Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Middle School

Through two flukes of circumstance, I only attended Middle School for one year. First, the year that I started seventh grade was the same year the school district switched over to the 6/7/8 middle school model, from the previous 7/8/9 junior high version. That meant that the fifth-graders and sixth-graders graduated from elementary school at the same time that year (it was 1994). In any case, I would have already had a reduced 2-year sentence to middle school (grades 7 and 8), except that I also ended up skipping the eighth grade. So that's how I only attended Middle School for one year.

And to be honest, I don't know that I've ever spent more than a few moments put together thinking about my time in seventh grade. If you look through my Flashback Fridays, even, there aren't many (if any) stories from that period. Middle School was hardly a blip on the radar for me and I never thought to cast my mind back to my time there.

UNTIL. Then I listened to This American Life's Middle School episode. All of a sudden, the memories came flooding back. The awkwardness. The insecurity. The changing attitudes and moral principles and life plans and (shudder) bodies. The dances. But mostly the awkwardness. Honestly, I don't know how anyone makes it through middle school unscathed. I am so glad I only had to do it for one year and I wish everyone else could have had the same privilege. Not that high school is a rainbow-striped happy land of sunshine and flowers, but on some level, at least, it's a better, kinder world than middle school when nobody knows who they are but they're all out to prove...well, something.

In middle school, I was worried I wouldn't find a locker partner, and worried that when I did find one she would be cooler than me, and worried about whose locker would be next to me, and worried about changing in front of people for gym class, and worried about all the kids who came to middle school from those other elementary schools and maybe they were all cooler than me and my friends. I was worried about my clothes because they consisted entirely of hand-me-downs from my two older brothers. I loved Spanish class and I excelled in it but I had to rein it in so my classmates didn't think I was too good, you know? I hated having to do that. I read the entire Spanish textbook on my own in my spare time, then pretended I didn't know stuff in class and took care to miss a question or two on each test in case anyone saw my scores.

I hated how mean the boys got in middle school and I worried that I didn't understand their dirty jokes, that I'd laugh at something I shouldn't or not laugh at something totally innocent and everyone would make fun of me. I was scared of the eighth-graders who appeared to be members of some kind of gang (but who probably weren't...maybe?). I never looked forward to lunch time and the uncertainty about where to sit (I still almost dry-heave just thinking about that anxiety). If I brought a lunch from home, I worried that it wasn't cool enough. If I brought money to buy something from the lunch line, I worried about choosing the coolest items (a bagel with cream cheese, tater tots, or these tasteless cardboard packaged chocolate chip cookies were the only acceptable choices, and YES I STILL REMEMBER THAT).

I wanted out of there, and thanks be to God, I got out of there in one year flat.

The TAL podcast reminded me of all that, but it also reminded me that I am not alone in my feelings about middle school. Heck, even the middle schoolers apparently feel that way. And I wish them strength on their journey through that difficult period of life. Because holy cow, they're going to need it.


AmandaStretch said...

Lucky! I had to endure 4 years of middle school/junior high, because after graduating from the 6/7/8 model in Texas, we moved to Utah where they did 7/8/9. On the bright side, I was on the top of heap for two years, while my brother had to do 6th in Texas and 7th in Utah. And 9th grade was a lot better than 8th.

8th involved orthodontia (including a palate expander that gave me a huge front gap), a combination of wheelchair/crutches/variety of casts, bad fashion sense, horrible hair, and giant red glasses. AND I was a band geek that year.

I didn't hide my smarts in Spanish, and my class resented me for it at times.

So yeah, it's a wonder I survived. :)

Liz Johnson said...

Ugh. I hated middle school so much. I did the 6/7/8 model, and seventh grade was pretty much the year from hell. Ugh. I just remember feeling constantly uncomfortable in my own skin... like I had no idea who I was, or even who I was supposed to be, and I just was terrified of ending up as the wrong person. Blech. It's amazing any of us survived!

Andrew said...

YES! This was me too.

Nancy said...

I went to one year of middle school (grade 6) and then flat out refused to return.

My mom signed me up for a new "virtual school" and I took all of my lessons on the internet (novel idea at the time). It was awesome.

Myrna said...

And Nancy's virtual school, a Catholic virtual school called St. Paul's Academy was THE BEST virtual school I have ever known. It rocked. And I still think so, more than a decade later. I think they should just abolish ALL middle schools, and let people get on with life. They are just about infra-structure anyway. What do you really learn there that you couldn't just learn in High School or College?

Crys said...

I didn't got to middle that weird. We had K-8 and then I went to high school. The end. Or was it. I think life is just awkward. It surprises me that you thought about it enough to actually miss questions on purpose...but then who am I to question, I'm the person who ate lunch in the quad alone with a book my entire senior year because I just didn't want to deal with awkwardness of trying to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria after moving to a new school. Good grief, I'm glad I only had three years of high school :) I also had long hair, down past my bum. Was this an indication of my lack of coolness?

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Ugh middle school/junior high. If people could pick a time in life to relive, no one in their right mind would pick m.s.

Katie said...

I know this is weird, but I have fond memories of middle school. Some of my best and most innocent memories of some of my favorite people are from those years. Maybe it's because I met all of my close guy friends in 7th grade and then we all remained such good friends through high school (and we mostly still do, though I have no idea what Adam's up to these days).

But I think a lot of my fond memories can also be chalked up to the fact that I was blissfully ignorant of most of what was going on around me. I definitely cared about being cool, but I think on some level I just knew it wasn't really going to happen. And I was happy with my friends and my life. Though having Dan chase me around with "poop" (probably dirt) on a stick was not a high point in my life, I admit.

I don't know. Middle school was great for me, I think. But I definitely wouldn't want to do it over again any time soon.

Also, maybe I'm totally wrong and all I remember are the good parts. This is more likely to be true.

Katie said...

Umm... there are so many dumb typos in what I just wrote. Please ignore them. Or just know that I'm dumb. 63.

Craig said...

Wow, interesting comments on a turbulent time of life. I guess I had four years of M.S./J.H.S. Sixth grade went to M.S., but we mostly stayed in one class so it wasn't traumatic, and 7th grade still felt like we were kids. I do remember 8th grade started to feel awkward. A cute girl called me by my name and said hi to me, and frightened me to death. We moved again so 9th grade was still Jr. High and it was double hard being a new guy. 10th grade rocked over at the high school and I found my groove.


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