This American Life: Middle School provided interesting lunchtime listening material today. As I sat at our dining room table with Stella next to me in her high chair chewing on pear slices, I found myself in the middle; looking back and cringing at the thought of my own middle school experience and thinking forward to the years ahead when Stella will be in the throes of that awkward age.
I cringed for myself and I cringed for her. Like most parents, I hope that she sails through middle school with relative ease, that she won't be tormented by teasing, bullied by girls who seek to damage her self esteem because they are so frightened by it all themselves, marked by acne, or mortified by shyness. Part of me wishes that she is bookish and nerdy, like I was, that she is able to see middle school for what it is, a large dance into adulthood, towards more complex but better things.
Middle School was a frightening and exciting thing for me. It was big, so much bigger than the small canyon grade school I attended. There were dances, and class periods, and people kissed. Looking back I don't know if I was awkward, but I was definitely out of place. I played the cello, my favorite past-time was reading in bed, and I acted professionally at a local theater. Where I tried so hard in grade school to stand out by dyeing my hair pink, in middle school I found myself doing what I could to blend in and hiding the things that would make me different.
As foreign as middle school was, high school was more so. In high school I stopped trying to blend in and just held my breath and hoped it would be over soon. A few weeks before graduating, a boy I had been in classes with since middle school approached me as I was reading alone at a table in the quad and said "when are you going back to your country?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Aren't you from, like, Sweden?" he responded.