I love the Throwback Thursday photos posted by friends when the nineties seemed so “now.” How young/cute/clueless we all seem! But parenting is giving me a different kinds of flashback, and lately it’s been to high school, 1978-1982. (Yikes!)

David around 1977 or 1978?

Me around 1977 or 1978? Notice the blue-lemon-and-lime color scheme, including custom painted garbage can and sidetable. Also the polyester shirt, plastic skull, and movie projector.

This morning after dropoff I was walking to the UPS store, and up ahead I noticed two moms from my daughter’s school. I’m an introvert, and have always been self-conscious. But my sudden urge to hide felt childish and stupid. What? Then I realized, this feels just like freshman year, walking up the long sidewalk to LBJ High, hoping desperately to find a friendly face but more strongly trying to avoid scrutiny or censure. Trying to pay attention to what everyone’s doing while remaining blandly invisible is tiring. Exhausting.

I can instantly access that sick, desperate feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was a tall, awkward 9th grader. Some people seemed maybe afraid of me, big and quiet. I worried that they’d be afraid of me, or worse, if they actually knew me. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember, given the changes I’ve lived through, that being a secretly gay kid was truly dangerous. I wasn’t just making it all up. There was some heartbreak and rejection in my future. But it’s also clear, in retrospect, that there’s something universal about this desire to be seen for oneself, and the fear of rejection.

So what had me flashing back to 1979 this morning? It wasn’t these friendly moms chatting. I realize that, like High School, parenting is a somewhat daunting social challenge for me. Becoming a parent changed everything about how I spend my time and my priorities. It threw my routines and friendships into an uncertain chaos. I became harder to spend time with, and lonelier, and more uncertain whether I belonged to the club, whatever it was. Was I even officially gay anymore?

I put a sticker on the car to keep my gay card up to date. I started getting involved with my daughter’s school, and the PTA has been a source of fun and community, though this year it’s had its share of drama. The “portables panic” brought out the protective warrior in some parents. I admire the “fight for the kids” energy some people brought to it, but something about it felt very “you’re with us or against us,” and the anger frightened me. [For the record, I’d be sad if the school district plunked down portables at the school. I’m not a portables apologist. But I think we could preserve our fantastic school despite more crowding and some ugly buildings. And while the Berkeley school district might have been late planning for increased numbers, I don’t think the they’re plotting against our school. Call me crazy.]

Anyway, as that long digression makes clear, getting involved with direct democracy is messy. I want to get involved but not maybe totally entangled. And making new friends is hard work, especially when there’s little time and energy left over from making a living and keeping my growing children in clothes, food, and entertainment. (Did I mention both kids have outgrown almost everything again in the last 3 weeks?)

Some people who saved me in high school. You know who you are.

Some people who saved me in high school. You know who you are.

There’s hope in this “high school redux” thing, of course. High School is when I first started differentiating myself from the crowd, first realized there were groups and places where I would never, ever belong. Maybe many groups and many places. But there were also people and groups where I started to find a home and a voice. I made some lifelong friends, and found ways to participate and engage.

In high school I reinvented myself, and if I could do that as a closeted 15 year old, I can gosh darn do it as a legally married adult with two kids. It’s my prayer for myself that as parenting dredges up the past, it helps me have compassion and love for that terrified earlier me, and helps me remember we’re all struggling through this crazy world doing our very, very best.