Remember back in the day, when a friend ventured to Europe for a semester or two, and returned speaking French with the fluidity of a Muppet chef or rattling off German with greater proficiency than Colonel Wilhelm Klink?
I didn't quite reach those aptitudal levels yesterday, but I came close to becoming fluent in a highly unorthodox tongue:
I'll call it Tweenglish.
You see, I was around them a lot, far more than I'd planned. What began as a double-header afternoon of soccer team pictures followed by a game, morphed into full immersion in a chunky pre-adolescent stew. I was the fresh slice from a crusty artisan loaf who'd been dipped into the broth and forgotten, only to bloat into an unrecognizable softball of brown swamp gunk.
My daughter's U-13 soccer team, the Mustangs, made quick work of their team picture this year. Gone are the days of herding them into a line and trying to achieve a decent pose prior to someone biting the top of someone else's head. In this, the era of Instafacebookagramterist, these girls know how to pose for pictures.
Feeling spry after downing a venti dark roast and conversing with similarly perked-up parents, I retreated to our minivan for a short trip to the ferry dock to support my little Mia Hamm and her teammates at a game on Puget Sound's Vashon Island.
I waited in the captain's chair, wondering what was taking my young Brandi Chastain so long to get in the car and hoping it wasn't another sports bra incident. Before I could say "stop using 1999 Women's World cup references," she'd arranged for six other kids to ride with us to the ferry dock, across the water and to the soccer pitch for our one o'clock contest against Vashon's finest.
Hastily computing, I calculated that my daughter had set us up to spend the next three hours with six tween-age girls, a total of eightween hours, in the tight quarters of my sapphire blue Kia. One by one, parents approached my driver's side window, greasing my palm with ferry money and paying their respects, like a reception line prior to a lethal injection.
"Apparently, Bridgette is riding with you," said one father. "Thanks a lot. You're a brave man. I guess we'll just see you at the game."
"Will you?" I thought. "Or will you be joining Bloody Mary thanks to your newly freed-up schedule?"
Once everyone was off each other's laps and belted in, we embarked for the ferry. I resolved to become a fly on the wall since any of my seemingly witty parental input made me feel more like a fly on the windshield. The kids were very polite to me, yet when they spoke of their own parents, they railed at the lack of respect and understanding displayed by their caregivers:
Girl 1: "My mom made me peanut butter and jelly with honey. I'm so tired of healthy food all the time."
Girl 2: "All my mom packed me was two turkey sandwiches and some chips and an apple and some grapes and some string cheese and three granola bars. How's that supposed to last me all day?"
Girl 3: "My parents are so boring. They don't even watch TV."
Once on the ferry, I sat in the car and listened to sports radio while the kids bounded up to the passenger deck for the fifteen-minute trip to the island. The brief silence tasted sweeter than any PBJ&H sandwich, but before I could say "Justin Beiber," the six of them were embedded back in the van and we were ascending the Isle of Vash (That's an example of Tweenglish—abbreviations galore.).
For those unfamiliar with this rural island west of Seattle, Vashon is a highly organic community: we observed several locals walking the streets barefoot on their way to the farmers' market. It's an area that prides itself on independence and nonconformity.
So, yeah, the kids in the van couldn't really relate. While riding through the small hamlet, I heard the following comments:
Girl 1: "You guys. Seriously, there isn't a mall here. And I so love malls."
Girl 3: "Is there a Target?"
Girl 1: "No, but there's a Subway over there."
Girl 2: "I love malls. I love how they smell."
Girl 5: "I so love to smell malls."
Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I swear I just saw a guy killing a cow with a knife. Just stabbing it, like you'd stab a person in a movie!"
Girl 2: "Eww, Oh, my God."
Girl 1: "Oh, my God, eww."
Girl 4: "Oh, my God. Cows are disgusting."
Girl 3: "This place is so boring. Look at that guy going into the quilting place. I would be so embarrassed if that was my dad or my grandpa."
Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I could never live here."
Girl 5: "Oh, my God. I'd be so bored if I had to quilt for fun."
Girl 4: "People quilt? Oh, my God. I thought you just buy quilts."
That was about, oh, I don't know, three minutes worth of our little journey right there. It was like listening live to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Tween Edition, sponsored by Kia.
These kids are experiencing the same thing we all went through during those tumultuous pubescent years; it truly is a jagged pothole in everyone's road. And from time to time, I'd notice, lying dormant yet occasionally bubbling to the surface along with all the insecurity and giggly giddiness were the personalities of six caring, thoughtful and highly humorous human beings.
And that's what kept me from leaving them on the island that day.