Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In my free time, I volunteer as a leader to the youth at my church. And by "volunteer," I mean the up and ups asked me to do it and I reluctantly agreed because I didn't want my friends to think I was lame for not accepting the call. In other words, I cave easily to peer pressure and let others' perceptions of me be my guiding light in making major life decisions. I can't think of anyone more qualified to advise teenagers.

I've got to be honest, though, that this particular group of youth is one of the best that I've advised (Can you believe they've asked me to do it more than once?). We don't have enough teenagers in my own congregation to make a solid youth group so the up and ups have combined the youth from a couple of different congregations and the result is both substantially numbered and substantially diverse. The majority of them are from inner-city Oakland, but others are from the fancy, hilly areas surrounding Oakland. In terms of ethnic diversity, we've got the range of an entire Benetton ad campaign, hardly any of them go to the same school, and yet somehow they all manage to get along with one another. When you look at the way adults refuse to cooperate based on far smaller differences, it is clear these kids are the ones who should be advising us. I would totally vote any of them into public office should they decide to campaign.

I had the pleasure of spending all day last Saturday with them when we went on an annual water skiing trip. I did not expect it to be a pleasure. In fact, I was dreading it. First, I knew it would be all day. 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday. I've got a touch of the ol' ADD and don't really like spending all day on any one thing. The idea of devoting all day to one thing triggers my well-documented commitment phobia like you wouldn't believe. When I spend all day on something, my DVR gets backed up and starts deleting precious unwatched material on its own like it's on some sort of a Hal 9000 power trip. Second, I had heard that, despite their residential proximity to a large body of water (i.e., the San Francisco Bay), the majority of the kids did not officially know how to swim. This just caused the legal issue-spotting portion of my brain to go haywire despite the repeated affirmations of the other adults that "they all wear life jackets" and "nobody drowned before." Third, it was going to be sunny. Fourth, it involved boats.

But, of course, I caved to the peer pressure and went. And it was fun. It was a perfect 80 degrees. The kids wore life jackets. Nobody drowned. They can't swim but they had no fear of riding a large inflatable tow-along and trying out water skiing and wakeboarding. All in all, it was a great day.

The only downside was the music issue. I drive these teens around a lot. When I do, I let them pick the radio station. It is always a hip-hop station. They sing along loudly and bounce around in the car and I am generally grateful for this because in their revelry they don't notice that I've circled the same block three times because I got lost in Oakland again. But on Saturday as we were driving out to the body of water to ski on (which, incidentally, was far smaller than the body of water we all live by), we traveled so far out that we lost radio reception. We had forbidden iPods on the trip because last year a few ended up in the lake, so at this point my passengers had no choice but to flip through my CDs. My indie rock CDs. I warned them they would hate them. They said it was okay. But then they started asking questions like "Do you have any CDs with fast songs?" during the fastest song on the CD and "Do you only like music with girl singers?" during a song sung by a guy. Finally, they just gave up and fell asleep.

I've never felt bad before about not being into hip-hop, but this scene was nothing more than a modern remake of a million similar scenes from my own youth, where the kids wanted to listen to grunge and all the leaders had in the car was Neil Diamond: Live at the Greek. And I'm not saying anything against the Diamond--I love the guy--but I was sad to realize that my indie rock was not the magical fountain of musical youth I assumed it was, but rather the Neil Diamond of my generation: soft music for middle-aged white women. Alas...

(FYI, I've got a ton of super-cute pictures from the water skiing activity that I'd love to post, but I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't post pictures of minors on the Internet without some sort of permission. Perhaps I'll add a few later...)


  1. Um, yeah...working with the youth definitely leads to those "i'm old" moments. I saw "btw" to them and the looks I received made me want to crawl into the corner and die.

  2. I'm just impressed that you even let them pick the station after picking hip hop the first time. I would never be so nice and would force them to listen to my indie-rock-old-people-music. (And I'd think I were educating them by doing it.)

  3. and i have a question - do you like bands with guy singers? i can think of 1 off the bat.

  4. Jenny--Agreed, I totally steer clear of all acronyms when I'm around these kids because the ones I use are either dated or have some nasty secondary meaning about which I am blissfully unaware.

    Leigh--If it were a different group I might press my indie rock on them, but if I didn't make it clear in the post, these are non-white kids from rough neighborhoods. In the immortal words of Morrissey via the Smiths, I feel no need to make them listen to music that "says nothing to [them] about [their] life" lest they call for my hanging.

    (And I suppose my fondness for the Smiths proves that I like bands with guy singers because Morrissey is a guy even though he's not always so willing to admit it. [And in a parenthetical to my parenthetical, I will say that about 10 years ago my sister and I went to a Gene concert at the Troubadour in LA and a very dapper (re: Armani suit) Morrissey walked through the door and up to the VIP area with a buxom blond on each arm.])

  5. I love this. Of course. I haven't had this exact experience since I have yet to work with youth (only primary), but I had an experience over the weekend where my 8- and 11-yr-old nieces were playing Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and were totally flummoxed that my kids weren't singing along. Ha! I was proud when my 6-yr-old asked if they had any Duran Duran. But some day my kids will hate me for it I'm sure.

  6. I've never listened to more hip-hop than I have since being called to work with the youth - also rough inner city girls (one of whom just got a piercing that I'd never even heard of). And, the other day I found myself telling a "when I was your age story" and realized I was turning into my dad. When did that happen???