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Friday, May 1, 2009

The winds of change

Our school year is winding down and usually by now I am dreaming of swimming pools and lazy days without schedules. But this year instead of anticipating end of year parties and warm summer days I find myself clinging to the here and now. As I flit through the blogosphere reading stories of children and mommies anticipating their first year of preschool I smile for a moment because it sounds just like me. Except my youngest children started preschool almost four years ago, and instead of anticipating a world of finger paints and ABC's and tea parties with mommy I find myself staring with apprehension at middle school.

The problem isn't middle school itself. In fact, the problem is mine. I had a group of friends in sixth grade that was a mixture of kids with whom I had long-term relationships and new friends discovered as a result of the bigger middle school environment. As I look back I see that I was a geek. I took my school work seriously, I went to bed early every night with a book, I wasn't interested in boys or the latest hairstyles or fashion. You get the idea.

One day I joined my friends in the cafeteria. I unpacked my sack lunch and began to empty a packet of mustard onto my brown paper bag. I was planning to dunk my potato chips in the mustard like all the other girls did. I wasn't really a fan of the taste but lately I'd been getting the strange feeling that I was no longer part of the inner circle.

I still remember sitting there painstakingly emptying those mustard packets and opening my bag of chips. I looked up as I completed my preparations and noticed my friends were all looking at me. The smile on my face froze as I registered the somewhat detached looks on their faces. I knew there was a problem but I wasn't sure what. I noticed some of the girls could no longer maintain eye contact and realized that I'd found the problem. It was me. One of the girls cleared her voice and announced I was no longer part of "the group." They were forming a club, and everyone was not welcome. They didn't mean any harm and they hoped I'd understand. I sat there for a moment dumbly processing the fact that these girls, some of whom I had know since the first grade, didn't want me. I don't know how long I sat there scrambling with my emotions, but it was too long. The silence morphed from awkward to uneasy. The same girl who had delivered my verdict was offended by the fact that I continued to sit like an idiot with my mustard and chips spread before me, and she icily suggested that I leave the table. A table where more than half the seats were empty.

I took my lunch and left a trail of broken chips as I numbly found my way to an empty spot far away from any other students. About halfway through lunch someone from the "popular" group came over to ask why I was sitting in the corner by myself. I offered her the brightest smile I could muster and explained myself. The popular girl made a small scene by loudly reprimanding the girls. She wanted everyone to know how terribly they had behaved. I'm sure in her heart she was vindicating me, but in my heart it only made me feel pitiful.

I sat at that table, alone, for the next two months. And then we moved to a new city. A place where no one knew me. A place where no one would ever have to know the real me. The pitiful me. I changed the way I wore my hair. I changed my clothes. I stopped acting intelligent and adopted a silly and giggly demeanor. I altered my entire presentation to the outside world, and I suppose you could say I was successful.

I managed to live a life of my own creation. I also graduated from high school a year early so that I could release myself from the hell of living a life that was not real... A life that I had manufactured to avoid being hurt and humiliated by people I trusted.

In college I found the strength to be me, and to be confident. I made friends who genuinely liked me for myself.

And I healed.

But if you were ever to catch me in a moment of raw honesty I would probably tell you that there will always be a tiny piece of my heart that waits for it to happen again. Without a doubt, this particular afternoon in middle school set off a chain reaction that shaped my life for many years.

Up until this school year I hadn't given that day, or the years that followed, a lot of thought. But as the fall draws near I have trouble mustering enthusiasm. I can only hope that my child, my baby who can't possibly be beyond preschool, is stronger than I was. That I've shown her how to have the courage to believe in herself. To be herself.

I pray she fares better than I.

53 comments:

countryfriedmama said...

I am years from facing this, but I worry about it, too. I think we are all scarred by our middle school years in some way. Maybe even those popular girls look back and cringe. Maybe not.

From everything you've written, it sounds like your girls are smart and self-confident, and they have a great mom to help them through it.

Tina said...

Kids can be so, so cruel. I too am dreading the day when my oldest starts middle school (just 2 more school years. Ack! When the heck did that happen?!) It's hard to watch our children hurting, especially when there's nothing you can do about it.

I do think you've shown her how to believe in herself and to be herself. Just from everything I've read on your blog, you seem like a great mom that will allow your kids to grow into the type of adults we all hope for.

Lindy said...

Wow - this post gave me the goosebumps.

When my stepson came to live with us, we went from Kindergarten to 8th grade parents in a flash and I was terrified for him. He was attending the same school I did and I knew how ruthless the kids could be - how what you wore determined who your friends would be.

This post was spot-on to how too many kids feel and how they are treated. I wanted to go back and kick that girls ass for you. :)

Megryansmom said...

Hugs Kathy B! I would have been your friend in middle school, you could have found me sitting at the OTHER empty table in the cafeteria. Kids are cruel, but you're a good mom and have prepared your daughter well, she will have the courage, she will walk with confidence, because you paid her dues long ago.

And those biotches that were so unkind to you, just think that they are fat miserable middle aged women now with hairy double chins. Karma baby, karma!

Tsquared417 said...

Awww, Kathy B!, you broke my heart this morning. What goes around comes around is what I have to say to those mean girls. I imagine your daughters must be the coolest kids ever with a Mom like you.

Wifey said...

What a heartfelt story. I dig back to my middle and high school days and don't want my kids to be faced with some of the challenges I was either, but then I realize I made it and they will, too.

It sounds to me like your kids will be lucky if they turn out just like you.

Winks & Smiles,
Wifey

Susie said...

Oh I know how you felt! I had a similar experience in middle school and it is very jarring to your life. I held my breathe for my oldest and will do the same for my youngest.

zelzee said...

Wow, KathyB! you got me weepy this morning. I can't handle stories of kids cruelty.
I was always the one looking out for the 'underdog' in school. I could care less if it was cool or not.
My daughter took on the same trait, and used to bring home (I called those boys) 'strays'.
I would say novena's that she wouldn't marry one, though....

Hit 40 said...

Oh my.... I also had those moments at school!!!! I did not like my k-12 years. I try very hard to help all the kids make friends and have a good time in my classroom.

Strange that I went into teaching... but it was free. My mom worked at Kent State which did not have engineering. So, I thought what to do with my great math skills.... teach math. The decision has overall been a good one. Every job has its ups and downs.

I also loved college. I think you and I know that the nerds now have a pretty good life as adults. We made some good nerdy decisions that really paid off.

Undercover-Princess said...

We staring down the barrel of middle school as well. However - we've already ran into the sheeple mentality. That started here in about 3rd grade. Bry has just kind of thumbed his nose, labeled himself a non-conformist and proud nerd. He has two or three really good friends...and the girls that used to pick on him are now starting to dig him. He's got one or two older guys that pick on him, but they won't let anyone else pick on him.

I hated middle school.

Gibby said...

You made me weepy, too, probably because I was right there with you at that table. Girls, and kids, can be so mean. I know what my girls will be facing and I am frustrated and terrified by it, because no matter what I tell them, they must face it and figure it out on their own. Sometimes I think it is worse observing this as a mother than actually going thru it.

Hugs!!

Gibby said...

P.S. And I KNOW your girls will be fine. I can just tell.

Nana said...

Been there!!! As my two daughters went through middle school and high school. I went doen memory lane myself. Girls are especially mean during this time of life. I was happy though that I had a few bad experiences myself that I could share with my daughters when they were going through theirs.

I could give them advice and let them know that I knew how they were feeling.

The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems.

Mocha Dad said...

My wife was a middle school teacher and she would tell me all kinds of unbelieveable stories. I dread the day that my daughter starts middle school. Kids have so many more things to worry about than we did.

peewee said...

I was one of the mean kids. And the most insecure kid too.
I went to an expensive private catholic school, but we were NOT rich at all, and my mom worked from 9 am to 10 pm most days. My parents were also divorced and in the 70's, we were the only family in my grade that was divorced.
I was always terrified I would be "found out" and I figure that's why I wasn't very nice. I spent every second trying to be popular.
So, don't worry. I think we all leave middle school with scars, and your kids will totally heal no matter what happens.
And they'll probably be the nice kids, as it seems you were too!

Kate said...

That was so beautifully written. I too hated middle school. It was awful and I was definitely not in the in crowd either. It was so hard to see my kids go through it too. I just don't think kids should have to endure that pain. It is hard on most of the kids, I think.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Poignant. Fine post.

the ungourmet said...

You made me cry! I had a really hard time in school too! Our family moved a lot and I was always the new kid. I was teased, ridiculed and beat up! I will never forgot those times. I agree that events like this from childhood do affect us even as adults. It makes me very sad to see children acting like this toward other children. It actually really sucks!

My daughter was ill this year and missed a lot of school so we are homeschooling right now. She says she kind of wants to try middle school. I almost have anxiety attack when I think about it!

BTW, I would have gone over to the corner of the lunchroom and sat with you! :0)

ck said...

I still get uncomfortable when I think back to those years too, but you know what? Those years had a lot to do with who we turned out to be. It wasn't easy making it to where we are now, but who knows what might have been different if things had been easier.

Sturgmom said...

Middle school were some of the worst years of my life. Like you, I pray my children fare better. We have several years to go, but it seems to be starting earlier and earlier...

K said...

I booted from my group of friends in eighth grade.

A few months later, they told me I could hang out with them again. I told them I'd rather not. This still goes now as one of my proudest, most defining moments.

Junior high is scary. Maybe it will be easier for our kids? Good luck.

Missy said...

This is so an After School Special! Remember those? I hated middle school! I am so scarred!

Lana@The Kids Did WHAT?! said...

Wow. Seriously, thank you for sharing. I was dumped out of my group of "friends" starting in grade 6 too. I was dumb and so desperately wanted to be accepted that I kept going back to them when they "allowed" me too. My wall is HUGE. I have many acquaintances but only ONE friend. One who I know will NEVER let me down. I also have the same fear for my kids. How on earth can we protect our kids from that situation?!

happeegrrrl@yahoo.com said...

Chin up KathyB! Your girls will be fine. Just as you are.

passionsandsoapboxes.com said...

We moved so much that I never fit in and eventually I stopped trying. School was not a good place for me either. My kids though loved school and had a great time except for '88. But that is another story.

Yaya said...

Middle school years are horrible. High school years are horrible too. I remember eating in a bathroom stall sometimes. I wouldn't go back there for a million dollars.

WhisperingWriter said...

I also worry about this. My son is only in first grade and even now, kids have started to pick on him. His speech isn't always clear and kids have taken to calling him stupid. This infuriates me.

I also worry about my daughter. She's only two so I have quite a few years but I remember how MEAN girls can be.

Banteringblonde said...

What a post ... i started to type "great post" but this is better than that - this is what you want some of those snarky little girls to read - I would strangle my kids acted that way but you have to wonder if parents know what their kids are doing??? I don't know - it amazes me that it starts so early. I remember being picked on in 1st-4th grade and then we moved - I didn't make a conscious change but things were definitely better for me. I always tell my kids you don't have to best friends with everyone but you do need to be kind and considerate... I've seen my oldest be very compassionate towards another boy and it warmed my heart, this sensitivity worries me though because I fear he will be vulnerable...

ok long rambling comment over.

Kristen said...

Aww, that is so sad sad! Girls can be so mean! While I didn't experience that from a big group, I went through pain from a lot of friends who became mean all of a sudden! I think the best parents can do is definitely let their children know that isn't acceptable :) It may not change the world but it's a start!

Ryan Ashley Scott said...

Middle school... there is nothing quite as tortuous. It sucks pig legs that you remember it, and probably feel the same twinge of agony every time it crosses your mind. The thought of my son in middle school makes my skin crawl. You have my prayers!

Court said...

I find myself putting myself into my daughter's experiences all the time and having to realize I have to be brave and let her fall on her own, which scares the crud out of me.

Michele said...

Your post is reason #617 why we homeschool.

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

Awwwwww! I can absolutely relate...and I hope that when Princess Nagger reaches Middle School age that she'll be able to be herself and not let other girls influence how she acts or feels. Kids can be so cruel - and you know where they get that from...

LadyFi said...

You bring back all those memories of why I hate school...

I think your kids will be strong and brave!

The Blonde Duck said...

I feel for you. Middle school was the worst time of my life.

I had a group of friends where the leader, a girl, got mad at me because I was friends with a boy she liked who didn't like her. She turned the group against me. If I went to sit with them, they got up and made a scene of leaving. At lunch, I would sit alone or at a corner of a group of girls and they would send a nasty, vile boy who every one hated over to pick on me. The things that spewed out of his mouth wouldn't have made it into an R movie.

I hope your daughter has it better than we did.

Ginger said...

This is both a lovely and heartbreaking post. I think the fact that we all can identify should give you some confidence that your baby will be fine, even if junior high is difficult.

I was lucky that my friends in junior high are still my friends today. I didn't worry about the "mean girls" because I didn't want to be anywhere other than with my (first) friends. Actually,I think I must have been oblivious to the mean girls.. or I blocked them out.

The Blue Ridge Gal said...

This post put a lump in my throat... Most of us have been at that corner table. Including me. School is cruel.

Di
The Blue Ridge Gal

(Oh ya,,,, and if any of you reading this was a mean girl in school... shame on your ugly ass... SHAME SHAME SHAME!!)

Ink said...

Oh, the unspeakably and unfathomably cruel politics of school...hugs to your younger self!

Seeker said...

I was never in that situation but my heart bled for those who were in it. I never even saw it when it happened to my daughter. She hid it inside so well. Thanks for sharing

ps...hula not required but offer appreciated. things will get better

tlc said...

Aw, Kathy, mean girls suck. I'm sure you will be able to use that heartbreaking experience to prep your girls for mean girl world.

After reading this, I can't help but think it's funny how I worry about mean kids at preschool! I am in so much trouble when it's middle school time!!

Rachel said...

This makes me so sad. For you, for me, for all the middle-school girls who've eaten lunch alone, and especially for my oldest daughter who has just two more years before middle school. She already comes home with stories of which girl is mad at this one and so-and-so isn't my friend anymore... Why are girls this way? Really, I wonder if it's something natural and inevitable or if we can make a difference for them with our love and experience?

I wish you luck in the fall.

bernthis said...

I was traumatized by what happened to me in middle school. It took years for me to process and like you, I used to wait for it to happen all over again. I even graduated high school a year early, just like you, to get away from that hell.

Debbie said...

I was so saddened to think of someone as sweet as you going through this as a child. It is so cruel out there.
My youngest starts middle school this fall and I dread it so much. Even though I've had three others survive, this one is my "baby". Maybe you and I can support each other.

Lisa (Jonny's Mommy) said...

I worry about this too...with my son. I went through a lot of hurt feelings in school. Not as many as some and not like you did. You were brave to have faced it the way you did and I can't fault you at all for worrying about it happening to your own daughter. It's important to remember who you are, is something you can tell her, and that who you are is not based on what others think of you. Does that make sense? I don't know...but you'll know what to say when you need to!

Femin Susan said...

I KNOW your girls will be fine. Thanks for sharing....

FranticMommy said...

wow..I'm glad I am not the only Mom who worries about the akwardness of school dynamics. I had a flashback this last Valentines Day with our oldest. I was always a chubby child and hated V-day in school. It always seemed like all the Valentines I got were chubby hippos in ballerina skirts. It sucked. I just pray my daughter won't have the same experiences.

Becca said...

KathyB thanks for your honesty! I think that sometimes even as adults it is hard to face who we are and were. I think that it is funny that you wrote about this fear of not fitting in. I have been feeling very timid in my thoughts about present and past these past few weeks. I was not unpopular and never had a moment that I could pinpoint but I have NEVER quite felt like I belonged!
Now here we are about 15 years later. For the first time my husband and I have friends who are couples. For a while I felt like I fit in. I am very uneasy lately thinking that I may fall out of the in crowd. Hang in there because we are both very, very cool!

Becca

for a different kind of girl said...

SO much I can relate to here in this post. Last fall, I went to a parent's night for new middle school students to learn how to help my oldest son adapt to the change from elementary to middle school. He attends middle school where I graduated from high school. I walked into that building, where not a lot of good things happened to me, and I swear I felt my eyes well up with tears. The smells and the sounds it felt like I could then hear of MY time there made me want to turn around and walk out. I was horribly afraid I was going to project my disdain for that period of my life, from middle school on, to my son, but he seems to be enjoying it. I know it can be a lot different for boys, but it's still hard for me to send him off each year of school that comes up, because I know he's entering a time when it can be the very hardest.

Meg said...

Middle school is pure evil. Period. I vow that if I ever have kids, I will home school them during the middle school years.

I had a similar experience in middle school. There was one point when I did not have one single friend. It was really awful. We moved a month before I started high school. We moved to another state, where no one knew me. No one knew they were supposed to hate me.

Bee and Rose said...

My heart ached for your young self as I read this. I went through the same thing and when we moved, it was enormous relief. My son, even though he is homeschooled, will be in junior high. His friends are great, but things happen at this age. Like you, I can only hope that I've given him the tools to get through this time:)

Bee and Rose said...

oh...I totally would've been your BFF all the way through school;)

Shannon Marie said...

You blog is so cute!

Jen said...

I too have lived this. I so know the situation of which you speak. It kinda makes me happy that I am only having to deal with kindergarten.