Tonight I had the enormous privilege of attending the grand opening ceremony for the new MADD (Music Art Drama and Dance) Centre at my son’s high school. It was amazing. What I would have given to have had that kind of facility at my disposal as a kid at school. I could have danced all night on that impressive stage, and sung in the rain in an outside amphitheater. I could have done physical theater on a beautiful sprung floor in a super impressive dance studio. There is a percussion room, an Apple Lab where the kids make movies and Photoshop on inspiring MAC’s.
A drama studio, a theory room, art studio it’s amazing.
I grew up during apartheid. We lived in a reasonably middle to upper class suburb and were therefore zoned to attend a reasonably middle to upper class school. My peers were much like me. Of course some had a little more than us, and some had a little less, but all in all we were all about the same. We were pale-faced kids, living pretty sheltered lives in the bubble of a white South African 1980’s existence.
And now we are parents. To children who are growing up in a totally different world. Sometimes I feel totally at sea when I look at the world my children are growing up in, and tonight was one of those times.
I sat in the physical theater production and I was uncomfortable. That pale faced little girl inside of me, whose plays involved the likes of Showboat, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady, sat watching a very violent theatrical performance whose theme had to be a comment on a world issue. The teenaged thespians chose to express their outrage at the treatment of women and homosexuality in Uganda. Gulp. I felt indignant at first. In a, why didn’t they warn us that my 9yr old should not watch this!? Kind of way. It was harsh and upsetting. It was brilliant.
We then went to watch a 30min music spotlight concert. The talent was amazing. A far cry from
the triangles and xylophones that our school music nights entailed. There was a rock band, a jazz band, a barbershop rehearsal, and some soloists. One boy stood up and sang a song while playing his guitar that he wrote and dedicated to a girl in the audience. Wow.
We watched the dance showcase. Oh my word. I danced as a girl modern and tap dancing. I thought I was quite progressive because most my friends did ballet. I was never a ballet kind of girl. It was way too slow and traditional for me. I liked the energy of modern dance and thought I was quite radical in my dancing. I loved tap because it was fast and fun and out there. But tonight, the dancing I saw made what I did seem rather tame and uninspiring. There was hip hop, and a type of twitchy breakdancing (which my youngest said looked like a computer game glitching) which was amazing. There was a kind of gangster dancing €“ forgive my ignorance in not knowing the names of these new styles. A young girl danced to a song where the words in the chorus were Ooh all my people close to me, and all them other niggas where they post to be, ooh the hoes go for me, have your chick sent a pic like pose for me. Yikes. I had a flashback to an enraged deputy principal circa 1988, on Std.7 geography camp hearing The Beastie Boys Girls song with the lyrics, think that you and me should hit the hay on an illegally smuggled boom box. I would have loved to see her face if she heard this one! I was shocked at the lyrics that she was fabulously gyrating her body to, but no one else seemed to flinch, so maybe it was that pale-faced 80’s girl creeping out again. We watched a beautiful Indian girl dance gracefully in a sari to Indian music, and I was amazed. The highlight of the whole dance showcase for me though, was that all these dances took place to a chorus of cheering and hollering from their schoolmates in the audience. Their support was marvellous, regardless of what type of dancing was going on.
And that is when it hit me.
Our kids are growing up in a totally different world to us. They have friends of all colours and nationalities. We only had friends the same colour as us. They are exposed to all sorts of demographics €“ from ridiculously wealthy to distressingly poor, where we were sheltered from that as children. They are exposed to so much more through media and education than our right-wing government ever allowed us to know about.
The photography and art on display in the art studio was astonishing. Things I can assure you I would never have seen at the tender age of 15. And yet, it was plastered all over the walls in the art room. Disturbing to this fair-faced child of the 80’s, but moving to the children who took them. Powerful in the photographers’ obvious compassion and glaring outrage at certain circumstances.
Tonight was eye-opening. And frightening. As a child of the 80’s who is now a parent to children of today, I was rocked. How do we even understand the world our children are growing up in when it is so vastly different to the world in which we grew up. How do we relate to their youth when it is so extremely unlike the youth we had? How do we stay in touch with our children when they aren’t really children as we knew children? How do we adjust our expectations of them when we can’t compare them to the ones our parents had for us at that age? How do we adjust our guidelines for them when we don’t have a clue what they are navigating? Yes, of course we know what is going on in the world, but how do we relate to that through our children’s eyes when it only became apparent to us when we were already out of school?
We can’t pretend they are innocent children. Their world is not innocent. They know about rape. And sodomy. And being stoned for being a homosexual. They know about porn and drugs and dildos. They know about 50 Shades and hijackings and being held up at gunpoint. They know about sexual predators and online relationships. There is little left for them to uncover. And yet so much more for them to learn. So many more things for us to guide them through.
But they also know what it is to be a rainbow nation. They know about tolerance. They know about and appreciate everyone’s culture. They accept that different isn’t bad, it’s just different. They have compassion. They know what is right and wrong. They understand human rights. They are wise beyond their years.
And while I sat there tonight, being exposed to the very different world our children are living in, I felt afraid. But then I felt hope. Maybe our children will solve the world’s problems. Maybe our children will succeed where we failed. Maybe our children will grow up seeing the world through untainted glasses, and boldly address and fix the things that need fixing.
I am a child of the 80’s with children of today, and while I wish I could wrap them in bubble wrap and protect them from the ugliness that exists, I was somehow deeply moved by how they are growing up. And I was humbly grateful that the learning they are getting at school and in the world is actually preparing them for life, and not simply exams.
So to you, my fellow 80’s children, I say embrace their world. Learn about what they are learning. And mostly, talk to them about it. Don’t shy away from issues because you think they are too young. If they ask, speak frankly to them. Ask them what they think. And more importantly, listen.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time and I think that is the mind shift we need to make to be able to parent today’s children effectively and to stay connected to them, their world, and the way they experience it.
I feel blessed and grateful for the education they are receiving, and I wish you all the very best of luck as you traverse these unfamiliar waters with your children.