This story was first published in September 2008 when my oldest son, Cole, started middle school. Actually, this story was also published in a story collection. I, of course, told no one about this because that was before I could say out loud that I Am A Writer.
Tread Lightly When It Comes To Middle School
In general I have not been that mom who could not bear it when her kid moved on from a stage in life. Not that there is anything wrong with that mom. In fact at times I have thought that there must be something wrong with me because I am walking away from the first day of kindergarten or some other major milestone without crying. But I have tried to just celebrate whatever stage of life we are in. I loved my babies as babies, but I do not still wish they were babies. I embraced having three toddlers at home when Cole, Mary Polly and Ben were all under five. I also embraced napping on the couch and never showering. I appreciated that we didn’t have places we had to be at certain times. And that I pretty much had complete control over their choices in friends. And for that matter, their choices about everything.
Then Cole started kindergarten, and I was excited that we were done being all at home and had entered a new era. Elementary school. It seemed like every year after that I had another child starting kindergarten. And even last week when I walked Ben to second grade, I thought Oh my goodness, it will be just a minute before I am walking Simon to a classroom.
But this year there has been a little kink in my plan to always embrace the next stage of my children’s lives. One of them finally reached a stage that I just wasn’t excited about. Middle School.
Cole started last week, and he is actually going to the same building every day that I went to for my first year of junior high. He’s playing the trumpet. I played the trumpet. It’s his first year to have a locker. I still cry when I think about trying to remember my locker combination.
For the first few days of school, I drove Cole there and picked him up, but now he’s riding the bus. This is a much better arrangement, because it prevents my breaking out into hives when I drive down there and am forced to remember my middle school days.
Last spring we went down to the school for orientation and I was walking the halls with Cole and I said,”Yep, Cole, right there. There’s the spot where Mama had her very first nervous breakdown. That’s right. That desk there in what was then Mrs. Moore’s class.”
Cole looked at me with an expression that clearly did not mean, I feel you mom.
Mrs. Moore did not understand the plight of an eleven year old girl who is being made fun of daily by that boy right there across from her. Otherwise she would have used her almighty powers to move him to the other side of the room.
When I say I was being made fun of, I do not mean the kind where people say to you, “Oh he is just flirting with you.”
I know about the kind of teasing that is really just flirting. That’s what he did to OTHER girls. But me. I was mocked mercilessly. As the butt of all his jokes, this boy made me look like the complete idiot that of course I already believed I was.
Because I could not EVER EVER get my locker open on the first try. Or manage to get to class with everything I needed. Or come up with a science project that would please the likes of Mrs. Moore.
Usually I could get all the way home before I would go inside and cry. I would take deep breaths as I walked the slow road from the bus stop to my house, and up the stairs to my blessed bed with the Holly Hobbie bedspread. You can make it. I would tell myself.
But one day, I couldn’t make it. I didn’t even make it out of third period. I actually hyperventilated I cried so hard. Which finally made people take notice of the fact that I was being HOUNDED by a MEAN boy for all of science class.
And here’s the thing about middle school for a girl like me. You don’t ever want anyone to take notice. Your parents, yes. And your close friends, maybe, if you have any. But not the rest of the world. To the rest of the world, I was just trying to be invisible.
The mean boy got in trouble. It was a long time ago so he even got spanked. Which I NEVER LIVED DOWN. Mrs. Moore finally moved him, disdainfully. And I spent the rest of the year trying harder and harder to disappear into the nonexistent spaces between the lockers. Seriously.
So when Cole and I got home from his orientation, he told his dad that I was completely crazy and could his dad please take him to all of the rest of his middle school events instead of mom. And when we filled Taido in, he said with TOTAL nonchalance, “That’s funny. When I was in 7th grade, I got spanked for making fun of a girl until she cried.” And I have to tell you that I lost just a little bit of respect for him right then and there. Respect he will not regain until he finds that poor girl and apologizes. Which he cannot do, because he does not remember her name. They never do.
The good news is that I don’t think that Cole is going to repeat my middle school experience. And I know this not just because he is a boy. I know it because on the first day of school I picked him up and when he got in the car he was chewing on something. So I said, “Hey, what’s in your mouth?”
To which he replied, “My locker combination.”
And because he is the kind of boy who would actually EAT the only piece of paper he has with that sacred information on it, I had to give him a lecture right then and there about NEVER making fun of girls.