A few nights ago the prodigal daughter had one of her famous meltdowns. Tears and slammed doors led to Coach heading to her room to stem the torrent before it overwhelmed all the women in the house. He listened and then came down and shared a bit with me.
JMumbo was visiting a friend, so it was just the three of us at dinner. I addressed the issue Coach shared, that she didn’t want to go to school here anymore. M&M (the prodigal daughter) felt she had few friends, and the ones she had, we were keeping her from. Kids weren’t always nice to her. She had been picked on a bit, or in today’s world, bullied.
Now I don’t hold with bullying. No one deserves singling out for not blending. Life isn’t about being a lemming and following the pack off the cliff. Unfortunately in Middle School this is one of the reasons most kids are bullied, they don’t fit the mainstream. It could be a flannel shirt, black nail polish, too short or too long a haircut, the list is endless and subject to the whims of teenagers. Teenagers who tend to work within the constraints of a mob mentality. You’re either with the mob or against them, and if you’re against the mob, they make sure you know it. It’s a poor lifestyle for kids.
You’re thinking I gave M&M my sympathy. I did, to a point. Middle School sucks. It always has. I would never go back and am not enjoying reliving it through my daughter’s eyes. That said, she has to get through, and it’s my job to give her the skills to survive until High School. It isn’t easy. The opportunities to stray and jump off the cliff with the other lemmings far outnumber the opportunities to be true to yourself.
What did I do? I took her on a trip down memory lane. My memory lane.
This is me in sixth grade. I would like to remind you that I truly am a female, something that a waitress didn’t realize in a restaurant one night when she asked my brother and I what we boys would like to eat. It may have been my stunning haircut or complete lack of curves. The glasses? Bifocals in an attractive octagonal shape. My best comeback for two years when called four eyes was “No, I have six.” So clever and witty at such a young age!
Welcome to eighth grade. Two years have made a tremendous difference, especially in the eye wear department. They are still bifocals. I didn’t lose those until tenth grade when I prepared for contacts. The frames are a bit more stylish. Remember, late 70’s folks, and yes, the haircut is the infamous Dorothy Hamill. Somehow I have ended up with variations of this cut through most of my life. Please note the plaid shirt with matching string tie and contrasting vest. High fashion in the junior high world, or at least I thought so. By this point I had found some like-minded, book-loving friends whose number one priority wasn’t boys.
How does that song by Barenaked Ladies go? “This is me in ninth grade baby.” Yep, it’s the beginning of a mullet. Any teen to 30 year old who lived during the 80’s knows what a mullet is. We aren’t talking fish folks; we are talking rock star hair. Shorter in the front, longer in the back. It is nicely offset by a terry cloth sweater. Stylin’ people!
This photo is my favorite. It conveys all the angst that goes with being a sophomore in high school. Talk about not reallyfitting in anywhere. You’re just doing time at this point. I particularly like the crooked glasses that the photographer didn’t bother to mention. My best guess is I was just another face. That or he thought they showed the reality of tenth grade. At least we took group photos for the yearbook. Only family and friends were privy tothis one.
Tenth grade was the year I took Biology. We only had one teacher for it and I found out years later that he disliked my father. Didn’t I tell you? BOTH my parents worked at the school.
Dad was an administrator and Mom substituted. But back to Biology class. The first day I was in the frontrow, in the middle. The teacher was asking what seven things indicated something was alive. He was learning names as he went. By the time he called on me all the easy answers like breathing were taken. I have no idea what I said, but it wasn’t what he was looking for. So he moved me. To the end of the front row, against the exterior wall. Behind the fish tank. The HUGE fish tank. A classmate, Rocco, sat behind me. She and I agreed we had the best seats in the room. This was confirmed by our classmates who tried to get moved next to us.
I don’t remember much Biology, but I watched a lot of fish that year. My parents could have complained and forced him to move me, but I didn’t want to move. I learned to cope.
The last two years of high school were easier. I lost the enormous glasses, trading up for contacts. My hair settled down and I got a perm to help with the “Big Hair” craze that was to become synonymous with the 80’s. I became more comfortable in my own skin, making some choices that were good and some that weren’t so good. My parents had one of the first VCR’s, a Beta, and we all hung out in our family room late night. My mom always knew who was there based on what was missing from the kitchen and refrigerator. One night they ate a whole pot of soup!
I was still on the fringes in many ways, but was comfortable with it. I knew there was more out there and was ready to go find it. College more than lived up to my expectations, but that is for another day.
Am I sorry M&M is having a hard time? Yes, but I want her to learn to diffuse the situation and walk away. At this point she wants to go to UVA and become a vet. She won’t remember most of this. Bullying is wrong, but so is feeding it by giving it the spotlight. Tolerance is a difficult lesson to teach, but I think I’m up to it.