New normal sometimes doesn’t seem so normal

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Oct. 10, 2013

New normal sometimes doesn’t seem so normal

I was driving around town on a pristine fall day with the windows down and the wind blowing through what hair I have left. My arm rested on the door, and the sun warmed my face. I was just a guy enjoying the day, listening to the radio and pretending like there wasn’t a minivan full of children behind me.

When a Van Halen song came on, I did what anyone who came of age during the 1980s would do: I clicked that little volume button on the steering wheel until Eddie Van Halen’s guitar screamed from the three speakers that still work.

But wait: In the ’80s we would have twisted a knob on the radio to get such distortion. I miss that, and it’s something my kids may never know. There’s something immensely satisfying about turning that knob up to 11. My kids don’t even know that there is an 11; they have yet to see “This Is Spinal Tap.”

What else won’t they know? The anxiety over leaving the house and missing an urgent phone call, the thrill of seeing a movie in the theater knowing that it may be the one and only time, or that happy moment of dialing in a radio station and hearing a favorite song. Their movies and music are on demand these days, all right on their telephones.

But what in their day-to-day lives did I never experience growing up? The other morning there was some confusion at the school’s doors, students and parents pooling up outside as though negotiating a traffic jam. It was metal detector day. That’s something I never knew as a child. It was a seemingly random morning and, as they filed in, every fifth child or so was singled out to have a wand waved from head to toe.

This isn’t the school’s fault. and it isn’t the district’s fault; they’re charged with keeping our kids safe, and this is how it’s done in the 21st century. Still, it’s unnerving to see your second-grader stand there while someone checks to see if she packed a weapon along with her lizard diorama and lunchbox.

This is the age we live in. Already this school year, there has been a gun brought to school by a kindergartner, and at my own kids’ middle school, one student was turned in by another for having a knife.

Those were things I didn’t even consider growing up, but it was a scene last week handled with such nonchalance by the students involved — “Oh, it’s metal detector day” — that it’s evident it’s become the norm.

In my day, the only metal detected was heavy, and it was from Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard. The duo of Smith & Wesson was as removed from my imagination as a minivan. And while I do envy some of the things our kids have access to these days — movies, television and music at will via computers and smartphones — I do not envy them, at their age, the access to 24-hour news, early morning searches or the very real possibility of an assault on more than just their eardrums.

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