Once upon a time, I taught preschool. The kids in my care were Pre-K, which means they were either 4 or 5. I dealt with parents who mostly ranged in age from mid-20’s to mid-40’s (and a few older). It didn’t hit me how young some of the parents were until the day last year when we were discussing volcanoes.
“Miss Jenny! Have you ever seen a real live volcano erupt?” one of my budding seismologists inquired.
I answered in my teacher voice, “Well, no. But I do remember when Mount St. Helens erupted. That happened in another state, but we all watched it on the news. It was crazy! I bet if you ask your parents tonight, they’ll remember, too.”
And then I did some quick math in my head. The girl who asked me was five. Her parents were some of our younger ones, probably 29, 30-ish.
At the time, I was 47. Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, when I was 14. Which means that little girl’s parents hadn’t even been BORN yet when it happened. This was one of the first times it really and truly occurred to me: I WAS NO LONGER ONE OF THOSE “YOUNG” PARENTS. My middle-agedness smacked me upside the head with a resounding thwap.
Since then, I’ve taken note of the signs of youthfulness so many of my class parents exhibit. They don’t look as tired or as soul-drained or as thick around the middle as many of my peers do. The women have natural hair colors, very few wrinkles and most days, it looks as though they’ve put some effort and thought into dressing themselves. They wear pants with zippers and fancy shoes that make my feet curl up like the Wicked Witch of the West’s did when Dorothy received the ruby slippers.
And the dads: They are so much cooler looking than the dads in my demographic. They wear distressed jeans and shiny puffy jackets and knit caps. Don’t get me wrong, there are oodles of men well over 40 who wear these exact same items, but let’s be honest: you can’t hide life’s wear and tear under a Patagonia jacket and some True Religion jeans. Some things just can’t be denied, and age is one of them.
Last spring, one of the preschooler’s dads who normally dropped his child off in the mornings was gone for a few days. His wife took over the drop-off, and as we were making small talk, she mentioned that her husband was out of town, seeing his favorite band. We ladies all giggled as she sighed and hoped out loud that he was behaving himself. “Oh, of course he is!” we assured her.
A few days later, Dad was back. Now, he wasn’t one of our baby-faced daddies. This one had a little bit of mileage on him. He wasn’t quite as old as I am, but I’m thinking he may have vaguely remembered Mount St. Helens erupting. He hung out for a few minutes, making sure his son signed in, washed his hands–all the morning routines a preschooler has. I approached Dad and said, “So your wife told us you road-tripped to see a band? Which one?”
He looked at me the same way I must have looked at my mom when she once screamed “THERE ARE NO WINDOWS ON MY COMPUTER! HOW CAN I OPEN ONE?” Or how my kids look at me when I say “What’s the dealio with this Snapchat thing, Coolio?”
Slowly, he began explaining things to my fossilized self: “Well, there’s this band called Pearl Jam…”
WAIT. HOLD ON. BACK THE TRUCK UP, SON.
“This band” called Pearl Jam? I know a little bit about this band called Pearl Jam, boy.
I wanted to pull up one of our little tiny chairs and sit down and discuss this band called Pearl Jam with this dad. Maybe I’d regale him with the story of Lollapalooza ’92, where a not-so-grizzled Miss Jenny danced in the dirt wearing Girbaud jean cut offs, a black T-shirt, muddy Tevas and a Guatemalan purse from Pier One. We rocked out to that band called Pearl Jam, then dreamy Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, then front freaking row for Ice Cube and THEN gazed up at the toned trunks and loins of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I still have hazy memories of bonding with strangers in line for the porta-potties and also of pretty much melting into a grungy puddle when I saw Eddie Vedder in the flesh, knowing that we were quite possibly sharing some of the very same oxygen molecules.
I wanted to tell this dad all about how in my fantasies, I have a reunion with the boy I loved for 12 weeks in the summer of 1993, and while we are first embracing and catching up I can hear the lyrics to “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” resounding through my mind. Hands down, one of the best songs ever written, and damn if I don’t shed a tear every single time I hear it. To this day, if that song comes on while I’m driving, I shut the windows and howl along with Eddie.
Maybe I could’ve told that dad one of my crowning achievements as a parent was the day I realized my two toddlers who were strapped in their carseats behind me were crooning, “Ooooh, I’m still alive….” along with me and Pearl Jam. Raffi? Please. “Baby Beluga” had nothing on those Seattle gods.
We could’ve chatted about one of the first dates I had with my future ex-husband, where we went to see the movie Singles and I gasped out loud when Eddie and Stone and the rest of Pearl Jam appeared on the big screen. And then I’d tell him that I bought the soundtrack and the movie, and every once in a while, I’ll pop it into the DVD player and have a look at it just for shits and giggles. For old time’s sake.
And then I would have asked him, “For the love of Pete…how old do you think I am, man?”
No, I didn’t tell Dad any of this. I think I said, “I’m so jealous!” or something equally brilliant and was satisfied to see the look of surprise in Dad’s eyes when he realized that his child’s oh-so middle-aged preschool teacher with the gray roots actually knew who “this band” is.
I colored my hair later that night–while listening to some Pearl Jam, of course.