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?