Friday, November 21, 2008

Eleven or Twelve

I'd come out of my office to fill my water bottle from the cooler and I heard the crying. The girl was standing across from my office, talking on her cell phone, and crying her eyes out.

I'd noticed her before. She's a middle schooler, about eleven or twelve, who has long days. She waits in the lobby after school lets out, waits for a long time, for her parents to pick her up. It must be that they come to get her on their way home from their own jobs. She'll be there playing a game on her phone, talking on her phone, reading her book, or occasionally interacting with other kids who have long days.

She's small, probably the smallest and youngest child in her class. To my eyes, she's kind of cute in a pixy-ish kind of way, with straight shiny hair drawing you right in to her immense dark eyes. But she's not what middle schoolers think of as pretty, with her thick glasses and what appear to be a few too many teeth for someone so small. It probably goes without saying that she is flat-chested. She looks immature. And kind of desperate.

By the time I had my water bottle filled, she was off the phone but still sobbing and gulping, and two bigger girls were standing around trying to talk to her, but not really knowing what to do. I brought her into my office, suggesting that she did not really want to be crying so hard in such a public place, plied her with tissues, and waited.

The problem was predictable. Her "best friend" was being mean to her. Wouldn't talk to her. Was hanging out with new people. Accused her of "stalking" her. Most likely the "best friend" is the second least popular kid in the class and had somehow managed a break-through contingent on severing this relationship.

Took me right back to junior high. Girls can be so ruthless.

Mom says "if the girl doesn't want to be friends with you, good riddance." Mom has no idea this is the only friend. She talked; I listened. She cried; I patted. When she had herself together a little bit, we came up with a plan. We'll get the middle school dean to bring the two of them together so that they can talk in a safe environment. So one can learn that people grow apart. So another can learn that severed intimacy doesn't have to lead to total dismissal. So the dean can assess just how serious it all is and how to handle the rest of the class. This morning I spoke to the dean who will facilitate such an encounter.

Every few years it happens. There will be a lonely, immature girl who is simply unable to find her place. Takes me right back to junior high.

I look at the cliques and at the outcasts. I wonder if any of them actually feels confident, attractive, acceptable. I don't know anyone who admits to having been happy in junior high.

My present age carries some difficulties I may not have anticipated. But I'll tell you this: I'd never want to be eleven or twelve again. Never. Never.


Anonymous said...

this could have been me, accept when I whas 11 or 12, there whas no one who took me into their office and talked with me, let me cry and patted my back.... You did a marvelous thing in this girls life, you showed her that even when you think your world is falling down,breaking appart.. there is still someone out there who cares enough about your wellbeing.... thank you for taking this girl into your office.... she could have been me

hugs from the Netherlands
Winda aka DutchQuilter aka (*ΓΌ*)

Karen Dianne Lee said...

This is a time filled with bad memories for me - I know that. Its written in my journals.

But for some reason I look bad and the first thing I know for sure is that my parents loved me. I look back and I really get that and nothing else seems to matter. Everything's washed away.

Do you think that's the hand of God? I just wonder...

anne bebbington said...

My youngest has been going through something similar this week - the problem has been compounded by the fact that the school is very small and there are only 8 girls in her year of 31 kids. The school has been magnificent which is no more or less than we have come to expect and receive. You're so right I'd hate to be a 12 yo girl again. Without sounding glib we also have the kind of relationship with our kids that they'll happily come straight home and tell us what's worrying them - long may that continue. Girls can be so beastly. Your input into your situation will have made a huge difference to her and hopefully the meeting with the dean between the girls will make all sides look at things from all viewpoints. Our school has an active policy on this kind of thing which is called restorative justice and is being adopted throughout the county schools for all matters trivial and more serious. Communication counts for such a lot and should always be encouraged. I hope things work out for her :o)

Anonymous said...

Good job with this young woman. You may never know the impact you can make on a child, by just listening.
Junior high/middle schools are horrid! If one is minutely different from the herd, then they are picked on, ostracized or worse. Like you, I would not take a million dollars to be in junior high again. Or high school.
But you did a really good thing today.

Kathy B
school nurse :-))

debijeanm said...

One alternative is to do what I did, live in my mind so much that I was isolated from all that. Thank goodness that marching with the band helped me break out a little, although I am still terribly uncomfortable in social setting of just about every kind.

I hated middle school so much that I decided to teach eighth grade, hoping to help someone a little along the way.

debijeanm said...

I haven't popped in for while and am sorry to learn that you have been so miserable. Years ago I learned the hard way to avoid most "cold" medications because any cough suppressant resulted in long-term bronchitis. My magic formula when I have a cough now is guaifenesin (just the cheapest house brand) expectorant to keep the mucus in my lungs moving freely and ibuprofen to knock down the "itis" (inflammation). Seems to keep my comfortable while the virus runs its course.

For what it's worth.

Hope you feel yourself soon.

quiltmom said...

I do hope that you are feeling better.
What a lovely kindness you showed towards this young woman.It is a difficult age those middle years.
We all need kindness whether we are 10 or 92- you helped her save face with the world around her.
Thank you for showing her caring and kindness in a world that sometimes does not have time for such things.

ranette said...

How wonderful that you were there for this young girl. Junior High can be a horrid place and an even more horrible time for kids. I'm so glad that I'm past that age and that my girls are as well. I'm 48 and last year when I would have to go and pick up my youngest at the Jr High School, that same feeling of insecurity would wash over

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Blessed to be a blessing, that's you! I remember those horrible days of Jr. High, I'm with you... wouldn't go back for nuthin!

Lynn E said...

Oh I was so on the other side of things but still left out because I was overdeveloped and smart. The girls were horribly mean by making up stories of me the Slut. The boys made stories because of the girls stories. Man I would never ever wish to go back to that place and time. I ended up being angry and mistrustful for a long long time. The teachers didn't know what to do about the sexual slurs and harassment so they ignored it. Blessings to you for opening the door for this young lady.

Nicole said...

You are so compassionate Nancy. What you did for that young girl is something she will remember for the rest of her life. We don't forget it when someone reaches out to us when we are having our lowest moments. Also, the plan to get her together with the other girl will teach both of them negotiating skills that will be forever useful.
I have always said I would never be 12 again either. My body betrayed me by sprouting strange protruberances and attracting way too much attention, when all I wanted to do was sit in the corner reading a book and munching apples.

Lorraine said...

Nancy that was a good thing you did for that young daughter had problems at that age - girls can be so nasty.....didn't notice it at all with my sons.....and mobile phones have a lot to answer for I think...I love them...but it makes it easy for kids to be "nasty" to each other sometimes ..... a text or call is easier than facing someone!! I am with you - I wouldn't be that age again for anything!

YDR said...

For whatever reason, (you know I've always been backwards--must be the left-handedness!) Junior High was the BEST for me. Elementary school sucked, bigtime, as my kids say today. Junior High was when I finally emerged. Which, at Abington, was a good thing, since Glenside Weldon was one of the smallest schools and while I was there I gained the confidence I needed to survive a High School of 4000 people. Even if one of them was Bob Sagget.

Jayne said...

Nancy that was so sweet. I wish someone had done that for me! the way you described that little girl- that's exactly what my junior high years were like for me. (need proof? i was voted "most likely to get lost in their locker" because of my size. I was once at a friend's house and her older brother and their friends were throwing the girls into the pool, and the one said, "you get the puny one," referring to me. sigh...)

Tanya said...

This post struck such a chord in me. I didn't like my jr. high years much either and would NEVER want to go back but there isn't any real reason.
In Japan the peer pressure is enormous on jr. high students. Not just studying (these are considered the hell years for getting into high schools) but also peer acceptance pressures. SO many kids in Japan commit suicide about this time. Really. Bullying is a major problem Being ostracized.
I was also interested in how you got the dean involved and how all members were going to discuss the problem. Again. No way in Japan. Always a "wait and see" attitude and sometimes it ends tragically.