Wednesday, November 14, 2018

You CAN sit with us

I wanted to publish this yesterday in honor of World Kindness day, but life got in the way and I ran out of time, so here goes....

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and have a heart to heart with your younger self?  Lots of times when I hear this question I often think about my later teen years.  How I would have made different choices, or focused more on my education instead of my social life.  This week I came across a piece of my past and the answer to that question has changed.  I wish I could go back and hug my 6th grade self.
B started playing basketball this week for the first time, and coincidentally practice and games are in the same gymnasium that was beside the school I attended in the 6th grade.  The school has since been converted into an apartment complex, but the gymnasium is still there for community use.
I didn't expect walking through those doors again to have such an effect on me.  The outside of the gym has been spruced up a bit.   New windows, possibly a new coat of paint around the door frames, but inside....inside is exactly as I remember it.  The painted tiger paws on the hardwoods have darkened with age, but the same wood slatted bleachers remain.
In 6th grade I made the brave decision to change school districts and attend the intermediate school in the district where my mom taught.  The district was much smaller and I felt more at ease knowing my mom taught at the high school that was virtually across the street.
There are a few things that stand out to me about that first year, but the first day of school is one I won't forget.  Let's rewind back to the early 90's.  No internet, no Facebook, no Instagram.  No means of searching for hashtags or finding ways to see what students and peers from this new school were wearing.  This was the first day of school for a 6th grade girl.  The perfect ensemble was CRUCIAL!  This is where this story gets hysterical, but at the same time MORTIFYING!
Again, this is the early 90's.  I'm coming out of elementary school and entering 6th grade.  Until now, my favorite band had been New Kids on the Block, but I knew these girls were more into MC Hammer and Bobby Brown.  So what does this 6th grade girl choose to wear her very first day of middle school in a new school?  Hammer pants.  That's right ladies and gentleman, yours truly chose to wear the flouncy, billowy pants like the ones worn by MC Hammer in the early 90's.  I topped off my look with black patent leather oxford shoes and accessorized with a black wool hat.  Looking back, I completely understand why I was laughed at, but at the time, I thought this was the way to try to fit in.  Fortunately there is no image of this ensemble for your viewing pleasure.

On that very first day, we filed into that gymnasium for PE and were told to sit in a circle cross-legged to listen to instructions from the coach.  When we got up to leave, my shoes were GLUED to the floor.  The floor had recently been waxed and the faux patent leather on the tops of my shoes had made some sort of bond.  When I went to stand up, they made a loud peeling sound, leaving some of the shiny areas on the outer sides of my shoes on the gym floor.  Thankfully, I was the only one who noticed this at all, but after the snickers and laughs I'd seen pointed my way all day, I couldn't help but wish I could sink through the cracks in that wood floor.
That year was extremely turbulent.  One of the first few days of school in art class, a group of girls moved all the chairs into a corner and wouldn't allow me to sit down.  Even the teacher didn't locate a chair for me, but instead allowed me to stand for the duration of the class.
But the most affected I've become from that nightmare of a first year in middle school came in the lunchroom.  I was a typical, chubby, 12 year old girl.  I was starting the enter a phase where I was paying more attention to my looks and was very self conscious about my weight.  I stood in line, got my lunch tray, and was walking to a table when I tripped. My lunch went flying across the floor.  Embarrassed and pride smashed, but still hungry, I picked up my tray and returned it to it's place and got back in line, but as I reached the cashier, she told me I wasn't allowed to get another lunch since I'd dropped mine.  Someone close by heard her and yelled out "she doesn't need it anyway!"
This moment is etched into my brain like it happened yesterday.  After that day, I never stood in a lunch line again.  I chose to eat either a snack from the canteen or I didn't eat lunch at all.   In hindsight, it's not that terrible.  Kids are mean and cruel in middle school.  But being judged for what I put in my mouth is still an issue for me today.  I detest a buffet and eating in front of any large group of people causes me anxiety.  Do they think I'm putting too much on my plate?  I'm such a klutz, what if I spill it?  What if I have food all over my face and I don't notice?   How ridiculous, right?
I wish I could go back in time and give 6th grade me a giant hug and tell her how it will turn out.  That she would find friends and it all would be alright.  That middle school is basically the speed bump of life.  That there will come a time in your life when you won't need to fit in and look like everyone else.  That you'll develop your own style and care less what anyone thinks about it.  I'd then hand her a flat iron and throw out her Dep hair gel.
But you know what I also would do?  I'd go back in time and also tell myself to be kinder.  I think that first year hardened me a bit.  It made me jaded to social atmospheres and scared of social interaction.  By high school I had a group of friends, but I was only social with my specific group.  I had a hard time trusting people and chose to stay with my own group of friends (like most cliques do).  But I would have smiled more.  I would have tried to make others feel included and special.
To this day, I'm still a little socially awkward.  Big groups of people in a social setting is unnerving for me. On top of this, I have been stricken with one of the worst resting bitch faces you could ask for.
I am fully aware that I come across unapproachable and unhappy, but I'm usually just assessing where I can fit in and not feel awkward or judged.
As I walked through those gym doors on Monday night, it all came flooding back.  The feeling of exclusion and ridicule.  The fear and anxiety.  I'm 39 freaking years old and all the sudden, I felt 12 again.
Every night when I tuck B into bed, we have a few minutes where we talk about his day.  Sometimes I hear that one kid was mean to another kid, or this kid kicked another kid on accident.  The one thing I've tried to talk about even more lately is kindness.   It doesn't matter who is being mean.  It doesn't matter who is leaving you out.  It doesn't matter who doesn't look like you, or like the same things you do.  You never know what that person has going on at home or is battling on the inside.  Always, ALWAYS be the kind kid.

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