Friday, April 11, 2014

Middle School: "At least they got out of my way so I'm not late."

"Middle" is often the less popular option. People like to be first (place, born, string, in line, edition, etc.), or last (born = baby of the family, piece, day of school, appointment, etc.). There are good middles (of life, of truffle, grilled cheese sandwich), but all too often there is one middle that is hard to face, and that is middle school. Today, I would like to share with you a bit about my middle school social experience and hope it can uplift others who may feel stuck in the middle.

I moved to Wenatchee, WA, at the end of 6th grade. I found myself being thrown into middle school and becoming a "Foothills Falcon". My previous school had 6th grade as part of the elementary experience, so, I was nervous to change classes ever hour, worried I be late everyday. Nobody ever told me that middle school was looked at by adults as a torturous state of being for transitioning youth from childhood to adolescents. So, I was very optimistic as I started my first day of middle school in the last month of the school year. 

Things seemed to come together. I figured out how to get to all my classes. (Side note: I still have nightmares of this particular middle school's halls as an adult, rushing around not being able to find any of my classes.) My teachers introduced me to everyone on the first days of class. I started riding the bus everyday. I was the first stop and the last stop of each day, so, it was a long 45 minute trip each morning and afternoon. But, things started to get difficult soon after that. 

I noticed that people started getting out of my way as I walked through the halls and would whisper something to each other and then eventually, they said it loud enough to catch my ear as I raced to my next class. 
   "You smell!" 
               "Do you wear deodorant?!" 
        "Do you smell that?"

It was really embarrassing as the WHOLE school seemed to gotten on board with the teasing, but I acted like it didn't bother me and  ignored them. I remember specifically thinking, "At least they get out of my way so I'm not late." By the end of the month/ school year, I was happy to get out of school and enjoy my summer. I just didn't really have a lot of friends, other than a few people who would talk to me on the bus and who would sometimes let me sit with them in the cafeteria at lunch. 

Over the summer, I turned 12. At church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), I graduated from Primary and started in the Young Women' Program (ages 12-17). I was surprised when everyone was so nice to me. None of my new church friends went to my school, but I saw them for a weekly activity and on Sundays. I was actually one of 2 students in my middle school who were a Mormon, the other was a boy, so, no help there for 12 year old me. Soon I was asked to help out in Young Womens and called to be a class secretary (take roll, take notes in class presidency meetings, make agendas, etc.). I attended some leadership training classes with my Young Women Adult Leaders. It was an eye-opening opportunity to learn about serving others. I was challenged to be the first to say "Hello" and notice when people in my class were missing & let them know I was thinking of them. I learned how to plan activities to highlight my peers interests, talents, and skills. This gave me a lot of confidence and I felt so much joy being with the girls in my church. 
Young Women Necklaces (Far Left, YW Torch- Basic, the
gold ones were earned by completing
YW Personal Progress Program.)

When the new school year started, I went back to middle school to begin 7th grade. I felt like I had a good handle on the school layout and wasn't worried about getting lost anymore. Unfortunately, the student body had not forgotten how much they loved making fun of me over the summer. I still tried to ignored them. Attempting to fix the "you smell" teasing problem, I purchased seven different deodorants--all different scents, and none of them got me a better reaction. I had bus friends pull me aside in the lunch room, saying "Can I ask you a question?" Internally, I was soooo excited to have someone talk to me, I said, "Sure!" Then they would proceed to shame me and ask, "Are you wearing any deodorant?" A group of girls closely watching nearby would laugh at me, because my bus-friend obviously had volunteered to make fun of me for the group. Feeling discouraged, I would logically explain to her that of course I wore deodorant. They'd say, "What kind?...'Cause it's not working!" (hahaha) This sequence of events started happening a lot. After a while it evolved into-- "What boy do you like?" I just started walking away and not answering the questions. 

One day, I sat down to eat my lunch with some bus friends (the closest thing to friends I had) and they all stood up without talking (highly organized) and went to another table together. This bothered me, so, I followed them...for 3 tables as they continued to switch back and forth...until one girl finally said, "Stop following us! Can't you tell we're trying to get away from you!" I told her and the others that we were supposed to be my friends, and they looked ridiculous running away from me." I finally left and ate by myself. One of those girls, I would see in the lunch line while I got a salad from the salad bar. She wouldn't ever say "hi" back. She just ignored me. After a few months, she exclaimed, "You don't need to say hi to me! I'm not going to say hi to you." I told her I was just being nice. We were friends once. I didn't do it to make her say hi to me. She rolled her eyes and walked off. (NOTE: A few months later, her friends exiled her and she eventually said "hi" back and half-smiled.)

Middle school continued to have many opportunities to test my resolve. I had my shirt stolen one day. HOW? Well, I was in a classroom play and the teacher told me that all the students leave their clothes in the hall bathroom while in costume. So, I left them in the bathroom with the other students' clothes. Well, when I got back, my shirt was no longer in my pile of folded clothes. It was a plain JC Penny Boys T-shirt in a muted color. Nothing awesome. I looked in the garbage, toilets, all over in my costume....but it was gone. I couldn't act like it bothered me, so, I called my mom and had her bring me a new shirt. She asked if I wanted to go home, and I told her no. That would make the lurking theif feel like they'd they'd gotten to me...or make me miss my school work! I put on my best happy face and finished out the day.

Another day, I had a former bus friend inform me that someone had put a note in my locker, but she wouldn't say who. I was suspicious. I was scared of what it would be. When I finally opened my locker, I found a fake "love" note about how much an secret admirer admired my "rolls". I didn't understand the term "rolls". The former friend said it was about fat rolls. "Great...." I thought to myself sarcastically. I walked away with the note, careful not to rip it up in front of anyone. Once I was out of sight, I tore it up into little pieces. (I had anxiety about opening up my locker the rest of the year.) I told myself to just be strong....and remember that it could be far worse. 
Drawn in Middle School.

One Sunday, I went to church and heard a lesson on the Savior and how he's always near. My teacher posed the question, "How would you live your life if the Savior was walking right next to you?" I thought about that a lot that day, long after class was over. I decided, I would make it a goal to always have the corners of my mouth turned up into a slight smile, especially as I walked through the halls of my school. The next day at school, I felt stronger as I pictured Jesus Christ right next to me. I didn't feel alone and wanted to be kinder. It didn't change how others acted, but it gave me the needed gratitude to be happy in the situation I was in, despite the challenges. 

About a month later, out of the blue, my science teacher saw me in the hall and started walking with me. He said, "I've noticed you're always smiling. Why is that?" I told him, I was just happy. He asked, "why?" I told him, "It could always be worse. When I spill food on my shirt in the cafeteria, I try to think, 'Well, at least it wasn't a whole gallon of ketchup.' Perspective helps me to be grateful for what I have." He said, that was "awesome" and "inspiring". He then asked if he could share what I do with his class (that I was in). I said, "Sure" since my peers already made fun of me, I didn't have anything to loose. I was happy to have someone notice me and give me positive feedback. The whole announcement went well. Some kids said that it was nice, but mostly, I felt noticed for something positive. It felt great.

Towards the end of the year, my confidence was helping me to stick up for myself when needed. For example, a boy in my health class  (actually he was in 5 out of 6 of my classes) stared to make inappropriate comments --sexual comments about my body. I told him to stop many times during the class. I warned him one last time that he was harassing me and I would report him to the teacher if he did not stop. He tested me--and made another comment. I quickly called over my teacher and used the phrase "sexual harassment" and I got immediate relief from the disgusting words this student wanted to hurt me with. It never happened again. 

In my math class, there was a girl-bully. She was really scary--tight high pony tail, angry eyes, if she smiled--something bad was going to happen--that kind of scary. This particular day, she was sitting in front of me. She wanted to give me a hard time while I was working on a worksheet/homework assignment. I don't recall what happened exactly, but she decided she'd put her index finger on my paper, pressing down as hard as she could so I couldn't move my paper out...and I'd have to deal with her. (Trying to intimidate me.) I told her to move her finger. She wouldn't, and without thinking, I took my pointer finger and thumb surrounded the top of her finger which she was holding down my page with, and without thinking, I scratched her finger. I KNEW she was going to try and hit my pencil out of my hand, so, I tightened my grip and kept my head down. Sure enough, she did try to hit the pencil out of my hand. She turned around and never was a problem for me again. I don't know if that was the best thing I could have done (hurting her), but it was minimal effort... to make the bullying go away. I felt safer after that.
CTR = Choose the Right
A reminderr on my hand.

You might be wondering what I told my parents about all this. The truth is, I didn't really tell them anything. I felt my father was too busy working and my mom would make things far worse by embarrassing me more than she could ever help. (Really! At one point she became the janitor for 6 months at my school--and it was obvious neither of us was cool.) I did ask for different clothes, more than JC Penney boy shirts...but since we were poor, it wasn't a realistic expectation. (My mom would probably tell you I wanted the boy shirts.) 

Finally, summer came!! Aaahhhhh! Every student's dream! I had more chances to be with my church friends and play outside. A little piece of heaven for a youth, especially girl's camp. It went by quickly.

When 8th grade rolled around, I felt like I knew what to expect. I was ready for the unwelcoming reception of former years. But what followed was very unexpected!

I walked through the school doors and I was suddenly one of the COOLEST people in school, without doing a thing. People said "Hey, how was your summer?"  I was looking behind me to see who people were waving at...but it was me! I had to stop their conversations with me to get to my next class. "What happened?", I thought. "I didn't have cooler clothes, I didn't have money.... people just were nicer." It was the beginning of a very different year for me in middle school. I still tried to get good grades, I still wore the same clothes, I still tried to smile all the time, I still rode the bus, did plays in drama, I was still the last person in gym class to complete the mile run. I hadn't changed. Everyone else had. I made friends with some people, and got crushes on two nice boys who hadn't ever made fun of me. Then about 6 weeks before the end of the year, my dad got a new job and was moving. I was in the height of my middle school social status...without doing a thing. I was sad to leave, especially my church friends who didn't go to my school. 

On my last day of middle school in Wenatchee, I had 5 surprise going-away parties thrown for me by my teachers and fellow students. I was given a few cakes, small gifts, and many cards, including a gigantic homemade card that everyone in the 8th grade had signed. The boys I had crushes on signed it....and I sighed with delight. I was so happy. 

I ended up not having to finish out the last 6 weeks of 8th grade in my new town, Woodinville, since I had straight A's in Wenatchee. In the fall I started JUNIOR high school... as a 9th grader. (basically middle school all over again) BUT I had it down. The key to life my life is to ignore, ignore, ignore the bad thoughts and tightly embrace the best people around me, remembering the Savior is always near, ready to comfort. I don't always remember my own advice, but when I do, I am happiest. My time in the "middle" was a much needed time for my personal growth. The lessons I learned about myself laid the foundation for much harder trials in my future, including family chaos and rejection. I am grateful I was blessed by a loving Heavenly Father to be happy in the midst of a challenge. It wasn't until I left middle school that I ever looked back and said, "That was hard." 

One thing I love about my church is General Conference, twice a year. It's a big meeting for 2 days (10-12 hours of content---LOTS, huh?!) where leaders of the church speak, including the prophet and apostles. On Sunday morning, last weekend, President Dieter F. UchtdorfSecond Counselor in the First Presidency (one of the prophet's counselors) said this on gratitude:

"Everyone’s situation is different, and the details of each life are unique. Nevertheless, I have learned that there is something that would take away the bitterness that may come into our lives. There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious.

We can be grateful!

It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding."

He also said:

"It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?

Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be."

I love that part, "gratitude is a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation". I know that Heavenly Father's has a plan that is eternal in nature.  If you are feeling in the "middle" of one of those types of situations right now, hang in there, see how you can grow, and be true to yourself.
I found this quote written on a piece of scrap paper in my scripture bag.
It's written with my young handwriting...I'm not sure what age I recorded it.
LINK TO THE TALK this is from.... 

Thanks for letting me share my story. It was therapeutic for me, if nothing else!


Amy said...

I looked up that quote by Mark E. Peterson:

Lindsay said...

Thanks Amy, I added the link to my post!!!

Yuko said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. It seems you have always been an outstanding person. The adversity you had endured only brought out the greatness that was within you, with the help of the guidance you took.

Cerebrus said...

Bullying is very difficult for any Jr high school student. I couldn't help but relate to my own life growing up. Another thought I might add, "This too shall pass..." I am glad you had one social group where you were accepted. The attitude "It could have been much worse" and deciding to smile... helped me as well.