A Boy and His Bagel
The young man’s face is painfully pimpled and adolescent. He stands at the counter, a foot taller than his mother, as they disagree about whether or not he should eat a bagel.
“After all that lunch you just ate?” the mother says, unsure. She is a petite woman with short auburn hair parted on the side and feathered across her forehead. She wears a red and white striped polo shirt and fiddles with her purse, one eye on the cream cheese brownies for sale on the coffeehouse pastry counter.
“Mom,” the boy laments. “Yes, a bagel. I’m hungry,” he holds one over-sized arm across his lean belly and feigns starvation. His hair is brown and primmed just so, falling across his eyes like a second set of eyelids. Peach-fuzz facial hair pokes out in awkward angles from beneath his chin and just below his pert little nose.
“You must be about to begin high school,” I say, attempting to ease the tension. As a former teacher of adolescents, I pride myself on noting the nuances of physical change in developing teens.
“Ninth grade. Yup,” the boy smiles at me and makes eye contact, a confident move, which I anticipate will get him many things in life – including the bagel.
“Oh, all right,” the mother says. “If you’ll eat it.”
I carefully lift the hand blown glass cover from the bagels and use tongs to pick out the biggest one for the boy. “High school. Congratulations!” I say. “What an exciting time!”
“Yeah, I know!” the boy says, devouring a third of the bagel in one full bite. He is all smiles.
“How wonderful,” I say to the mother. She feigns a smile, then glances nervously at her son whose face is awkwardly asymmetrical because he has stashed a gnarled chunk of bagel to one side of his mouth so he can take another bite.
I want to pull her aside and tell her everything will be ok. I want to tell her that her son is entering one of the most important times of his life. I am tempted to site recent brain research and track the history of Maria Montessori’s four planes of development, all of which demonstrate ages 12-18 as the second-most important time our lives in terms of developmental needs and abilities. (The first time being ages 0-6, where there is the greatest brain development and activity.)
“What’s your medium?” the mother asks, turning the tables.
I plug away at the cash register to total their sale and laugh a little to myself. This is the question – the what’s your medium question – that I am asked more times a day than a dog pisses on a fire hydrant in an entire lifetime. At the craft school everyone has an art. Everyone. Grover who picks up our recycling composes music, blows glass, and draws. Noelle who works the late shift at the coffeehouse is a photographer and a drawer. Big Slate works with wood. Kim, the coffeehouse baker plays with clay. The Floyds make mugs and knit wearable art. Talent is endless here.
“Words,” I say, winking at the boy who is wiping his hands on his shirt, the bagel completely devoured. “I play with words.”