Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Wonder What I was Like in Sixth Grade?

Dear G Love

You were blessed with beauty, brains, and a loving heart.

With Love,

Mrs. T

I forget what the competitions were for, but in any case I recall that I won something in the sixth grade, and that my prize was an extra large box of brand new Crayons with the above note attached.

I was eleven years old in my sixth grade year. I was awkward – weren’t we all? I was desperately excited about getting my (gasp!) first period, wearing my (gasp!) first training bra, but could no sooner have spoken the words menstruation or breast than I could have driven a dogsled in the Iditarod. Outwardly I stuck firmly to my conviction that boys were icky, squicky, and gross, but inwardly I LOVED Brian Parrish with all of my heart and soul and if he would only touch my hand one day then I could happily curl up and die right then on the spot, having fulfilled my destiny. In those days I had uncombed hair, mismatched hand-me-down clothes, and buck teeth, shortly thereafter straightened with the godsend of braces. Unlike the UNBELIEVABLY LUCKY (oh I was so jealous) Wicked M and my fellow students, I was not permitted to wear hair spray or makeup at all (and this rule continued until I left home for college 3 days shy of 18.) Looking back, I have no doubt that Wicked M and each of my (infinitely more glamorous) fellow pupils felt just as awkward and unattractive as I did, even with their (incredibly fashion-forward) blue eyeshadow and sky-high bangs, but at the time I was sure they all felt as beautiful and adult as they looked, and that they were all laughing at me. Of course, eyeshadow does not a confident woman make of a desperately sad pre-teen. All you have to do is read Wicked M’s post to know that.

That really is what describes my whole pre-teen experience, beginning with sixth grade – desperate sadness. I was sad for years, and so terrified that everyone else knew a secret that I didn’t know. A secret about how to act, how to dress, how to speak, how to be, and that all of them could tell that I had never been clued in. I lived in hope, and fear, and in nightly pillow tears, and if I could go back and convince my sixth grade self of any Life Truth, it would be this – that, oh my sweet, na├»ve girl, every kid in your class feels the same way. This is called Middle School, darling, and it is called Figuring Out the World Outside Your Parents’ Home, and it is called Learning to be an Adult, and it is called Welcome to the Rest of Your Life. Now, of course, I know that nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, and they never did, and they never will do - some people are just better at pretending than others, and some people are better at not caring.

Sixth grade wasn’t one long school year of misery, of course. There were the games at recess: four square, and handball, and tetherball, and kickball, and once in a while a school-wide mass game of capture the flag. There was the library, which smelled like old books, and had a wonderful selection, and hosted yearly sales where we could buy very cool pencils and erasers and bookmark ribbons and even brand new Scholastic brand books. There was the one day when it actually snowed (in San Diego, California!), and all of the teachers let us out of our classrooms so we could go walk the track and watch it fall (and immediately disappear.) There was the end of year pool party that my teacher had every year, and the thrill of saving enough babysitting money to get a new Nintendo system. There was hopping the backyard fence on the weekend and walking across the field to the pool, and coming home hours later to a lunch of grilled cheese and iced tea, and then a cool shower. Sixth grade was the year my fourth and final sibling was born, so of course there was all the fun of being Mama’s Little Helper.

And sixth grade was the year that I got the note from my teacher that I held onto, for 17 years and counting. Boys teased me about my unibrow, but Mrs. T told me I had beauty, and she wouldn’t lie, right? I didn’t make many friends when I moved to a new state and new school the following year, but Mrs. T wrote that I have a loving heart, and that must mean that I would make friends eventually, right? As the slings and arrows of adolescence came hurling at me through my teenaged years, I held onto that note like a life buoy, and told myself that if Mrs. T had written it, in blue ink, in her perfect penmanship, then it must be true.

I guess, then, what I was like in sixth grade was a gangly, awkward, buck-toothed, insecure and largely unhappy little person – who was full of the potential to become a person of beauty, brains, and a loving heart. Trust that a grown woman with the compassion and patience to be a sixth grade teacher could see and share that potential with me. And I’m thankful that a developing little woman with no confidence, brains, or savvy could hold onto that note until she had the courage to believe it.


Leucantha` said...

I didn't know the secret either. ; )

Wicked M said...

Oh how I wish we could all go back and whisper to our middle school selves that none of it really matters!

It sounds like your sixth grade teacher was far more kind than any of mine were. No Santa secret ruining for you!

super jane said...

mrs. t was one very wise teacher. indeed, you are all of those marvelous things and many, many more!