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The scars life leaves…

27 Oct

 

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Seventh grade me, posing by the front door, ready for my confirmation (hence the stole)

 

 

I think it was November. I remember it was some time in the middle of the week. A Wednesday or Thursday perhaps, but one of those days where there’d been a day or two of normalcy, and then a day or two of the new reality.

It was seventh grade in the Catholic school I’d gone to for all but kindergarten. It was my hothouse of growth, the second-biggest part of my life outside of home. It was where I spent half my day at, with people I’d spent seven years of my life with.

I thought I was liked. I thought I had friends. Looking back, I can see the great divide between school and home life. We were at the edges of the school boundary line, so I didn’t really have school friends in my neighborhood. I had my friend Laura*, who lived on the same block as me – but Laura went to the public school. My school friends stayed at school, except for the occasional birthday party or sleepover.

By seventh grade, my world had already been shaken. My dad had left when I was in fifth grade, something we didn’t make public knowledge for the first year because there was I guess hopes of reconciliation. By seventh grade, it was generally acknowledged that he was gone.  We were adjusting to the new normal of a one-parent household and Sunday visitations and Dad having an apartment in the city.

And so one day, I sat with my friends at lunch, and everything seemed normal to me. The next day, I walked up to the table and before I could sit down, one girl looked up at me and told me I couldn’t sit there, they didn’t like me anymore. “Go sit at the loser table.”

Because of course there was a loser table, even at my nice Catholic school, with sixty-odd kids in the seventh grade class, all of whom had known each other for years.

I remember some of the other girls didn’t look at me. I remember the spokesgirl smirking. I remember going over to said loser table and asking if I could sit with the two girls there. I don’t know if they asked what had happened, but it didn’t matter, because I had no answer for them.

Adults at the time gave me theories. It was because I was too popular and as the one popular girl moved away, the position of queen bee was open, and the other girl really wanted to be queen bee. It was because my parents had split up and that was “catching”, so I was ostracized for that.

But as an adult myself, I think it was more basic than that. I was an awkward girl with a speech problem, a skin condition, and a bad haircut. I was a dork. I was the opposite of cool. It was seventh grade, and let’s be honest, 12 year old girls are kinda scary and mean. In a way, I was ousted for totally normal reasons.

My status as a social pariah became well-established overnight.

Not only did just about every girl in the seventh grade class stop speaking to me, but the boys did as well. Well, except when those boys were teasing me. And by teasing, I mean taunting my height or my speech problem – which had become my normal and I had been told to just ignore. No teacher seemed to notice my sudden change in status, or the cold shoulders I was given by my peers. There was too much going on in the school administration to notice one girl.

It wasn’t all horrible because I became friends with the other two girls at the outcast table. We hung out after school hours. I introduced them to my friend Laura, and we all became a group of friends.

It wasn’t all horrible. Until it was.

For some reason, the two girls who had befriended me in my time of need decided to also cast me off, taking Laura with them.

And there I was, in late spring of 1985, completely friendless.

I begged my mom to let me change schools, to go from the Catholic school to the public junior high. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending one more year in an environment where I was friendless and ignored. Catholic school was getting too costly for my mom anyway, in her new single-mom status, so she allowed it. I went to a new school the following fall, which was a new school for everyone in the district. I made some friends, my friend Laura and I patched things up, and I moved on.

Sort of.

Because come high school, many of my Catholic schoolmates were once again my classmates. A couple of them and I became friends again. Some just pretended they never knew me – including the head mean girl who told me I no one liked me anymore. We had a couple of classes together where we just kept our distance from one another. And then, after four years, I left the state to go to college and never quite looked back.

And yet…

What happened to me in seventh grade had such an influence on the person I became. It is something that entwined itself into my psyche probably because it came at a time of great upheaval in my home life. Imagine having a year where no matter where you went, you were being rejected and everything you knew changed. Friends turned their backs on you, parents left, taking financial stability with them. Things you enjoyed doing had to be given up. In the space of two years, everything changed – including me.

I was taught, in hard harsh lessons, that I couldn’t trust people, that people would walk away from me, that people would stab me in the back and then ask for the knife back as if I stole it from them. I’d make friends and then wait for the moment they realized they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, certain that at some point, they’d realize I was a loser and leave.

It is something I’ve had to continually overcome all of my life. Which all sounds a bit ridiculous and overdramatic. But if it’d been a physical injury, it would be one that healed, but left scar tissue and a limited range of mobility. And considering it that way doesn’t seem overdramatic at all.

The amazing part to me is that those girls involved in the great unfriending of seventh grade probably have never thought of that Wednesday or Thursday in November. It wasn’t a pivotal moment in their life. It changed my world, not theirs.

Why does this matter now?

Because October is Bullying Prevention Month, or so social media keeps reminding me. And looking back, so much of my formative years were doused in some form of bullying, and it affected me. It affected how I developed and how I viewed relationships with people. It wasn’t something to just get over, because it wasn’t one thing, or one time. I didn’t have a bad day, I had a bad year. I had two bad years. Honestly, I had a few bad years.

Somehow, I came out of it all with only some baggage. Other teens don’t come out of it at all.

In a way, I’m a survivor. Feck that – I *am* a survivor. I’m scrappy as hell, and manage to overcome a lot despite what people have done to me. And I’m here to say to teens, if you’re going through the crappiest year of your life – it gets better. I promise you, it gets better. You will leave all that teen shit behind and step out into the bigger world and it will be better. I would never ever not for a million dollars relive high school. I made lifelong friends in college. I met a guy who likes me for the weirdo I am. Oddly enough, I’ve friended some of my old classmates on Facebook and like them for the adults they became.

And I’ve gone on to live a great life – something oddly enough, may not have happened if I had stayed in my comfortable little bubble of a world. My desire to get the hell out of town put me on a path to my current life, where I’ve done far more than I ever dreamed.

Will you get over what’s been done to you? I don’t know. I do know that wounds will heal and time will give you perspective. It may change you, but you can work with those changes and keep them from becoming negatives. The pain will lessen, and it will stop hounding your waking moments. You can learn how to thrive, and make your own path, find your own way. You can tattoo over that scar and make it something beautiful.

I promise – it can get better.

 

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Adult me, with my mermaid hair, sitting in a bar in Dublin, Ireland having a fabulous time (friend not seen because she was photographing me) 

 

*names changed for privacy  

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To the high schoolers about to meet my daughter

29 Aug

Hello Classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021! You all have two things in common!

  1. You’ll all be in the same high school.
  2. You will be going to school with my daughter Maura.

Yeah, consider yourself #blessed right now.

So you’re going to be in school with my daughter. Congratulations! Here’s what you’ll need to know…

Maura is going to be one of those newbie freshman scurrying about the halls. Except Maura doesn’t scurry, she booyahs her way into every room.

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Yes, you’ll notice her. You’ll notice this girl with fabulous hair and a sense of confidence that you’ll probably envy.

It’s okay, you can learn from her.

You can learn that it’s okay to be yourself, to be confident in who you are, to wear those clothes that make you feel fabulous, and to laugh loudly because it feels good to laugh.

You will watch her with some envy because of the way she enjoys life – but you know, you can too. My daughter doesn’t give a crap about what other people think. You can learn that from her as well.

You may be hesitant to do something weird or silly, because, you know, High Schooler. But then you see my daughter being silly because silly is fun, and fun is awesome and maybe you’ll stop being so self-conscious and do that goofy thing that makes you laugh.

You will definitely see her dance. Because dancing is fun. They say you should dance like no one is watching. No, be like Maura – dance because you want to and who cares if anyone is watching? Maybe they’ll join in. And in doing so, they’ll be another joining in, and then you’re six degrees from a flash mob and flash mobs are awesome.

And now, you’re watching my daughter with a bit of awe. That’s okay, I do the same. I’m in awe of her spirit, her ability to live life to the fullest. To love freely, unabashedly. To enjoy being yourself. It’s something to aspire to.

And while you’re watching Maura, you may notice her sister as well. Because she’ll be the second person in that potential flash mob. You’ll see her sister treat her…well…like a sister. She’ll treat her normally.

Because that’s all you have to do with Maura. Treat her like you would any classmate.

Oh, did I mention that Maura has cognitive disabilities? Yeah, there are those as well, but they’re not what make her stand out. Heck, her moaning and groaning over doing school work could make her blend in with the rest of you lot.

But here’s the thing – yes, she’s fabulous and confident and all – but she is also okay with you being fabulous and confident and all too.

So good luck, incoming freshman and all the upperclassmen who have to deal with them. May this year be full of awesome.

And to the high school teachers and admins – I’m still rooting that you get a margarita machine in the staff room. Because dang.

 

Teenagers, ammirite?

9 May

So…I have that heard of teens and that one who dared to turn 21 this year. Which, in retrospect, is great, because I can send the 21 yr old on a wine run for me.

Never leaving the house for the win!

I love my teens. But I’m no fool. I know not to trust them with anything. I mean, if my grown siblings and I still can’t be trusted together, why should I trust my teens?

Case in point –

Sean (the second eldest, the spare to the heir) was blowing bubbles in the house the other night. Mainly to get the Zoey dog in a lather. Because Zoey is an idiot for bubbles and leaps about biting them all.

Collin (the heir to our kingdom) thought this was hilarious. And then thought “Why not drive the dog crazy by holding her?”

The dog was like “No sir! You will not keep me from killing every bubble!” and leapt from Collin’s arms to do so.

 

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Zoey chasing bubbles outside. See that crazy look on her face? Yeah.

 

I find out about all this as I walk in the next day with groceries. Because they’re blowing bubbles for the dog to attack. In the living room.

Then Collin produces a balloon. “I can’t believe we still have one left.”

See, Sean decided to cover someone’s bed in balloons on April 1st. Then the balloons were scattered over the living room. I don’t know who enjoyed it more – Maura or Zoey. Between the two of them, they eventually died.

Except one.

Which Zoey was now chasing between snapping at bubbles.

I, of course, ignore all this. Because this is what passes as normal in our house. As I walk away, I hear someone say the words “water balloon”.

“NOT IN THE HOUSE!” I yell back.

And the boys died laughing because they didn’t expect me to hear it.

Fools. My brother and I – as teenagers – had an epic water fight which ended in a truce (he with the hose at the gate, me with a super soaker pointed into the window of his brand new pick up truck) and then having to mop the kitchen floor (it wasn’t me who was using the sprayer from the sink.)

I’m a gypsy raised by wolves, who produced her own carnival. We invented shenanigans, dear offspring of mine. I know all, see all.

And remember, Mother’s Day is coming. Buy me something hard to break.

 

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