I don’t have horrible memories of middle school – I wasn’t viciously bullied or outcast – but neither do I have particularly glorious ones.
High school, yes. High school was great, and although there were certainly some times that were hard or sad or stressful, I made some wonderful friends – many of whom I will see this weekend at my 20th reunion, which I am sort of in denial about – and learned a ton about myself and my strengths and passions while also having a lot of fun and enjoying just enough independence.
But middle school was neither fun nor brutal. It was just sort of … in the middle … just a holding place for the two years after elementary school but before the rest of my life, where I mostly tried to keep my head down and fly under the radar.
I learned a few hard lessons about time management and organization and independence; I made a handful of close friends; I read a lot of good books; I developed as much of a math foundation as I am ever going to have; and I went to enough awkward dances that I still have some kind of visceral reaction to “Do the Jubilee All,” which was required listening at any 1993-1995 era dance, at least in New Orleans. But, again, it was neither transformative nor traumatic. It just was, and all I wanted was to make it out on the other side unscathed.
Ruby, now in her second year of middle school (which for me was actually my final year of elementary school), is very different than I was in most ways. I chose as my only extracurricular activities literary magazine and library club. Ruby, meanwhile, has dabbled in volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, cheerleading, speech and debate, musical theatre, drama, French Club, ’80s Movies Club (she’s seen more ’80s movies than I have, and I was born in 1980), and Kindness Club.
But even if we’re different and middle school itself is different and the technology is certainly and vastly different, there are some things that are inherent to the experience: mean girl drama, acne, awkwardness, feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. Watching Ruby go through it is even harder than than going through it myself.
And Ruby, although she would never gravitate toward the literary magazine, got particularly fired up this past week about an assignment her English teacher gave them: “Do you think you’re a nerd? Part of the in crowd? A little of both? Write about it.”
I share her answer here with her permission:
I don’t want to categorize myself. Categorizing people is wrong. There is not just one side to things. It’s not like it’s as simple as right and wrong. It’s more like I’m not a nerd. I’m not in crowd. I’m not a little of both. I’m just there. I do what I’m told. I do my own thing. I have my own small group of friends. I’m just trying to get through middle school. I don’t think anyone should be categorized. I’m mad about this question because I don’t think we should have to categorize ourselves because we are all different and we all feel different ways at different times and categorizing people is wrong! Middle school is a tough time for a lot of kids and I don’t think we should categorize anyone. Kids at St. Martin’s all do our own thing and we will get through it and then it will be over and done with. Certain times I feel more popular. Certain times I feel more alone and sad. Probably other kids feel the same way. That is how emotions work.
It’s funny how similar her answer is to what I would’ve written at the same age.
I asked her the other day when I picked her up how the “girl drama” was going, and she just shrugged.
“I don’t pay attention to it anymore,” she said. “It finally occurred to me that I’d be happier about my life if I just worried about myself and not anything else I can’t control.”
Finally. She finally learned that. She’s 11. I’m 38, and I’m not sure I’ve learned that yet.
One other thing I’m pretty sure that we both have in common, though: We’re going to make it out of middle school just fine.