Pausch once said, “When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.”

We loaded the cart with bags of school supplies almost as fast as the cashier could scan each item, one beep at a time. Cameron, in a display of organization I could never have, took her phone out and checked off each item purchased with the tap of her finger. I thought about the tattooed girl that looked to be Cameron’s age and the parrot sisters. Those kids are still trying to figure out who they are, I thought. The truth is, some people never figure that out.

“Don’t forget to save the receipt so that we can take back anything I don’t need,” she reminded me, doing an uncanny impersonation of my wife.

I think the kid’s gonna be all right.

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