Go, rock star, go

Upon moving to Phoenicia in 2002, we enrolled our four-year-old, Jack, in the School of the New Moon in Mount Tremper. Soon after, the school needed an assistant. Director Christine hired me. I stayed four years. Although I have no degree or formal training, it turns out I’m really good with kids.

I soon discovered why: spending my youth with actors and musicians had been perfect prep for working with preschoolers. As a teen and twenty-something among the proud misfits, the tyrannical, and the socially awkward, I’d logged invaluable experience. Those adjectives perfectly apply to both the showfolk with whom I’d happily cast my lot, and to small children.

To be a performer, and, arguably, any kind of artist, one must be unconcerned with so-called “social norms.” Generally, preschoolers are already there. They have limited social skills, because most social skills are not innate. This often means they are brutally honest in the way of great art. When you’re their caregiver, this can be alternately hilarious and humiliating.

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In my four-year tenure, I shepherded about forty or so kids through this fascinating developmental stage.

It was my job to introduce non-innate concepts like manners, customs, volume control, and gratitude. Some kids caught on right away. Some took a while. And some never got it, and never cared about subsequent repercussions. Those rock star-like kids took me back. Often, when I watched them “making bad decisions,” I would say, “I know you.” I occasionally got misty. Pangs of nostalgia seized me during meltdowns, impudence, and the drama of tot defiance. I recalled “difficult” musicians and actors of yore, a couple of whom became stars.

I confess, when they trusted me to tame the wild ones, I often slacked off. When I should have said, “No. We do not do that here,” I may have said, “Go, rock star, go.”

Those erstwhile preschoolers are now young adults, of voting age or older. Few recall their tot tyranny. Although I vividly recall them, many have only fleeting recollections of me, and those memories fill them with a self-consciousness that did not exist at School of the New Moon. Some pretend not to know me.

But even the brushoffs remind me of the old days. It’s like I was with them during a bender, and I was the designated driver. Now they’re not only sober, they are hyper-aware, with carefully constructed social selves in place. During the bender, they were not in their right minds, they did and said crazy stuff, yelled whatever they felt, slobbered, wet their pants, and raged fearlessly against injustice.

It was, for the most part, beautiful chaos of which they are only dimly aware. I want to share with them how entertainingly rude and brazen they were, how their boldness revivified charismatic characters from my past.

In my fantasies, I linger like a sentinel in their memories, reminding them of unfettered days, when joy and free expression were just a crayon away, when deliverance was at their mud-crusted fingertips, when absolute release came through singing and dancing. As they move into society, I want them to recall when they were little dervishes, soothsayers, riveting storytellers, rock stars.

When someone tells them, “No. We do not do that here,” I hope they hear a voice within saying, “Go, rock star, go!”

Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.