Tag Archives: Middle school

When He Was Small

It must be the graduations, the birthdays, the moving-ons that are swirling around me lately…for whatever reason, I am feeling nostalgic. I look at my kids and I think, “Stop! This is all going by wwaaayy to fast!” I look at my younger ones and I want to take a picture of every, single, ridiculous little moment so I can remember it all. And I look at the older ones and think, “Where did it go?” And… “Why didn’t I put all the old photos of their ridiculous little moments into nice, neat albums like I always said I would?”

I see them all growing, getting taller, bigger, moving onward. Struggling sometimes with figuring out how to become themselves, and it is hard to watch this bumpy journey.  Hard to know that there are some things I could help them with, if only they would let me, and some things I cannot …even if they ask.

One of my children is about to enter into that magical land we call middle school, and one is just leaving (Thank God!). My mother always said that she thought fifth grade, the grade before middle school, was really the last true year of childhood and as usual, she is right. It is the last chance.  The last chance we all have just to be kids. Just silly, playful, carefree children before all the social pressures and hormones of adolescence kick in.  Before the toys and imaginations are put away to gather dust in the corner as these once happy-go-lucky youth begin to worry about things like fitting in and pimples and wayward hair. Before they all start struggling to cross over that treacherous divide, that bumpy road, that long bridge into adulthood.

I’ve noticed that the girls usually seem quite eager to cross this bridge.  They just prance on over, all excited and proud…many sadly making the journey before they are ready, a false sense of maturity driving them onward, but the boys…well I think they tend to stand in the middle, one leg boldly planted on either side jeering at old father (and mother) time, “Oh yeah! I am the king of this bridge and I dare you to try and make me cross over! Come’ on, I dare ya!” (And this type of inflated bravado never really goes away, does it…)

One of my children has a birthday this week. Another year marked on the calendar, another foot towards maturity. I wrote this piece below about him, about saying goodbye to childhood.  It’s all-true, and shhhh… if you see him around say Happy Birthday but DON’T tell him you read this! It’s too sloppy and gloppy for a man-boy who is standing with one leg firmly planted on either side of the bridge scoffing at the world, “Come-on I dare ya!”

When He Was Small…

When he was small, he would ask me to sleep with him every night.

“Please sleep with me Mom.”

And most nights I would. I would snuggle in next to him, feeling his small body pressed against mine, an arm thrown across my neck as he burrowed in so close our noses would touch, his breath minty and sweet against my cheek, his hair still damp and fresh from the bath. He would whisper his dreams and silly rhymes in my ear as the room slowly darkened, a gently stillness seeping in, his chest rising and falling in time with the soft whir of the overhead fan and all thoughts of the piles of laundry that needed to be washed, the already late bills to pay, the sticky dinner dishes that should be rinsed floated sleepily, gratefully, away as I lay with my arms around my child, both of us drifting into sweet, sweet slumber.

And some nights I wouldn’t.  On those long, hard days when I just needed some space to think, wanting some peace and solitude to collect my thoughts and mull over the day. Those nights when I all I could dream about was a soft chair, a cup of hot tea and a good book, or a piece of the couch, a mindless television show and a glass of wine.

“No, not tonight. I am busy. I don’t have the time. ” I would say impatiently.

On those nights there would be tears and pleading; “Can I just have a  glass of water… maybe one more…can you turn on the light in the hall…open the door just a little…now it’s too bright…please can’t you lie down here…just a few minutes”…and then, finally, thankfully, he would fall sleep, alone.

Those days of asking are gone now.

Gone.

Funny, I remember the last time he asked.

The asking had slowed down, becoming more sporadic over the years as he grew, separating from me, as he needed to, but still, occasionally… after a scary movie, a hard day at school, a lost baseball game, he would ask… and I might.

Then came the dark, dismal, cloudy days of preteen rolled eyes, low mutterings, and out right defiance; days of arguing, yelling and talking back. He came to me after one of those long days; one of those days that left me still seething hours later from his insolence, the bitter taste of disrespect rolling around my mouth, the heavy buzz of his surliness ringing in my ears.

“Can you lie down with me for a few minutes?” He mumbled, his eyes shifting first to the window, then to the ceiling and down to the floor.

“What!” Anger boiled, bubbling and popping inside my chest. I was too annoyed to care that this humble asking was his best apology. To angry to see that this might be the time he needed me the most. I snapped and snarled,  “No! I’m busy! I don’t have the time for that! Go to bed!” dismissing him with a dark glare and a wave of my arm.

He shuffled out, shoulders slumped and I sat, by myself, pretending to look at my book.

Minutes went by. The clock on the wall steadily ticking out the beat of time… passing… I heard him turning in his bed, but… he never called out. Never asked for water or a nightlight.  Never pleaded for me to open the door just a crack … and the dull space that had started in my head slowly wormed its way down to my heart and landed with a heavy thud in my stomach. The silence of the night surrounded me, and in the quiet, sliding through the anger, I heard a soft whisper.

Not much more time.

I put down my book, shut my eyes and listened to the gentle hum, the quiet warning.

Not much more time.

And alone, in the darkness, I remembered.  I remembered the little boy who dragged his yellow dump truck all over the house carefully putting it next to him on his pillow at night as he pulled up the covers.  The one that had me read the same dinosaur book over and over until we both could name and identify the eating habits of each creature.  The one that held tightly to my hand as we crossed the street, readily sharing his vanilla ice cream and always saving the very tip of the sugar cone for me. The one that showed me the joy of finding worms in the rain and how to collect baseball cards and tried to teach me to like roller coasters.  The one that snuggled next to me, his chubby hands on either side of my face as he whispered about what he wanted to be when he grew up; a baseball player, a rock star, a paleontologist, a dad.

Not much more time.

I walked across the hallway, over the dimly lit space that separated us, and stood near him.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Move over.”

I climbed in next to his awkward almost adolescent body, the faint smell of sweat surrounding him but…this time…there was no hand thrown across my neck, no noses pushed together or silly whispers in my ear, instead he moved away, turning to the wall… and we slept in uneasy silence, our backs pressed together.

And that was the last time. The last time he was small ….and the last time he asked….

Bullying

The other day as I was rushing around gathering school supplies, I saw a sign for a barbershop. I quickly yanked my ten year old out of the car and marched him in.

As my son sat in the chair I took advantage of the few minutes of peace and looked around for something to read.  I picked up the local paper. There were the usual stories: sports achievements, town money issues, wedding announcements, etc. Then a small story caught my eye. Two local girls had held a cupcake stand to raise money for the family of a teenage boy in this particular town who had died recently “at his home.” The story never said how the boy died, the family did not want to speak to the paper, but the girls who had the fund raiser spoke to the reporter about how they felt badly that the boy had been bullied at school, teased for being overweight, and for the clothes he wore among other things.  It didn’t take much to put the pieces of the tragic puzzle together.  The barber saw me reading the article. He caught my eye, and over my son’s head, mouthed the words, “Suicide. Sad. So sad.”

“Again?” You say, “Geez, wasn’t this front-page news last year? Didn’t we solve the problem? There are no more bullies, right?” Wrong. Go sit in a middle school or a high school…or even a kindergarten, and you will see it.

I looked up at my child, sitting there happily chatting away with the barber as pieces of his unruly hair fell to the floor.  I thought, “What if…  What if that happened to him? What if he was bullied? What if he was so desperate? Would I know? Could I help?” My stomach flopped.

Then I thought. “What if…? What if he was the bully? Would I know? Could I help?”  My stomach flopped again.

Here is a piece I wrote about bullying a year or so back after I first read an article about Phoebe Prince, the young girl that committed suicide after being tormented for years by classmates out in western Massachusetts.  I was so outraged at what had happened, that I had to write to the paper.  I kept thinking, “Where were the parents of these bullies? Why didn’t they do anything? Did they know? Did they care? Did she have any friends, anyone she could reach out too?

Sad, so sad.

Bullying

Jesse Logan, Phoebe Prince. I am sure there are others. Beautiful, young girls with their whole lives in front of them. Diamonds just starting to shine, stolen away by the dark demons of depression to be thrown down the slick, slippery slide of low self-esteem. Pecked to death, slowly over time, by the taunts of their equally insecure classmates. Teenagers, who tormented by their own lack of confidence, repeatedly called them vile names, squashing them beneath the black boots of adolescent disdain as they clambered over their bodies in an attempt to climb up the ladder of social success.

I did not know Phoebe, or Jesse. I do not know their peers, but I do know what it is like to be a teenager, to feel desperate and to be unable to see the future even if it is right down the road. If only they had held on, made it through the mess of adolescent, maybe they would have been okay. Maybe they would have blossomed into a strong, young women, succeeding in college, going on to do research and to write and talk about their experiences of being bullied, hoping to stop the pain for someone else. Maybe Jesse would have discovered life on another planet. Phoebe, become the head of the United Nations. Maybe they would have had children and settled down in a small town doing the most important job, parenting. And as a parent they could have imparted onto their children the knowledge gained by their humiliating experience in high school, and taught them the importance of reaching out to others. But they didn’t survive; they were too afraid and young to hang on. They didn’t know to look down the road, that things would get better.

And now we will never know, who or what they might have been. They were stolen from all of us. So we, the parents, must now act us parents should and stand up for them. We must cradle in our arms the victims of bullying and confront the tormentors, no matter who they may be, even if they are our own.

We were all there once, middle school and high school, each of us struggling to make it through the day. Worried about how big our boobs were, or weren’t, how many zits we had on our faces. Do I smell, will he talk at me, is my fly open, will my face turn red when I talk in front of the class, what if she won’t be my science partner, who will I sit with at lunch? We have all been there.  Under attack by our fear and hormones, and instead of pulling together as a group and seeing our strength in numbers, we separated. Divided by unseen walls of status: the victims, the invisibles, the druggies, the jocks, the populars’.

Ask yourself, right now. What group were you in? Did you like it there? Would you want your child to be in that group? What did you give up to be in that group? Your pride? Your individuality? Your voice? With exclusion comes sacrifice. Maybe you sacrificed yourself, your relationship with you family, or your best friend since kindergarten. The one you watched Creature Double Feature with everyday at five, played long stretched out games of  Monopoly, and told your inner most secrets to. Suddenly, they had to go. They were not cool enough, pretty enough, strong enough. They were holding you back, so you threw them aside to move up the ladder of popularity or avoid the shame of being shunned. Do you think it is different now? You’re right, it is. The insults come quicker, harder and easier thanks to the anonymity and speed of computers. But the feelings and inevitable sad outcomes remain the same.

Maybe you were the one who was left behind. Unable to protest, feeling small and scared you decide to be silent, become invisible. Pretend it didn’t hurt. Now, you are determined that your child does not suffer the same fate as you. You will do anything to make sure he is captain of the football, or she is head cheerleader. You guide them towards certain friends, the right families to associate with.

Don’t be fooled by the kid who says “There is no bullying in my school. We have a program for that.” As history has unfortunately shown us over and over again, we are all capable of aggression and brutality. I know this is hard to accept but even your own kids, the ones you love with all of your heart. The ones whose eyes you look in every night and think, “Oh, he/she would never do that.” Really? Think back with true honesty to your own experiences. Did you ever step outside of your group to offer an outsider a place at the lunch table? Were you willing to stand up for a friend even if it meant you might be turned on next? Do you ever participate in the jeering, sneering, meanness of middle school? Why would your child be any different?

The anti-bullying programs are wonderful and necessary, but it cannot end there. The conversations must continue at home. Just as you practice math and science with your kids, you must practice kindness as well.

Teach children to accept, to stand up, to challenge. Teach them when they are young not to exclude others on the playground, to give everyone a chance, to invite all the kids to the birthday party, to open up their circle of friends. Bullying is not just physical harm or rude insults; it also comes in the form of exclusion. Being alone, forced out, made to watch from the sides.

It is natural to develop a group of friends over time.  We can’t all hold hands and be best buddies. It is not realistic to expect this, but perhaps, maybe, if you teach your child to just reach out a little to the kid that is sitting by him/herself, the one whose pants are a bit too short or who wears the wrong style; someone they don’t know very well, maybe your child can help just that one person to feel included.  Maybe if they smile at this person or ask them how their weekend was, tell them they did a great job in Spanish class, maybe, just maybe that child will feel like they matter. It is our job as parents to teach this. Not the school. Not some government agency. Ours.  Teach kindness at home, so it can be practiced at school.