When I was a senior in high school, I became best buddies with the lady who took attendance. There were many mornings when she called me, worried because I hadn’t yet shown up to school, which was three blocks away from my house.
The attendance lady wondered, “Did I get lost? Was I kidnapped?” Of course not, I assured her as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
I simply had such a monumentally terrible migraine that temporarily blinded me and I could barely make out the sound of her voice over the incessant ringing in my ears.
My mother must have forgotten to call in my totally legit and excused absence before she went off to work and left me unattended. “Oh, thank goodness,” she would say.
My youngest daughter is now a senior in high school. These days, her commute to the classroom is even shorter than mine was.
She simply has to stumble from her bed to her desk chair three feet away. I’d be lying if I told you that she springs awake enthusiastically each morning. In fact, there’s usually some form of bribery and/or wrestling involved. But she gets up in time for a daily Zoom check-in with her teacher and classmates nonetheless before she heads off to her first class of the day, which is only a click away.
For the next few hours, from my perch on the living room recliner that serves as my office, I can hear the chattering of teenage girls discussing statistics, abnormal psychology, and TikTok, then offering each other helpful feedback on their creative writing assignments.
They hold senior class meetings about how they might reimagine prom and other rites of passage. They talk about all the restaurants and stores and parks they’re going to visit this summer “as long as the world’s not still shut down.”
It wouldn’t cross these kids’ minds to make up some lame excuse to skip school. They know that they’ll never get this time back and they want to make the most of it, no matter the circumstances.
So much for being smarter than your children.
The other day, my kid got a shout-out on Twitter for her role as senior captain of the softball team—a position she spent 12 years perfecting her smooth fastball to claim. She won't be able to take the mound this season, which would have been her final chance to play organized sports before heading off to college.
She’s taken all of this news in stride, though. She has her moments of sadness and coping with the loss of how she expected things to be, but she and her friends have embraced this new normal with more grace and poise than I ever would have been able to muster at 18 years old.
Yes, they’re disappointed that they’re spending their senior year cooped up with their parents rather than hanging out with each other, but they also share PSAs on their Instagram walls about supporting food banks and other agencies that are tending to the needs and concerns of people who have far fewer resources than they do to cope with all the problems that COVID-19 has wrought.
When I was their age, I was too busy teasing my hair to the ceiling and shellacking it with Aqua-Net to worry about the ozone layer. These kids don’t have that luxury. They are keenly aware of the fact that the world is bigger than they are; that their actions have very real and direct consequences on this planet that we all share.
Teenagers through the ages have gotten a bad rap. But I am here to tell you: Today’s teenagers are different. They have to be.
There won't be any more time spent on campus or in the classrooms for my daughter and the other members of the Class of 2020.. It’s abundantly clear, though, that when they finally break out of their home cocoons, it’ll be quite a thing of beauty to see them fly.
This week, journalist and communicator Kathleen Osborne joins the FreshWater team as a regular contributor to ChroniCLEs—a column of observations and experiences in Cleveland and beyond. Osborne is Hathaway Brown's chief external communications officer. She has spent much of her professional life working as a freelance writer, editor, and public relations specialist and she had her own consulting firm for 10 years, with clients ranging from start-up businesses to Fortune 100 companies. Osborne’s work has appeared in many regional and national publications, including IndustryWeek, The Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, The Morning Journal, Cleveland Magazine, Ohio Magazine, Northern Ohio Live, and Inside Business. She has earned more than four dozen awards from the international and regional chapters of the Council for Advancement & Support of Education, the Press Club of Cleveland, and Lake Communicators.