The Skin We’re In

Here in Moses Lake, the middle school has all the sixth grade children come to school one morning a day before the rest of the school attends.  They get to know the routines and the whereabouts of classrooms, bathrooms, and the lunch line without the stress of the other, older grades cramming the hallways. 

My oldest two children weren't terribly concerned about the process. My third, however, has been a little worried. First off, he had to walk a mile or so to catch the bus; up until now, he's caught it at the end of our driveway. What if it doesn't come? What if it does, but I miss it? 
My most horrifying middle school memories involve the bus. Once, I climbed on with all the other shivering schmucks, and heard my name called from the very back seat. You have to understand–only the very coolest of the cool kids got to ride in the back seat. These were city buses; the comfortable benches and the most leg room–not to mention the best place to feel the bumps–all this in the back.
So this group of cool kids, all of whom I was on good terms with, but none of whom I'd ever had prolonged social contact, are waving at me. "Come sit with us!"  How exciting is that? Only I'd been standing there in the cold, holding my viola in one hand, my oboe in the other hand, and a gargantuan school bag over one shoulder. And I desperately needed to blow my nose. I had been sniffing and sniffing and crossing my fingers that I wouldn't accidentally let anything too disgusting slip before the bus arrived and I had a chance to slump down in my seat and dig through my bag for a Kleenex. 
But now the in-crowd is waving me back. What do you do? I kept sniffing. And when–I believe it was Christie Mackensie–called out something about one of our shared classes, I made the mistake of answering. And all the sniffing in the world couldn't have prevented the giant green elastic bubble of snot that exploded out my left nostril. I dove for the floor. Pretended to have dropped my various musical instruments, my bag, anything. To their credit, nobody said a word, although years later, at least one of them admitted they'd seen it all. 
I know social humiliation. I know the agony of wanting to be significant enough for the other kids to notice, but not so significant you become that kid everyone else is snickering about. My third child is my most tender-hearted. Things like missing the bus really do throw him for a loop. He agonizes over unknowns. But there comes the day, you know? So I booted him out the door, heartless and cold. "Just go! You'll be fine! The bus will come."
It came; he missed it. One of the parents I babysit for teaches at his school, however. In his "pod", even. (This is what they call the groups of students–pods. It's kind of sci-fi sounding, but then again, middle-schoolers are kind of exotic beings.) So she picked up my poor, wayfaring man of grief and took him along with her to school. She said he looked like he was going to be ill. 
I can picture his face. He gets these red-rimmed eyes, and I haven't yet seen him lose the battle with the tears, but you know it's a monumental struggle. Poor kid. But he made it to school, and navigated the labyrinth in one piece. Having not ridden the bus there, he didn't know which one to ride back, so we had to go pick him up, but tomorrow is a new day. And his brother, sister, and four other cousins will be walking to the bus stop with him to catch or miss the yellow beast collectively, so all should be well.
Here's my question: does anybody out there really feel that much different now than they did in middle school? Weren't you pretty much formed as a person by then? Does it really seem very long ago? Yesterday. I was there, yesterday, confounded by Mr. Friesen's pink ankle socks and my health teacher's flying spittle; I was terrified and excited and insecure and even a little snot-nosed, and honestly I don't feel all that different today. I blow my nose more and I no longer play any musical instruments, but that's about it. 
I'm trying to put myself in my children's shoes, and it isn't terribly difficult. If they only knew that who they are is who they are–that they aren't going to magically evolve into competent, confident individuals some day just because they had enough birthdays.
This skin we're in. It's all we've got. It takes some getting used to, I know.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

8 responses to “The Skin We’re In

  • cat

    My eldest daughter sounds similar to your son. She felt sick every morning of her school life, worrying about something or other. Her biggest days of worry were when they had a mufti day and they could go to school out of uniform. She'd worry all morning that she'd be the only one out of uniform, then when we got to school we'd have to sit in the car and watch until she'd seen at least ten other people out of uniform. She's 21 now and still worries about everything.
    I remember standing in the school yard a few years ago waiting for one of my kids, looking around and thinking – I must have really hated school.

  • Kimber

    And can you believe that you now have a 21 year old? Will we ever feel old enough to have the kids we have? Nice to "meet" you by the way!

  • Emjay

    Oh yes, the horrors of the school bus. There was only one other girl on my school bus when I started school and she was about 3 years older than me. The boys teased me mercilessly! I cried every morning and my father would drive me and stay there until the bus came otherwise I would hide behind trees until the bus went past and then I would go home and tell them I'd missed the bus. We lived on a farm so I did not always get taken into school. Eventually I told a teacher what was going on and she wrote a note to the bus driver and I got to sit with him from then on. In hindsight I can't believe that he didn't notice what was going on! It was another couple of years before another girl got on the bus and that was my sister and a next door neighbour's daughter.

  • Sam's Life

    I still break out in hives every time I think about middle school. I was the butt of everybody's jokes. I miss high school that was when I knew it all. lol

  • Kimber

    Exactly!–Oh to be 17 and omniscient again!

  • Kimber

    Two girls??? Crazy! Were there just not very many kids, period, or was there some weird genetic selection going on? Our buses have three and four kids to every seat; they are really crammed in there. My kids hate it mostly because the heater seems to be stuck on high year round and nobody is allowed to open the windows–and let's face it, there isn't a school bus in the world that needs a heater at all–those kids keep it plenty warm all on their own steam.

  • Emjay

    I'm not sure about that genetic selection. When I was born there were apparently 6 girls & one lonely boy in the hospital that week. They must have been town girls. My bus used to do a round of about 50-60 miles and probably only had 15-20 kids on it when I started. The kids my own age were boys and there were families of 4 boys and 3 boys on the route. The other girl was the only girl with 4 boys in her family. It really did suck! The older boys would pay the younger ones (still older than me though) to kiss me!

  • Ginger

    I see your point. I think I am a different person. I was niave and simple and now I am learned and complicated with a better understanding of reality. That time is so small and nothing. Yet it seems so big. I think of God sending us to earth. We are making such a big deal out of something so small in the eternal perspective.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: