Thursday, November 19, 2009

Middle School Sucks

Being that this is my daughter’s sixth grade year, I’m still learning how to be the parent of a middle school kid. And you forget exactly how warped and mean some of these kids can be, but you forget other fun stuff, too.

My kid is predictably unpredictable. She’s back in piano lessons and the first time we talked to the guy in the office at her new music school was a trip. He heard she was twelve and immediately started telling me how she could learn anything from classical to Hannah Montana... at the mention of the later, she rolled her eyes so hard it put a crack in the ceiling and said, “How about Led Zepplin, or Aerosmith, or Kiss?!!!”

Yep, that’s my baby. She also likes jazz, not so much pop, but a few songs here and there. Rock is a little more her speed. I think, at first she expected me to be the typical mom who frowns on that sort of thing, except, ya know, I know all the words and tend to hum along while she picks out the melody. She’s got a real knack for figuring out a song by ear.

Brag, brag, back on point. She’s creative. Not just with music, she does voices. She’s got a bit for almost any nationality you could think of, complete with multiple characters... Ask her to do the Hispanic Darth Vader and I would bet money you’d be on the floor. She makes up characters and directs little shorts with her video camera. The latest is The Adventures of Peeky – I don’t actually know what it’s about. But since I won’t let her have a YouTube account (because I’m paranoid of having my kids’ faces out online), she’s taken to enlisting her little brothers and assorted friends in acting the bits out wherever we are. Apparently it’s pretty funny, because a gaggle of kids will follow her around at my son’s football practice or picking up the youngest from his school, asking her to do another “Peeky Scene”.

This is all well and good, I guess. It’s just in her nature. I was always creative, but I am nowhere near as extroverted as she is... she’s a born performer and she enjoys the spotlight.

But the last thing you want to do in middle school is stand out. So this year, she’s had some issues, with one girl in particular. And we’ve had discussions at home about being popular and all that jazz... surprisingly enough, she doesn’t want to be popular. According to her, to be popular you have to pay too much attention to your clothes and hair and you don’t get to do anything fun, like voices. (I have a sneaking suspicion that she’d relish being popular if she still got to be herself – we all want to be liked... but I’m fairly happy that she’s not willing to compromise who she is to get there).

At first this girl called my daughter “weird”. But that didn’t work out so well, because my daughter just agreed with her. “I am weird. I’d rather be weird than normal.”

So, of course, as with all things, it escalated. The one that really, really bothered me - this girl told her, “You’re ugly and no boy will ever want you.”

Seriously, where the fuck does an 11 year old get this perception? That you’re only worth something if some boy wants you!!! I know, I’m weird and the insult wasn’t near as bothersome as the mindset it sprung from... and I should probably dislike this kid who’s picking on my kid, but really I feel sorry for her and I hope to God it was some random insult rather than the way she really sees the world, and her place in it.

And I’m sure my daughter’s not telling me all of it, probably just the watered down version of events – I’m just happy she’s telling me any of it, to be honest. I wouldn’t have said a thing to my mother... and I’m trying to let her handle it on her own at this point, but checking in with her about it pretty much daily. I’ve had other moms tell me to call the school but I told her I wouldn’t and I don’t want to break that trust and have her hiding things from me.

I’d love to give you guys some kind of ending here... like a story, to wrap it up in a neat little bow and tell you how it ended... but it’s likely to be ongoing for quite some time. And I’m not sure how we’ll handle the next thing. Another reminder of how fiction is different than real life – in fiction, you can make Karma work a lot faster... on the other end of the scale, none of this will matter much in the long run, except maybe as fodder for her future characters.

How much do you remember from middle school? If you have kids, was it harder to watch them go through it? And for you middle school writers, how much of the reality colors your work?


Life As I Know It said...

Middle school is tough. Girls, especially can be so nasty at that age.
Your daughter sounds pretty grounded and knows who she is and who she wants (and doesn't want) to be.
My only advice is to be there to listen to her and hope that she keeps confiding and trusting in you.
You sound like an awesome mom.

Merry Monteleone said...

Thanks, LAIKI.

Middle school is harder than I remembered it, but maybe it's just that it's harder to watch someone else go through it. I have two younger ones, but I think it'll be easier in that they're boys (boys don't seem to be as brutal to each other at this age, girls can be down right vicious)

Stephen Parrish said...

No boy ever wanted me in middle school, either. Sniff.

Merry Monteleone said...

Awe... I'm sure lots of boys wanted you in middle school, Stephen, they were just too shy to tell you :-)

Anonymous said...

I can be hard for boys, too. My son's in 6th grade and last night had a very emotional breakdown. Apparently, he sits alone at lunch and wanders around alone outside after lunch. He plays on the soccer team and has kids over once in a while so this was a shock to me. He says he is always the odd man out. There aren't enough chairs at the lunch table for him to fit and during a recent science class where they collected specimens in a field he says he was alone for the whole hour that no one talked to him. Help?

Stephen Parrish said...

Dear Anon: I was that boy too.

There's no quick-fix, no button you can push to make it better. It sucks, period. The only thing you can say to him---and it won't make him feel any better---is the absolute last thing he should want is to be like everyone else.

Merry Monteleone said...


I'm so sorry - I know it's the most devistating thing ever to know your child is unhappy and feel so powerless to do anything to change it.

First of all, I agree with Stephen. I wish there was some magic way to show them these things on a large spectrum, because they're not seeing past where they are, and these social and emotional things change so much from middle school to high school and then out in the world. Lots of the most successful people didn't fit in in high school... or the kids who couldn't find a niche in middle school, found one in high school. Every step opens up new people and new worlds... but it's easy to look back and say that from adulthood - you can't see it when you're there.

I think it's fantastic that he confided in you about it - that says a great deal about your relationship and you must be doing an awesome job as a parent. I'm not a psychologist, so I hesitate with giving advice because half the time I'm worried I'm making some dreadful mistake myself. But if I was in your shoes, I think I'd call the school and ask the principal or vice principal if they have a counselor on staff and for some advice on how to handle it from your end, as well as what they can do to make your son more comfortable at school.

The thing is, even if he has friends outside of school, it's that being alone in all his classes through his day that's going to be hard for him, and when you're there it doesn't help much to think about the friends you have outside of school. (My daughter has this issue, too - she has friends who go to the same school, but none of them are in any of her classes and the kid who picks on her and the bully's friends are in all of her classes)

For my daughter, she has outlets that seem to help alot - she loves band and playing music and she talks to friends outside of school. The school might have some ideas to help. Maybe even joining a club or activity at school where he'd meet more kids and maybe make a few friends to get him through the year.

I'm wishing you tons of luck. I hope you'll stop back in and let us know how he's doing and what kind of steps you and he are taking to get through it - I think it's an issue many parents and kids feel very lost in, so it helps to see what's working for others.

Anonymous said...

I'm still in middle school, going into my eighth grade year. All I can say is, everyone is bullied in Middle School. It sucks, and it isn't fair, but that's how it is. My guess is this mean girl is probably picking on your daughter because she's hiding insecurities herself. As for your daughter's taste in music, thumbs up! Why can't more kids be into Aerosmith and Kiss!? Anyways, the best advice I can give is that when mean girl is being, well, mean, think "I could let that upset me, but I'm too confident/awesome/amazing/fantastic for that". As for comebacks, I don't ever encourage retaliating hurtful behavior with hurtful behavior. What usually works is "Hmmm...... let me see..... Nope, don't care!" or "And i care because...?" or "If i valued your opinion, I would be offended by that". A simple "yeah sure whatever" (complete with that famous eye roll) does the trick too! PS: popularity is overrated :)

Anonymous said...

Anon (the other one)- I was that girl in sixth grade. Tell him to try and reach out and talk to people. It's scary, but worth it. It really hurts being forced out of a table with people you thought you were friends with. I'm going into eighth grade now, and I've made a lot of great friends, just by being myself. At lunch, he should sit with someone he thinks he could potentially be friends with. It gets better, I swear. I play soccer too! As for being the odd man out, I've been there. I used to eat lunch in my teachers room. Middle school (particularly 6th grade) is awful. But it WILL get better. I remember my sister told me "You are a mountain. It rains and snows and hails on the mountain yet it remains unaffected". Nice analogy, but when I pointed out erosion, we laughed for an hour. Anyways, I always think of that saying when I'm upset, because it makes me feel relaxed, laid-back, and confident. IT GETS BETTER!

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