On my very first day of high school in September of 1985, I wore the outfit I had planned out for months. I wore a lovely yellow and black paisley blouse and a pair of very snazzy black stretch pants. The blouse was accented with a very thick black belt ( belted and cinched exactly as Adam Sandler had described in his “Gap girl” portrayal on SNL) and my pants can only be described as riding pants that would be very handy today if I needed to ride a horse. My unruly curly hair was pulled away from my face with an apparatus that people now use to close up Doritos but at the time was actually called a “chip clip.” (Not to be confused with the banana clip, which I wore almost every day for the remainder of the 1980s. )
Beyond the outfit, I had absolutely no other plans for what to do once I got to high school. I had no older siblings or cousins to look to for advice. The only people I knew who went to high school were my babysitters and kids in my neighborhood that I was afraid to talk to because they smoked cigarettes in the park at night. In the ’80s, there was no internet for me to look to for what to expect in high school. (I had heard about an elevator pass that might be sold to me in the hall, and I was told to avoid purchasing one.)
My favorite movie about high school was “The Last American Virgin” which, in retrospect, was mostly about drinking, sex, REO Speedwagon and abortions. (Themes, ironically, also present in my other favorite high school movie of the ’80s: “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”) T.V. shows were also not helpful. The only shows about high school made me wish I lived in Beverly Hills, 90210 or that I would have moved there with my former elementary schoolmate Elizabeth Berkley so that I could end have ended up on Saved By The Bell instead of her.
Even the music at the time told me limited information about surviving high school, except that I must fight for my right to party and that it was possible that one of the pretty “angel-like” girls I was friends with could end up a centerfold. Also, there were going to be female teachers that the boys were going to be hot for that I shouldn’t stand so close to the male teachers.
Perhaps all of this is to blame for the fact that I wore that yellow and black paisley cinched and belted horse-riding outfit a lot my freshman year. And also that I continued to wander around wondering if someone was going to sell me an elevator pass or try to smoke cigarettes with me in the park for the next four years.
At some point this past year, I realized that next year, I would be the parent of a high-schooler. I went through all of the cycles of grief: anger, denial, and then, of course, pondering kidnapping my children and floating away on a raft forever and starting my own society like Harrison Ford did in that one movie.
When I realized that (a) there would be no internet and (b) I am not good at sewing new clothes for my children out of stray material and (c) I might not be able to find Swedish Fish during my PMS cravings on my island, I decided that I must face the harsh reality that my oldest son Sam was going to high school.
So, I started making a list of all of the things I wanted him to know about making it through high school. It started as a blog, but it became an incredibly long stream of consciousness that was so unlike me. I then journeyed 10,000 miles to my closest still-open Barnes and Noble and searched on Amazon for a graduation book that might give him great advice on the topic of surviving high school. I found graduation books for high school grads and college grads, but nothing for the middle school grad.
Then, I texted all of my friends to see what they would advise their own kids about high school “dos and don’ts.” Friends with kids in college, high school, and middle school sent me so many amazing tips and suggestions that I knew I had my next project.
And so, “Moving On From The Middle: To __________ On Your Graduation From Junior High School” was born. Filled with advice and suggestions, I am so excited to give it to Sam at his middle school graduation this week.
But there was one more element I wanted to add to this little gem of a book. Sam has been able to thrive thus far in his life because of the existence of theatre in his life. It has brought him through middle school with confidence, and will hopefully grow with him throughout high school. And so, I decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the non-profit that I run, “The Audrey Johnson Theatre Foundation,” so that other children will always have the same opportunities that he had to see and be a part of live theatre growing up.
And so… starting tomorrow, this little book will be available for purchase. It will only be available as an actual book, because I want the kids who own it to be able to keep it tucked away and take it with them in case they need a friend. There are pages at the end for you to fill in your own advice to your kids/nieces/nephews/grandchildren, since I know there is more amazing information that you may want to share in your own words.
Best of all, it comes with a photo of me on the back cover from my freshman high school yearbook.