Trigger warning: Middle school bullying
It is 3am and I just woke up from a nightmare about middle school. Well, it was sort of about middle school and sort of about graduate school in the way that dreams are. I was fumbling for money for the light rail and shades from middle school showed up to make fun of how I was in PE…
Middle school was extremely traumatic. It has taken me decades to (I thought) mostly get over it. But apparently I can still have anxiety dreams about it.
One of the worst bits (that #2 is tired of hearing about because the girl in question went to our boarding school too) was when a girl at my lunch table who I went to church and choir and Sunday school with and had all my classes with invited all the other girls at the lunch table (and in the G/T track) to her house for an overnight party and deliberately excluded me, complete with whispered not talking about it around me the next day. The “don’t let her know” part was the worst, I think. Really drove home that the exclusion was deliberate. Later her mother was a teacher at boarding school– I should have asked how she let that happen (that’s an insight from 3am).
Once I was invited to an overnight party in middle school. A very nice girl who wasn’t in my classes but was good friends from elementary school of someone at my lunch table (who both went to my church and occasionally invited me to her house in a “don’t let other people know I invited you” sort of way) and current friends with another girl in my neighborhood who was generally kind to me, invited me to a come as you are party. A mini-van driven by her mother with a few girls in it showed up to my house, bundled me in, and we went around driving to pick more people up until we landed at her house. People treated me normally, not like a social pariah. It was fun. They feathered my bangs. We watched a Steve Martin movie on VHS. We played games like twister. I listened about boy crushes. Everyone was nice. In the morning we had fruit pizza with custard (which became my favorite dessert as of that morning). She didn’t need to include me, but I was included, and I cherish that memory.
And I suppose I shouldn’t completely blame the girl who excluded me… In 6th grade the math/science teacher was a huge bully and the excluding girl and her best friend were his favorites while I was one of his victims (not an easy mark of a victim though– we had an exam where the instructions explicitly said to always round up in this situation, and he was berating the class as stupid for not rounding down despite what the instructions said. That led to him saying if I was so smart why didn’t I teach the class and I said I’d be happy to, and then he asked how many people wanted me to teach the class. I cherish the sole kid in the class brave enough to raise his hand. I am still grateful to John K. Sadly, 6th grade was the last year he was tracked into GT math/science so the only time I really came across him again was as a young adult when he was a cashier at Walmart. Also my parents had complained earlier that year when that teacher gave me a B one quarter even though I’d never earned lower than an A- on an assignment and he switched the grade to an A after he could show no basis for the grade other than some blustering about how my lines weren’t completely straight in my graphs and I needed to better use a straight-edge. He retired the next year.) Prior to that year, the first girl had been nice to most people, even including the developmentally disabled girl who was the only person in school equally reviled to me (incidentally, said developmentally disabled girl saw me as lower on the pecking order and would call me names, but I never blamed her for that). That’s a 3:30am mental connection. Adults set the tone of school in ways that can have lasting effects.
So… thank you Emily, even though I can’t remember your last name. I have remembered your kindness throughout my life and have tried to emulate it. In high school and college and beyond, I have always tried to be inclusive and to never leave anybody out. The more the merrier. And I’ve encouraged my children to do the same. Bullying sucks. Exclusion sucks. Small acts of kindness and inclusion can make a big difference in someone’s life.