The Irascible ProfessorSM


Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."...  ... Charles Mingus.

Commentary of the Day - September 12, 2005:  Totally Awesome in a Groovy Far-out Kind of Cool Way, Not.  Felice Prager.

It's not that we don't have anything in common, but he's 17 going on 18 and I'm 21 going on 29 going on 50-something, and we are a few generations apart.  We are supposed to have different perspectives and different outlooks on things.  That's the way it goes.  However, when my son and I are in the same vehicle, assuming none of his friends pass by in their vehicles, call him on his cell phone, and interrupt our bonding moments, sometimes we hit upon a subject we can talk about without one of us losing patience with the other.

Several Saturdays ago, my son had his senior pictures taken.  I went along for the ride to make sure he showed up.  He had to sit for approximately three minutes while a photographer took six photos of him of which we were going to pick the best photo to go into his high school yearbook.  Other parents have children who like having their pictures taken and look forward to this.  Some kids even agree to photo packages where the kid poses wearing a letter jacket, a band uniform, or formal attire.  That's just not my kid.  If I were 17 going on 18 again, it wouldn't be me either.  My son would rather be taking the pictures himself, and the pictures would never be of a person wearing a letter jacket or a band uniform.  Somewhere in the photo, he would have a sunset or a tree or something which stirred his creative spirit.

I'm not sure why he was so easy-going about getting up early to do this photo thing.  I think it had something to do with him wanting to grow his Mohawk back over the summer.  I think he's smart enough to know that a Mohawk in his senior picture was just not going to fly with his parents.  Anyway, my husband gave him a jacket, a shirt, and a tie to wear.  I said nothing about his earrings.  He is who he is, and if he wants to look like a Ubangi, well, there are worse things.  When he came out of the dressing room and his black tee shirt was sticking out of his white shirt collar because he didn't want to take it off, I did the mom thing and helped him tuck it in more so it couldn't be seen.  He was frighteningly cooperative.  It scares me when he's frighteningly cooperative because I'm always waiting for the other spiked boot to drop.

The thing is -- I like my son.  He is smart, funny, and a little bit quirky, even if he is stubborn.  He must have inherited that stubbornness from my husband because I am certainly not the stubborn type.  He has thick skin and puts up with a lot of my jabs most of the time.

While driving in my son's black pickup truck with his punk music being played at a surprisingly bearable volume, out of the blue, my son said, "I hate what they've done to the word awesome."   Well, it wasn't really out of the blue.  My son doesn't do blue; he just does black.  I had just made a comment that the word cool was a word that has been used by many generations but other words have been single-generation words.  I was scribbling down ideas in my writing notebook which I carry with me wherever I go.

"Like groovy and far-out were just for your hippie generation," he said, to which I corrected him and told him that I didn't know anyone, except for maybe Simon and Garfunkel who actually said they were feelin' groovy out loud so others could hear them.  I also corrected him because I am not old enough to be part of that hippie generation.

That's when he made the comment about awesome.  It was something I had never really thought about, but once again, my son said something very mature and astute - which is why I ignore the Mohawk, the earrings, and his boxers sticking out from his sagging ripped pants.

What he said was this: "Since everything has become totally awesome, the word awesome has lost its ability to express anything profound.  How can a something that takes your breath away be awesome if what Josh said in class was awesome and what happened at the park was awesome and if Jen's new haircut is awesome and if parents and teachers are using awesome just to connect with their kids?  Describing an Arizona sunrise or sunset as being awesome is minimizing it."

I thought it was pretty awesome that my kid came up with that.

Then he reached behind his seat and showed me a catalog he had gotten from a college he had been thinking about applying to.  "Read what I highlighted on the page that's folded down," he said.

"When I go home, I love telling everyone where I go to college.  This is an awesome school, and it's totally awesome being a student here."

"I can't go to that college, he said.

I understood.  I also understood that my son is still learning and has a tendency to maximize that which should be ignored, so I suggested he take things from their source.  "For instance," I said, "just because some people overuse the word awesome, doesn't mean everyone does.  If you hear me use it, understand that I am referring to the real thing.

The other night my son called on his cell phone.  He was in his bedroom.  I was in the family room.  He didn't want to get up.

"I need you to come in here and read what I just wrote," he said.

"I'll be there after this movie is over," I said.

A few minutes later, my phone beeped telling me I had a text message.  We recently negotiated a deal with my son that, if he paid for it in advance, he could have the 1000 text messages package offered by our cell phone company.  The cell phone companies are very smart doing this.  First, they know kids communicate in school with these text messages, and second, they get paid for them twice -- once outgoing and once incoming.  It's a regular racket.

The text message said, "pleez comeer & c what i wrote."

When I ignored that message, a second came in: "i wuv u, mommy."

Since I don't actually know how to send a text message, I put the movie on pause and walked to the scary room at the end of the hall.  The tarantula was in his cage sleeping after a three-course dinner consisting of crickets and mealworms, and my son was sitting in the chair he bought at a thrift shop for ten dollars because he said it spoke to him.

"It's summer vacation," I said.  "Why are you writing?"

"I just felt like it," he said.

"Okay," I said.  "Read it to me."

"The brilliant crimson sun peaked its crown over the horizon and all that could be heard were the birds rustling in the trees, waiting to meet the coming day.  However pristine, the serenity was soon shattered by an echoing scream,  "Steven, what did you do to my alarm clock?  I am going to be late for work.  Why did you take it apart?"

He continued with a very poignant essay describing his need to know how and why things work and why things happen the way they do.  I was impressed.  It was simple yet profound, and I kept thinking, "Am I being a biased parent or is this as good as I think it is?"

When he finished, he asked, "Well, what do you think?"

"Awesome," I said.  "Totally awesome."

©2005 Felice Prager.
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Felice Prager is a freelance writer and former English teacher from Arizona.  She publishes the Write Funny pages.
 

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