A Time and Place
Stella was thirteen and in the eighth grade. Like a lot of eighth graders, she knew it all and was always more than willing to share her knowledge. Unlike a lot of thirteen-year-olds, she was responsible, dependable and mature for her age. Stella did not routinely follow the herd, but chose instead to blaze her own trail, which is one reason her parents trusted her.
However, up until this point, there had been minimal conflict between Stella and her parents, because when Stella asked to do something, it always had the proper seal of approval: there were always other responsible kids involved and there was always adult supervision. What more could they ask for, when it came to thirteen-year-old girls?
As graduation approached, and with it the summertime, Stella began to set her sights on an annual event that she had never expressed interest in before. She had been seeing the sign on the highway for the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival, and she knew a bunch of kids who were going. By the time the festival was scheduled to occur, she would be out of middle school, and on her way to ninth grade. Attending the festival seemed an appropriate way to welcome in her high school career. Unfortunately, Stella’s parents did not see it the same way.
Joy was honestly torn, listening to her daughter’s well-thought-out argument, and vacillating already, without even having consulted Bobby. She knew in which direction he leaned, but figured that he would listen to Stella’s reasoning, and respond accordingly. She had told Bobby how she felt. After all, Stella had never before been on the verge of entering high school. There was a time and place for everything: Had that time arrived?
“So what do you think, Daddy? Have I earned the right to go to the festival?” She had presented her arguments in an organized manner, as befits what she learned in her debate elective. She had been methodical, listing her reasons why she thought she should be allowed to go, and detailing the logistics behind where she would be staying on the grounds. Now she waited, expectantly.
“It’s not that you have earned or not earned the right,” he began, but that was as far as he got.
“Because you’re not going to let me go, are you? It doesn’t matter whether or not I have earned the right, because you’re not even considering it, are you? Mom, you said you’d talk to him.” She spat out the word “him.” She did everything but burst into tears, but that was still a distinct possibility.
“Stella, Honey, just hold on a second, and listen to your dad.”
“Why? So he can tell me I’m not old enough? Well, I’m not old enough for a lot of things I could be doing, but I’m not doing them, either. When are you going to trust me to make my own decisions?”
“When are you going to let me talk? Can we just discuss this even for a minute, without you assuming anything? You’re already crying, and all I did was talk about earning the right. You never let me complete my thought.” His tone was mild, but experience told Stella, that the quieter he got, the more it paid to listen up.
“Well, when I already know what you are going to say, so why should I listen?” Stella was beginning to feel as though she were taking the wrong approach, but she was committed at this point.
“Why, indeed?” Again, that musing, quiet approach. “May I ask you one thing?” He was in no hurry.
“What? Are you just going to lecture me?” Again, she had to squeeze back her tears, reserving that as her last resort.
“No, I wasn’t planning to. I was going to ask you why it was that you were so sure, that I was going to say no. Can you give me what you think is my biggest concern?” As soon as he put it into the form of a question, prompting some sort of response, as in a debate, Stella felt back on familiar ground.
“My safety?” she asked tentatively.
“Well, all right! You know me well. Yes, you health and your safety, but also your wellbeing. If I didn’t care, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I do care, and we are sitting here talking.”
Sensing that she was better off listening than yammering on, she waited.
He continued. “I ran into your principal today at The Good Food Store, and she gave me this,” and reaching into his jacket pocket, he withdrew an envelope with a Laytonville Unified School District return address, and handed it to her. As she opened the single sheet of paper, he placed a three-day pass to the 2012 Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival onto the table. “Congratulations, you have been selected to receive the President’s Award for Educational Excellence....” began the letter.
She stopped reading and picked up the pass, looking at her dad, with comprehension.
He finished his opening thought. “It’s not that you have earned or not earned the right, but that you have demonstrated consistently that you have your values and your education clearly in focus, so that means your mom and I think that you can handle this event as befits someone who has worked hard, all year long. Make wise choices and have fun!”