My wife and I are standing outside a set of classrooms in the Engineering department of the University of Virginia. By my count, seven other sets of mothers and fathers wait with us. Outside, a cold rain patters against the windows. In those secret thoughts that every parent has but will never confess, I confess that I’d much rather be in bed on such a Saturday morning. From the looks on the other faces, they’re thinking much the same.
For the past four Saturdays, our kids have enjoyed a bit of extra education known as the Saturday Enrichment Program. Fun stuff (so the kids say). My daughter is taking a creative writing class, my son architecture. And in another secret thought, I pause to consider that this is all so my daughter can write better diary entries that no one will ever see and my son will have more ideas for his Legos.
Other classes are offered as well. Indeed, much of the sprawling campus is a flurry of activity. In our building alone, there are art classes, one for crime scene investigation, and something that has to do with the human brain. The kids go play. The parents…well, the parents are basically stuck with two hours to kill.
The twenty minutes or so before the classes let out are when things get interesting. That’s when all the parents converge on the classrooms and wait. As is usually the case when surrounded by strangers, we are each in our own tiny worlds. There may be nods and smiles, even the occasional hello. Not much more, though. Not at first. Strangely enough, at first we all seem to act like teenagers and constantly check our phones for texts and emails.
But the minutes tick on. The phones go heavy. We begin to notice one another. Nods and smiles and hellos become small talk. Small talk leads to big talk.
I like big talk.
There are the normal things—where do you work and where do you live, how many kids to you have, has it been as hard to get them here for you as it has for us. We’re adults, so we know to keep our conversation in safe areas (sports for the dads, groceries for the moms, raising kids for both) and not to stray into not-so-safe areas (politics and religion). It hasn’t been as easy as it sounds. We’re strangers, after all, and there’s a feeling-out period involved. Not to mention that of the eight couples around us, two are white, three are black, two are Asian, and one couple seems to be an amalgam of them all.
I don’t mind saying it’s kind of uncomfortable, only because that was the unspoken consensus. It is a sad fact that you have to be so careful around people nowadays. One misspoken word, one misunderstood act, and all of a sudden things take a turn for the worse. But as we all stand there waiting and talking, those fences that we all put around ourselves begin to lower. We stop talking and start sharing.
Things like how much more difficult it is to raise kids nowadays. And how the worries and fears have grown so much more over the past few years. How tough it is to be good parents. How kids need not just a good education, but a hunger and a curiosity to learn. We laugh and sigh, we nod and shake our heads, and by the time the classroom doors finally open, I think we all understood one very important thing:
We’re parents. Doesn’t matter what color we are or whether we vote Democrat or Republican. Doesn’t matter whether we worship Jesus or Allah or no one. We were all given the responsibility to raise good children in a bad world and keep our families together in times that seem to be falling apart.
There are waves and see-you-next-weeks as we gather our children and go our separate ways. My wife and I hear all about rhyme schemes and Doric columns. My kids have learned a lot today. That’s good.
And when we get into the truck and head back over the mountains, I’ll tell my kids that I’ve learned a lot today, too.
I’ll tell them that in the end, people really aren’t that different from one another. And I’ll say that what we believe may always divide us, but the challenges we face will always bring us together.