Holding on to a Teddy Bear... While Learning about Love.
This is the second part of a two part series called "Officially In Hell: My Ten Hours on a Bus with 50 Pre-teens.
If you have not read the first part, it is at the following link:
Part two: Holding on to a Teddy Bear... While Learning About Love.
It's been several days since I wrote the first part of my "epic" bus ride with fifty pre-teen kids all about 12. We were supposed to be going to Sea Lab on the Gulf Coast - but really we were all on journeys of self-discovery. Me included. And some going at a much faster pace than others.
In that first part I had only wrote about the first hour of the journey before I ran out of steam and stopped for a few days.
Now I'm afraid I can't regain the momentum. So what I will do is just tell you a few things I heard in the remaining four hours of the first leg of the trip... then tell you the most important thing I saw, period.
Some remaining observations from my notes that I jotted down were these:
A kid took a photo and then told the object of the picture, "Now you're on the internet." I personally don't know if it can be done that fast... but if anyone can do it, kids can. The photo was of the two kids wrapped up in each other's arms.
One bully tells a brainiac kid, "I'll take those 2 (buck) teeth out and poke your eyes out!"
Another says, "Douche isn't a bad word. It just means you're cute."
A girl says to a boy, "You're sunglasses are ugly compared to mine." The boy responds with "Your FACE is ugly compared to mine." She responds in kind, "You didn't take your medications today, did you?"
Then I heard two words that stood out against the din of roaring chatter noise. The words are "Pancreatic cancer." Some child whose voice I can attach to a face, is having to deal with such horrible words, at such a young age.
I look out at the kids. One already looks like Ozzy Ozborne. Another has a big double chin at twelve. Another kid has brought his drumsticks with him and is tapping out a beat on the head of the kid sitting calmly in front of him.
I see the mother of the girl who is wrapped up in a little boy's arms (and hands). The mother is telling me in sign language to keep an eye on her daughter.
I nod ok, but I know really, it's too late for all that. Later, the next day, when we are at Sea Lab at the cafeteria, they will all sing happy birthday to her. She has just turned 12, That means she was all wrapped up... at age eleven.
In front of them on the bus though, I see big head and little head come up for air occaisionally. Little head has spiked hair. Later I ask a kid sitting by me on the way back home, why this kid is so popular. He says it is because he can play drums really well. So there you have it: musicians start getting blondies, even at twelve.
Girls are still looking over the seat at the mismatched duo. One says, "I dated a guy shorter than me before." Now how can she be "dating" at twelve? Mom, Dad, where are you?
I look up to see a kid in a John Belushi samuri headband looking over the seat at me. I ask him, "What do you know, karate or something?" He says, "It's not that kind of headband, it's a hippie headband." He and I will later argue on the return trip home, when he tries to tell me that the Beatles are Rock and Roll's "roots" music.
I would like to teach him a new word, but don't. The word would be B. S.!
I slap on my earphones and hear a song from the very early sixties. It is "Silence is Golden," and I would like to pay for about two gold bars of it on this bus trip. When that song is over the next one that comes up is James Cotton, "I Ain't Gonna Raise No More Cotton." Now that is old, but even that is not rock and roll "roots" music.
Then out of the blue some degenerate kid starts to sing "Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall." Thank God it does not catch on with the other kids. Seeing he has failed, he tries a new tact. He sings, "Ninety Nine Bottles of Pee in the Bucket." That has a short life span as well.
The two entwined behind big face and little face come up for air... and look around. And I swear I can see it on their face: The look of the beginning of the loss of innocence. They have been to the entrance of the Garden of Eden and though they have hopefully NOT seen each other's nakedness yet... they are well on the way to being "aware," and to being cast out of the garden. All to soon... they will be adults.
Now I am going to tell you the most important thing I saw next. And after that you don't have to read anymore, because this will tell you in a visual picture all that you need to know about what these twelve year old kids are going through on this bus and this trip... and especially the two couples that are farther advanced "sexually" than any of the others.
What I saw was this: Big face and little face also came up for air. And when the girl sat up and turned her feet and body into the aisle, I saw for the first time... she was clutching on to, holding on to a teddy bear, HER teddy bear, the whole time she was venturing more than tentatively... into the world of adult intimacy.
She is still a child, holding on with part of her heart, to that little stuffed bear... while reaching out to love and be loved by someone other than her parents.
And that is what every kid on that bus was doing... at their own speed, at their own rate.
My own daughter wanted me to come on this trip. I know now she wanted the protection I promise her, of knowing that I would give my own life for hers at any opportunity. Yet I saw her very little either on the bus, or once we were at Sea Lab.
I gave her all the space she needed. And evidently... I gave her enough. At home later I asked her if I had embarrassed her, and she told me no, and that she loved me very much.
At Sea Lab I generally had breakfeast, lunch and dinner by myself, as I am not a people person. Although occaisionally another parent would sit with me or I sat with a parent. Just as their are cliques among kids, there are the same among parents.
I prefer just to be alone.
But sometimes I would look around just to make sure my daughter was ok. Most of the time she sat with two of her girl friends. But near the end I looked around to see two little boys hovering around their table, talking primarily to her. One was a very smart kid she had known from pre-school. Once back then, my daughter had told us that her and the little boy had gotten married that day at kindergarden.
My wife and I laughed at that, but here it is, some years later, and here is that little boy again. I am not laughing now. But I know, he would be a good man, coming from a good family.
The other little boy at the table I did not know, except that he had gone to my kid's elementary school.
But when we were boarding for the return trip, I got a surprise. Both of these little boys came up to me and asked if they could sit next to me on the trip home. I said sure. I did not know how capable of "planning" little boys were, until that moment. But I could see no reason for them to want to be near me, except for them to try to butter up the dad of the little girl they both seemed interested in.
The trip back was bad. Drug on forever. Was even worse than the journey down. The three of us played music trivia forever, but they had never heard of some of the sixties people (like Eric Burdon) who were my heros, and I had never heard of any of the people they listened to.
And after we had been on the road for four hours and the bus driver had passed the only rest area we had seen, the State of Alabama saw fit to work on the Interstate that day, and traffic slowed down to a snail's pace... and then stopped utterly completely.
It was then that I knew, I was officially in Hell. With fifty now irritable pre-teen kids. The air wasn't working, and everybody on the bus was tired of everything they had been doing and just wanted to be home.
Even big face and little face and the couple behind them finally got bored with "making out" and sat up straight in their seats... now looking more like little married couples from whom the thrill was gone... than kids just beginning to learn about their own sexuality.
But with the thrill, the will have to learn the unbelievable unimaginable truth... that the thrill also leaves.
Then, after what seemed like five eternities, the bus finally started again.
And the kid next to me who has an interest in my only beloved daughter, said to me, "Mr. Bevis, you look so unhappy, like you can't wait for this trip to be over. What's wrong?"
I looked at him, suddenly knowing that this was the kind of kid I wanted my daughter to have as a boyfriend. Someone who can empathize with all my daughter will someday be feeling.
I told him simply, "Life makes you this way."
And I felt bad for what I had told him and the other kid interested in my daughter earlier. I had told them, "You know, you guys are alright. And I hereby give you permission to date any girl you want except my daughter."
It took them a minute to get it.
Now I wish I had a chance to tell them, or the one in particular, "Come on over when she's ready and your're ready. You will be welcome."
On the last day we were at Sea Lab I skipped watching the dissection of the squid, and just walked on the beach for hours.
It had been a good visit, once the bus part was over. And few things can compare to being two miles offshore and watching dolphins appear out of nowhere and follow your boat and jump up and down in perfect unison - I suppose male and female doing what they are doing together - out of some kind of love for each other.
One night I went out on the beach by myself, away from all the island lights and looked up into the now incredibly clear sky and just marvelled at how bright the stars were. And there far out to sea were the beautiful white and yellow and red lights of the floating oil rig cities, looking as if they were gigantic alien spaceships caught between the constellations and the deep blue sea... and that they would welcome you with open arms and take you to a heaven if only you could find a way to get out there to them without daylight ever coming.
You know, if only we could keep the love we felt when our love was first love... how happy would all the world be.
Siince that can not happen...
The next best thing we have is the never changing love we have for our children.
God Bless them on their journey to find Love... and him.
One last note: When we finally returned home and the bus was being unloaded and all the parents were picking up their own kids, I saw something very touching.
It was the two "kids" who had been sitting behind big face and little face. And I caught them just at the moment they were saying goodbye to each other without words. Just their eyes looking into each others, and their hands pulling apart from each other. And the look in their faces showed methat they would sincerely miss each other.
I believe it is the same thing Shakespeare must have witnessed sometime in his lifetime...
that caused him to write...
"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."
There is hope for these kids, and for all the world.