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.
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