Several regular readers are or were elementary school teachers — am especially looking for your comments here. Also curious about middle and high school teachers and guidance counselors — if popularity is on the agenda at six, where does it go from there?
I am officially a relic when it comes to current culture.
Archie and I have fascinating conversations as I’m driving him home from school. He has an extensive vocabulary and a curious mind. Turns out he’s right up there with cultural commentary as well. Here was our most recent conversation:
“Grammie, are you popular?
What does that mean, sweetheart?
A lot of people like you and want to play with you and a lot of people know your name.”
Startled though I was at the notion of a six year old talking about popularity in a way that showed he clearly got the concept, I did the obligatory Grammie thing.
“When you get older you don’t have so many people in your life, so I’m probably not popular any more. I try to be a good person instead of thinking about whether I’m popular. I love you because you’re a good person too, because you are kind and thoughtful and generous. I don’t care whether or not you are popular.”
Archie had one more thought about popularity:
“If you’re popular when you’re a grown-up, you get to make a lot of money like Trump.”
So much to unpack. I’m very sure I wasn’t aware of being popular or not until 7th grade, when I and some of my friends were invited to join a Saturday evening cotillion sponsored by the Women’s Club of Kearny. The Women’s Club represented the elite of white Protestant women in our town, with a few Catholics like my mother sprinkled in. There was only one Jewish woman who made the cut, Tena Harris. Tena owned her own business, and Tina’s daughter Linda was the only Jewish girl who got in. I suppose those of us who got to go felt popular.
Beyond just getting in, there was the matter that we had a half-dozen more girls than boys, and the boys were always the ones who got to ask the girls to dance. We sat on opposite sides of the auditorium in Roosevelt School, and when our dance master Freddie Frobose gave the signal, the boys raced across the room to ask their favorite partner. It was the absolute kiss of death to be one of the leftover six. Even more humiliating, those six had to be the first asked for the next dance. If you got picked in the first round, you were popular. If not, devastatingly not.
One boy, Jimmy Booth, like me and always picked me. I didn’t care for Jimmy other than as a friend and we never dated, but I cultivated him precisely because he was my ticket to being one of the chosen girls.
Lordy, I hate to think I was that calculating, but I was.
I have no understanding of a cultural context in which five and six year olds have to deal with issues of being popular. And I’m doubly flabbergasted that “popularity” and “making a lot of money” and “Trump” — again largely accurate — are notions that six year olds understand.
Help me out here. Did you know that six year olds talk about popularity, or are you a cultural relic too?