Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So Not The Fonz

When I was in elementary school, I had an enormous poster of The Fonz on my wall. I actually liked Pottsie better, but I don't think there were any Pottsie posters for sale at the time. So my homage to the show "Happy Days" was Fonzie giving a big thumb's up, long before upward facing thumbs were co-opted by pre-school teachers to indicate a child had used the potty correctly.

The fact that I preferred Pottsie to the ultra cool Arthur Fonzarelli was already an early sign that I was not going to be one of the "cool" crowd. Maybe briefly in college, when I did a pretty spot-on impression of a tortured intellectual. But, hey, Henry Winkler was a Yale graduate, so it makes sense that Ivy League angst would be channeling the King of Cool himself.

My oldest child is at the age where he is kind of getting that his mom is a little dorky. I use the word "awesome" a lot, and not just when I am describing weighty philosophical matters. And not just in private when I am trying to build family self-esteem. I showcase my unhipness by yelling out awkward phrases at Little League games, usually incorporating the apparently humiliating "A" word. "Awesome cut!" I bellow when a player takes a big swing, but misses. "Awesome D!" I have been known to shriek after a competent catch of a fly ball. I think I have one more season before I am banished from games.

To make matters worse, at work I meet teenagers who are in street gangs, have elaborate tattoos, and are savvy to the ways of the world. I am a Clinical Psychologist at a large, urban Juvenile Hall. That means jail for kids. Yes, kids end up in jail. I read a court report for a teen from a part of town where very few kids end up in juvey, and her mother had told the judge that she called the police on her daughter so they could take her to juvenile hall, which the mom apparently thought was some sort of dormitory with kindly counselors. Sorry, mom, if LAPD is involved, your child is not being taken to a slumber party. So I guess I am not the only mom who is uncool.

The kids--called "minors" by probation, and "clients" by mental health--tell me about a lot of talents and interests they have. Some write poetry, paint, play sports, do hair. There are a lot of terrific, smart kids in juvey, who were born into really sad circumstances. I learn a lot from them and generally they tolerate my inability to use the right lingo to describe their interests and vices. The first time I assessed a teen for "pot" use and got a blank stare, although this kid had a pretty intense marijuana habit, I knew it was better not to even try to be hip.

One 16-year-old boy I interviewed had been a gang member for a number of years, and had a slew of gang related "tats." He was soft-spoken and a kid of few words. He wasn't giving too much away. I asked him what he liked to do for fun. He lit up and said what sounded to me like "beads." I asked him what he made. The light in his eye flickered and he sort of grunted, "huh?" Necklaces, bracelets, keychains? I was getting excited because I have dabbled in jewelry making myself. "Uh, what?" he asked, staring at me. Beads, what did he make with the beads, I continued to probe, desperate at this point not to lose the momentum. "Beads? I said Beets," he informed me, the brightness in his face now completely overshadowed by confusion and scorn. "Oh, you garden?" I queried hopefully. "Beats. Like drums. I drum," he said exasperatedly. "Oh, cool," I said, defeated.



  1. I had to tweet this post Karen. You understand those kids, being cool is ok, but connecting with them in any way and gaining trust is the crux of what you do. You go girl! You're awesome! :D

  2. Hi, Cath! Thanks for the support! I hope it comes across to the kids how much I like them and want to help them see a future. I have no doubt your authenticity and humor provide a healing salve for your clients/patients. We do have amazing jobs! Take care! Best, Karen :)

  3. Well, beats, no one knows what that means! Not even us hip -apparently my year 10's love me and we've been studying Shakepeare for goodness sakes- secondary school teachers. Fair enough. But I do seriously doubt he meant jewellery. . . .
    Josie x

  4. Hi, Josie! It certainly wasn't my finest hour! I think if I had had you for 10th grade English, I would have even liked Shakespeare! And you never know, maybe there are some budding bead-stringers or beet-growers in your classroom! lol. Take care! Karen :)

  5. Thanks. Oh a cool thing has happened in the classroom. One girl had complained how it's not as easy to write anymore and when I looked at her writing it was lovely! So I told her so, and then encouraged her to start blogging! I Sent her some links and all, told her I blog but need to keep that separate etc and didn't tell her about my blog, and she respected that, but she's very excited about blogging! Isn't that nice!

  6. I've got to chime back in and say you gave that girl a huge ego boost Helen...err...Josie. ;)
    What a marvelous thing to do! You BOTH are awesome and I'm so glad I found you both. You've added so much to my way of thinking and looking at things. Thank you both.
    xo cath

  7. Cath--Right back at you (and you too Josie!). I just wish blogspot wasn't blocked at work so I could grab a peek at my favorite sites during the day, rather than when I am dodging the kids at night :). You guys are Awesome!!... errr... I mean my fellow bloggers are terrific! K:)

  8. Hola, Taio--

    Gracias por su comentario!

    Karen :)