Seventh Grade is Corporate America

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

Thirteen years ago, hugely pregnant with my first child, I read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. I laughed so hard I nearly snorted myself into labor. Describing the final weeks of her first pregnancy (as an unemployed 35-year-old single mom, no less) Lamott writes:

 

“The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I’ve ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit. It was Lord of the Flies. Springtime for Hitler, and Germany. So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead?”

 

I knew exactly what Lamott meant. In 8th grade, the popular girls put deodorant and Listerine in the locker of another girl (hint, hint) and then claimed they were doing her a self-improvement favor. After my best friend and I and a third girl snagged the three leading lady roles in the school play, on opening night, my friend and the new girl showed up like twin sisters, having gotten their hair and makeup professionally done (it was a period piece), making me look and feel like an unloved, straggle-haired stray cat on stage next to them. Another friend told me she had cancer (not true, but I didn’t figure that out for several days, as everyone else sniggered at my concern). The same girl told everyone in the class she’d seen my dirty, smelly maxi pad through my gym shorts. You get the picture.

 

So now, that big baby is getting ready to enter 7th grade. Hot on his heels is baby number two, a girl born 20 months later. She’s set to enter the 5th grade, which with age inflation for girls at least has become the new 7th grade. This summer I feel like I’m in the church pew preparing to witness two sacrifices at the altar, as both kids inch closer to The Pit into which preteen school children descend. My stomach hurts for them, just imagining the cruelty and paranoia that lies ahead. I feel like locking them in their rooms for two years, or at least convincing them to take a vow of silence at school, even around children who have been their sweetest, most caring friends since kindergarten. Because middle schoolers lost in the maze of early adolescence can turn into children possessed by the Devil.

Ggirl
07.28.09

Well, in that case . . . ;)

True enough - I agree that you need to stand up for yourself.

leslie morgan s...
07.21.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Oh no, she really really deserved it! and i never got caught.

just kidding...i see your point but i also think sometimes you need to stand up for yourself, and sometimes you need to fight back. we need to teach our kids this too. but each family/each person finds a different way to do this. sometimes the best way is to step back or avoid the fight all together, and to know inside that you are doing the right thing not matter what the group is doing.

Ggirl
07.21.09

Yikes. Despite having a utterly horrible middle school experience, I can certainly forgive those girls now. And, although I empathize with you, I can't agree that going through it is training for thriving in corporate America. Whereas I can forgive the teenage girls, less so for adults that participate in that kind of behavior. Sorry, even the card thing crossed the line for me (I say without judgment). I'd like to think that the lesson to getting through it is not that you are preparing for a lifetime of middle schoolers, but rather that the behavior doesn't translate into adulthood (hoping that the bad professional experiences were the minority). Otherwise, if that's corporate America, I hope my kids have no part in it (admittedly a bit naive -- but, we have to do our party to make our kids' world better than ours, don't we?).

But, of course, there isn't much we can do but support our kids. I attribute much of my survival to confidence. I think that is the greatest tool you can give your children. It may have been pushed to the test, and gone into hiding for a while, but it got me through life then as well as as a professional now.

Thanks for getting me thinking about this - will definitely check out Lamott's book.

alovett@nycap.rr.com
07.21.09

Added to the usual middle school angst for me was the fact that my mother taught Spanish in the middle school I attended. AND I WAS IN HER CLASS. But I had a few things going for me. #1, my best friends took French, so our relationships remained intact. #2, the fact that my mom was their teacher made me really, really popular among the kids a year behind me, even if I was a total geek and nerd to my peers. So I actually had a following that continued into high school! (I think they thought being friends with me would help their grades.) And #3, since Mom was in my school, she was aware of what was going on in my life without my having to tell her every gory detail. Like the school bully (a girl) who was serially harassing all the girls in our grade. Yes, I was embarrassed and mad when Mom gently, um, warned her never to lay a finger on me or any of the other girls in school. But deep down, I was grateful.

Being part of organized activities also helped. Because there were both younger and older kids participating in "modified soccer," chorus and band (yes, I was a band geek), I was able to break out of the cliques in my grade. There was safety in numbers--we geeks far outnumbered the jocks and the popular kids.

RMB
07.21.09

Gird your loins. You are in for some tough years. I have two teens, 16 and 13, I tell my oldest that we are caught up in a time when she needs to learn to let go of home and venture out on her own, and her dad and I need to learn to let her go. Sometimes we do a masterful job of both. I know I will cry like a baby when it comes time for her to leave.

Being a teen today is very challenging. I interviewed a middle school teacher who has two daughters of his own. I asked him for words of wisdom on what it takes to be a high-achieving, balanced middle schooler. I got more than I could have asked for. Here are his comments:

http://suchasmartmom.com/2008/12/28/dedicated-students-are-inquisitive-a... (Scroll down to the section on John Rick.)

Needless to say, parents, we are the key. Be strong, be fair, be loving. Keep a close eye on their friends. But do not be their friend. Let them make mistakes and help them learn from them. Praise their hard work. Do not do their hard work for them.

Here's another great story on raising hard-working teens: http://suchasmartmom.com/2009/05/05/want-smart-kids-praise-the-effort-no...

It's a crazy time - but I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Best,
Ruth at SuchASmartMom.com

leslie morgan s...
07.21.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Lima -- Tell me more! What was so terrible, exactly? Anything you or your parents or your school could have done to help? Any advice?

Lima
07.21.09

Oh my goodness, my heart goes out to your kids! I had a terrible middle school experience myself, except mine started in 5th grade and did not end until the 8th grade. I even switched schools the summer between the 6th grade and the 7th and it was still terrorizing.