Hey. I’m 24 now. So that happened yesterday. When I say 24, I feel old. At least I’m not 25 (sorry to all of my friends who are), which is definitely old. That’s a quarter of a century! So why does 24 feel so old? In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not.
The other day, while going for a run (uh… A jog? A walk?) on the local high school track, my friend and I discussed the flier that we got in the mail detailing new hires and retirees from our school community. One of our math teachers from middle school is retiring this year after 40 years of teaching. My friend was all “40 years? How is that… Oh. Oh my god. We’ve been out of middle school for 10 years.”
That realization sank in and it was weird. That’s a double-digit number. Obvious, I know. Ten years is definitely a big gap though. Especially when I consider that, as a 14-year-old, I was definitely not at all who I am today. I didn’t even have my wisdom teeth taken out yet!
This year also marks 6 years since graduating from high school. 6 isn’t that big of a number. However, it still seems like yesterday that I was in the choir room of my local high school, maybe at a musical meeting…
Wait. No, that actually did happen last week. We announced next year’s musical. That happened.
It’s been 6 years since graduating from high school and now I find myself back there on a regular basis. Working. I do the costumes, hair, and make up for their all-school musical productions. That’s weird because I’m pretty sure I just recently gave my senior speech about doing theatre for the rest of my life and living in a cardboard box. But it was 6 years ago.
The kids, both at that school and the school in which I typically work year-round, always ask me what year I graduated. Then they go “Oh well, you’re not that much older.”
No, I’m not, but I certainly do notice the age gap a lot. They teach me things, I teach them things, and then I hang my head in sorrow when they don’t get certain references. It’s bizarre being the adult in the room and finally understanding how all of my teachers felt when we didn’t understand their jokes.
I’ve been keeping a running list of a few references from pop culture and history that have come up more than once in my schools, or moments that have reminded me that I am no longer a kid. Here are just a few of them:
1. Slang is ever evolving.
I know that our language is changing constantly, but sometimes I just sit and think about the slang and go “Where on Earth did this come from?” When I graduated high school, it was the year “OhSevs” and “obvi” we were “totes” the coolest seniors ever. “Abbrevs” were all the rage. Now we have junk such as “#yolo” which I just can’t stand. This year, the kids taught me what “ratchet” means, which was new to me, but apparently old hat to a friend who works in a school in another state. Where did that even come from? Most of their slang is driven by social media and being judgmental of others. And I thought we were trying to stop bullying? Totes sad.
2. You do know that this movie was released in VHS form first, right?
I think my mind was actually quite blown the day that a freshman said to me “Oh, you like Jurassic Park too?! I grew up on it! Yeah! It came out when I was little.” Excuse me? Child, perhaps it was finally released on DVD when you were little (and I checked, it was), but I saw it when it came out on VHS and I had to listen to the majestic soundtrack on a cassette tape. Don’t even get me started on cassettes.
3. 98 Degrees
Once, the kids were having a dance party to Backstreet Boys’ Millennium album while getting ready to embark on a field trip. Let’s just ignore the fact that the kids were only about a year old when these genius tunes came out, and jump to the fact that we started talking about boy bands. It’s nice that the kids still appreciate real pop boy bands and that they don’t all thrive on the Disney Channel-created pop stars and whoever those boys are from England? Australia? Both? I excitedly told them that I heard a rumor that 98 Degrees might go back on tour. They had no idea who 98 Degrees was. No. Idea.
I know that they weren’t the best boy band or anything, but they were awesome. These kids have no idea that Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey were once an item, and why that was such a big deal. They don’t know the “Chicken of the Sea” joke from Newlyweds. They don’t know how cool 98 Degrees was when they sang “True to Your Heart” for the Mulan soundtrack. They just don’t understand me!
What is this, I don’t even…? Stop that.
I remember when I was in 2nd grade, Tamagotchis were huge. We would bring them to school and hand them off to our student teacher, as if she were the babysitter. It’s nice to know that student teaching wasn’t all it was cracked out to be back then, either. But anyway. A true product of the 90s, Tamagotchis were a fascinating new piece of technology that let us be responsible for something less expensive than a puppy, but with just as much poop.
Now, there’s an app for the iPhone that brings back the nostalgia. The kids are all excited about it, but not in the same way that I am. The app has the real, true Tamagotchi. There are a limited number of critters that they turn into and there was only one game. My students remember the larger versions that you could connect with a friend’s Tamagotchi and play games together. Their Tamagotchis can even have babies. What? No, no, no, children. That’s not the Tamagotchi that I knew, loved, and mourned over when it died.
I taught a reading and study skills intensive course over the summer. One of the units we went over was how to approach a word that you don’t know by using context clues, root words, and the dictionary. Part of their homework was to look up certain words in a dictionary, and then look at how the book was organized.
“So… we can do this on our iPad?”
Shock and horror, very few of those kids had tangible paper dictionaries in their houses. They would never know the joy and frustration of leafing through those pages and looking for that one word that they needed. Now they just type it in and the technology pronounces the word for them and everything. Lazy.
7. The Clintons
Recently, the teacher I work with mentioned something about Chelsea Clinton, and when the kids asked “Who?”, she mentioned Hilary Clinton. For a moment, I had to step back and think wow, these kids know her as Hilary’s daughter. All of my life, the Clinton’s centered around our former president, Bill. But he is, quite literally, history to them.
I know that Furbies just came back in a really big way. They are more advanced than the guys that I had (see: Tamagotchis), but I’m glad that this is not the incarnation of Furby that I grew up with. The old ones were cute at first, sure, but then things started getting weird. Furby would wake me up at odd hours of the night, long after I thought I had put him to sleep. I never knew what he was saying to me. For all I knew, he wanted my soul. I have to say though, at least ours just stared at us with dead eyes, because now they can look at you with empty, sad, glowing eyes. I think sometimes their eyes even get angry at you. Those electronic eyes… no thank you. I hear that some of them rock and roll out of control? An angry eyed Furby, vibrating its way closer to me? No, for once, I am glad that I had the less advanced technology. You enjoy those nightmares, 21st century kids.
9. Why would I want to see your belly button, 14 year old?
I love my students. They know that, I know that, everyone knows that. I enjoy coming to work and playing games with them, or listening to their monologues, or giving them advice about school and life. However, I don’t love them enough to want to see exactly which bra they’re wearing or if they have their belly button pierced or not.
How did the sheer shirt trend start, and who decided it was ok to market this, paired with only crop tops and bras, to teenagers?
When I see a sheer shirt, I think “Oh hey, I have a really cute cami that could go under that!”
When they see one, they think “I hope everyone likes my belly button!” Right? Is that the thought process? I think that shirts styled in such a way are better left for the beach, the runway, or night clubs.
Also, I was watching She’s All That the other week and I was questioning their fashion choices as well. I know they aren’t real high school students, but it was scary how closely it mimicked what I see now. Yikes. The 90s are back!
10. My Costume References Are Never Understood.
Last year’s spring play was really weird. I don’t even know how to describe it. We all (the students and I) like to pretend it never happened. However, it was a fun show to costume design. Bowling shirts, cheerleader costumes, Broadway t-shirts, sequins, and so much more made up the wardrobe. There was a character who was supposed to be an alien, but she needed to be trendy. Of course, my mind shot right back to 1999 and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. I wanted pink tights, bright colors, and her hair held in pigtails by things that looked like Slinkys. No one understood my reference. By the way, did you know that Zenon takes place in 2049? Once, that year seemed impossible, but now it’s not too far away.
In the same show, I needed to outfit a whacky theatre teacher. The teacher was supposed to be a little bit of a space cadet, but also very artsy. My costume concept inspiration came from Endora, from Bewitched, and Professor Trelawney, from Harry Potter. Guess which one the students didn’t understand? Classic TV sitcoms are almost unknown to my students, whereas I grew up watching the re-runs on “Nick at Nite” all night long.
Also in that show, I had to make sock puppets for a rather silly intervention scene. I made one look like Helga from Hey Arnold, but none of the kids understood why the girl sock puppet had such an unfortunate uni-brow. Poor Helga.
11. The Biggest Offense: 10 Things I Hate About You
Nope. Nope. They don’t know what this movie is. No they don’t. Excuse me, you study drama? You’re a teenager? You like Joseph Gorden Levitt? And you have never, ever seen this movie? Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace love of my life, is rolling over in his grave right now. Stop this madness and go watch this movie. If they don’t, whatever. They’ll just never understand how weird it was that Alex Mack played a preppy girl and that Heath Ledger wasn’t always the joker. Fine. Suit yourselves.
I feel kind of like an old fart after writing all of this. As I embark on my 24th year, I know that next year I will meet students who are another year farther removed me and my favorite childhood memories, and who are another year closer to being born in the year 2000. I will continue being the “adult” in the room. I will try to teach them everything I can and share cool pop culture with them from my school years. In return, I’m sure they’ll fill me in on all of the new slang and YouTube dance trends, whether I like it or not.