At the start of the year, I tried to attach myself in friendship to the new girl in school, since I didn’t feel connected to anybody. She quickly sensed my desperation and made other friends.
I caught the nickname, “Smolly.”
Two kids started a bet about what I would wear the following day, because my clothing choices were apparently so limited that they could guess what it would be. (One of them asked me privately to wear what he’d bet on so that he’d win, which is how I found out about the bet.)
After that, I begged my mom to go shopping, which we did at the discount store we always went to, and I bought my first HyperColor shirt — all the rage. Soon thereafter, a boy in class accidentally got pen ink on it and I got so upset. He said it was no big deal, I could just wash it, which seemed like a far-fetched idea considering the state of home stuff at the time.
The hypercolor shirt did get washed, but it also got put in the dryer, and the color shift from heat locked the whole thing permanently in hyper-mode, making it unwearable/uncool.
While riding my bike home from Sunday school, I got spooked by a car and stuck out my foot, right into the spokes of my front wheel, breaking 3 bones in the middle of my foot and landing me on crutches for the remainder of the school year. This meant that at the 6th grade dance, the same boy who bet on my clothes was apparently dared to dance with me…while holding onto the “waist” of my crutches.
All in all, it was a kinda messed up year. But my teacher, I remember being fine — meaning I don’t remember any trauma, so that’s a bonus!
When I tell people that I’m a middle school teacher, they shudder or wince or otherwise make it clear that my job must be absolutely horrible.
But here’s the thing: I’m not a middle schooler anymore.
I’m not “in” middle school. I’m not the girl with frizzy hair and crutches in her graduation photo.
I’m a 30something woman with awesome hair and 3 feet of legs!
I get to pull who I am today through the world of these students, and try to let their teacher “not be traumatic”! I get to acknowledge that there may be a lonely, ill-fit, scared person in each of these students and I get to hold space for that and guide them.
My job doesn’t in the least cause me shudders. Sure, it might cause me irritation, frustration, mania, or exhaustion(!!!) — but it hasn’t yet once caused me to hate being there.
I think when people wince at hearing my job it’s because they’re recalling themselves at that time, and how difficult it was. I get to say each time that’s why I wanted to do this! To get to be a different force for them.
Not every kid will get something out of my class that they “remember,” much like I’m sure my 6th grade teacher was fabulous at his job but I don’t remember anything specific. Not every kid will even like me! But I get to see them. I get to see their hardship, their worry in navigating a burgeoning world of “How am I perceived?”
And sometimes bearing witness is the most supportive action we can take.
I love and hold compassion for the lonely girl I was. She informed some of the core manners of myself, and I’ve also had to dismantle some of the viewpoints she formed. To know that who were are and were and will be are all time-limited (to echo yesterday’s blog) reminds me I don’t have to “get it right” for these kids. I don’t have to rescue them; I don’t have to rescue my 11-year old self. I don’t need to save anybody.
I just get to acknowledge and smile and breathe.