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Are the Kids Alright?

June 12, 2010

It cropped up in this thread this week: the optimism inherent in witnessing a high school band – even a reconstituted one made up of the members of three school bands – strutting its stuff and playing its best while marching towards Canal Street, despite all odds. It got me thinking about a few of the characters we’ve seen thus far in Treme who are under 18…

We first meet Darius late at night in the bar Albert is living in, caught with his pants down and a girl in the next room. Next thing we know, his aunt is asking Albert to take him under his wing, and then she, too, is brought into the orbit of the Guardians of the Flame while Darius is taking in the late-night practices at the bar with all his clothes on and no girl in sight. He’s getting into it, embracing it as it is enticing him and giving him a sense of community in a place that has lost its people for the time being. It shows him another way to be a man.

Sophie is her parents’ only child, and having been an only child myself for nearly fifteen years, I can see how much she takes on the interests of the adults around her, especially those of her father, Creighton. We see her taking on some reading about the city at the kitchen table, getting a costume ready for Krewe du Vieux, being true to Creigh’s school, Tulane, in the YouTube that inspires him to start ranting online, taking in his moody soliloquies as a Cordelia to his Lear…but there is her mother’s sense of justice in there, as evidenced by her reaction to going to the Fortier-turned-Lusher and her thoughts of the Fortier kids that once went there being shut out. She also helps her mother read some flood-damaged documents, her young eyes giving Toni an invaluable clue on the trail to finding LaDonna’s brother Daymo.

Why aren’t there more kids at this time? It’s early 2006 by the show’s timeline, and the schools that are able to have reopened…but the city was still in chaos in too many ways. The fictional Bernette family is a lucky family indeed, judging by appearances: they have a house, they have their jobs, they have all their possessions. The reality was more complicated. The questions were difficult ones. The pros and cons had to be weighed carefully, especially if there were children involved.

What happened to my house? My stuff? Oh, no, don’t open that, it’s nasty…needs to be duct-taped and put out on the curb…insurance will pay for the roof damage ’cause it’s counted as wind, but the floodwaters? Forget it…Have they picked up the garbage yet? What about the mail? I still haven’t gotten my last paycheck from before I had to leave, and I keep going down to the post office and waiting in line nearly every day for it. How the hell could the school district have laid off all the teachers? They’re not reopening – the school building looks like hell. I can’t afford to pay for a Catholic school, not if I can’t get my old job back. My old job seems to be gone. How can anybody make a living here now?

What it came down to in a lot of cases for families was making life better for the kids. Hearts broke, certainly; fist-shaking at Barbara Bush’s callous remarks ensued, surely – but not everybody was up for this fight over the city’s future. It was still unclear, six months later, what sort of city was emerging from all that hurt….but most parents concluded it wasn’t going to be a great environment for the young ones, no matter how much the family had been invested in the life of the city. Money was needed now. The kids needed to be in school now. It was important to have a roof over your head now.

Children in particular are all about the now. The latest. The trendiest. The newest. And here are two of the city’s children growing up stuck between what was and what could be.

What can the kids see that we can’t?

Where will they take us?

What is their normal in all this madness?

Even if we have partial answers to these questions, in their deepest heart of hearts, our children are unknowable. The band of life will play on, and the best we will be able to do as parents is to send good cheer and encouragement the kids’ way and, as all good parents do, we will watch them marching on as we slowly, slowly let them go.

  1. June 12, 2010 10:19 am

    You nail the urgency of the now when raising children. Those moments of opportunity, their crossroads, are fleeting and so easily missed. Parents don’t have the luxury of leisurely waiting to see how it all works out, because by then, it could be too late to change course.

    I had some difficulty with the presence of children in the earliest episodes but thought they did a decent job of explaining it (couldn’t stand Baton Rouge, went to boarding school there and home on weekends). I do think that they just missed capturing the childlessness, or the familylessness (the emptiness?) of the last months of ’05 in New Orleans.

    Funny, when I started reading your post, my assumption was that you were referencing the discussion of Sophie on The prettiest little thing post.

  2. liprap permalink
    June 12, 2010 10:26 am

    Yeah, it was that, too, Soph. Been rolling around in my head all week…but it really came to a head because, for many, Mardi Gras was the first time many people in this town had seen larger numbers of kids in months. I’d completely forgotten what the MAX band and the other local secondary school bands really meant for us all at that crazy time.

  3. June 12, 2010 10:58 am

    I remember watching it all from afar, and hearing Michael’s accounts (okay, and obsessively watching paradecam and scouring NOLA bloggers’ flickrs), and the huge feeling of watching those kids march. I had a horrid week at work, and can’t remember if I got around to commenting on Ray’s MAX band post, but it gave me goosebumps to read.

  4. June 12, 2010 2:39 pm

    Not only no classrooms for so many kids, but no health care and dentistry either, particularly if your job no longer exists, or the job you got cut your wages and your hours, or you had to go to working, if lucky, for minimum wage.

    Many still look at the state of the city and think its not the place to bring their kids.

    And then, some intrepid, passionate and committed folks do bring their families, and they do manage to make it work.

    But the public school system in New Orleans has been triaged, to put it mildly.

  5. June 12, 2010 5:40 pm

    As someone who went through massive life upheavals as a young teenager – lost childhood home, never went back, watched parents struggle, lost all childhood friends, lived on 3 continents in the span of 9 months – I still worry for the kids who went through the storm and now the oil spill.

    The teenage son of someone I know was taken by the New Orleans streets recently. He was a good kid but one who just couldn’t get back in the groove of education and athletics after his school closed and schoolmates and fellow athletes were scattered to the winds following August 2005. His rootlessness and then a case of mistaken identity resulted in his death.

    I said to someone about this very thing recently, “Adults are forced into the bureaucracy of recovery after disaster – gotta get the house back, bills paid, temporary housing, get new job or back to old one, this paperwork and that court date – so much, to the point that they cannot focus on the more important thing: tending to the healing of their children and re-energizing of family after a series of traumatic events.”

  6. bayoucreole permalink
    June 12, 2010 7:59 pm

    Maitri hit it on the head for me. I knew I would be neck deep in the bureaucracy of it all, which is why I left my kids in Spokane by my brother for that school year. They had stability there that, I could not give them here at that time.
    By the time they came home, their schools were up and running and the house almost finished.
    I realized just how deeply they were affected by it all when Gustav came. They both were paranoid about being uprooted from their school and friends again. All the kids were. They were exchanging numbers,email addys, etc. to make sure they could keep in contact “just in case.”

  7. liprap permalink
    June 12, 2010 8:32 pm

    One girl at my son’s school was panicked when the 2006-2007 school year came ’round – afraid of the first day of school in general. The first day of her preschool year turned out to be evacuation day, and she was scared that her first day of kindergarten would be the same.

    The storm brought out so many fears in the kids, even in ones that didn’t experience what those kids did, but gleaned through osmosis from the others whose friends didn’t return, who were going to a different school than the one they’d been in before, who would go a little berserk at even the sight of rain. My son was a case in point. We were some of the crazy people who, after four years away, decided to move back six months after the storm, and he picked up on what his classmates were in a tizzy about on a regular basis for the first year we were here. Even now, there are still signs among the kids that not all is well, and it will be this way for many years to come, no doubt.


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