A Memoir of Sixth Grade.
Sixth grade was the year I faked sick so much that by November I hit the allotted number of days you're allowed to take off for the whole school year. I'm pretty sure I was not really sick even one of those days. Sixth grade was the year I once flushed the toilet with the door open and then ran to drag my mom back to the bathroom to show her (the lack of) evidence that I had just thrown up. When anyone who knew me, and very much my mom, knew that I don't throw up. It was also the year I prayed to the gods and goddesses that I could just break my ankle or my wrist or something drastic but not too drastic. Nothing as bad as throwing up (god forbid!) but something that could make me miss school for awhile or at least make people feel sorry for me. I think people felt sorry for me anyway.
Sixth grade is probably not easy for very many people. I always look back on it like I suffered more than anyone else, had more fear than anyone else, was more awkward than anyone else. Although that - I might take credit for. I styled my bangs straight up into the air with half a can of hairspray a day. I also had gotten one baby tooth knocked out (accidentally) by my paddle-swinging-brother and he knocked another front tooth so loose that the permanent tooth grew in backwards behind the loose tooth. And this was before my braces. My neighbors called me "One Tooth Willy." So there was that.
I had gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten but Jefferson School ended at 5th grade. We were all sent for one year to Lincoln Roosevelt where we were joined by the 5th grade graduates of a few other schools. We were all dumped there awkwardly, away from the warm, comforting nest of familiarity that we had grown used to since kindergarten. And this was the year that the popularity hierarchy really kicked in. It had tried and failed to happen in 5th grade but it just couldn't gain wings since we had all known each other since the days of peeing our pants. (Hey, some of us still peed our pants.) My friends situation wasn't great. It was to become great, eventually, but I hadn't yet met you wild women who took me sanely into middle school. This was the time of titles and this was when I thought you had to have a best friend. These days, I have my husband, my daughter, my sisters, and a handful of "best friends." I prefer that. But back then, my "best friend" had gone to Lincoln Roosevelt earlier than me and and had already found a new group of friends in the enrichment classes during the extra year or two she was there. I was alone.
There were two popular groups. First, the popular, pretty girls and their slaves...cough, cough...friends. Second, the popular, smart girls who were actually decent people and never wound up as druggies and sometimes stood up to the popular, pretty girls. Not that the popular, smart girls or anyone else weren't also very pretty. The popular, pretty girls were just the ones who told you they were pretty and made you believe it. (It wasn't always true)
For some strange reason, I was put in enrichment classes with the popular, smart kids - a group I had very little in common with. It wasn't that I wasn't smart. It was that I was bored and a classic underachiever. My math block started in 6th grade, a block that wasn't even "real" - considering that I placed OUT of math during my college placements and haven't had to take it since. But the enrichment kids. They were tight-knit and driven and had leadership skills. I was afraid, so afraid and I hid behind my books and my big hair. I wasn't even a classic nerd so I couldn't hang out with other classic nerds. I was truly my own breed and I wouldn't find myself for many more years. (assuming it's ever happened) I still remember one of the popular, smart girls whispering to a friend of mine IN FRONT OF ME, "Do you like her?" and pointing to me. My friend, god bless her, said "yes." She reads my blog and if she knows who she is.. I want you to know that YOU RULE.
Then there were the teachers. It was team teaching but I can only remember three of mine. Maybe there were only three. I had Miss MacEvoy for homeroom and Math. She...did not help me with my math block. She made it worse. She showed us that birth video that a lot of kids watch at some point in their school careers. Some people got grossed out or scared and had to leave the room. I didn't.
Miss Kennedy was my English teacher. She taught us about HIV. It was when the media was all over Magic Johnson's diagnosis and Miss Kennedy asked us what would happen if she kissed him. ("If I had a gooood kissing with Magic Johnson.") She asked us if you can contract AIDS through kissing. We blinked at her. I wonder how that lesson would go down these days. It went down well with me but I'm not sure I needed it.
Lastly, I had Mr. Buro for Social Studies. He's probably the teacher most kids remember forever above all the rest. He had a reputation as being the best teacher on earth so you can imagine how delighted I was at the end of 5th grade to learn I'd be his student. The first day of class he ran into the room at full speed and stopped short in front of a girl with a barrette in her hair that was decorated with these colored pieces of latex that looked like deflated balloons. He then pretended he was trying to blow them up like balloons. He was "on" most of the time. He was interesting, smart, kind, intuitive, funny and sensitive - everything you'd expect the best teacher on earth to be. But he could get worn out. It's hard being "on" all of the time and being so much to so many people. People surrounded him always, even during free periods. Sometimes I could see through all of the clownish behavior that he had weakness and pain too, just like the rest of us, but it wasn't always easy to tell. He had two children of his own.
One big day, he invited a few of us to eat lunch with his lovely young daughter. It was me, him, his daughter and a group of tight-knit popular, smart girls that I did not fit in with. I wanted to meet her and I was honored to be invited but I felt like I shouldn't be there. I felt like this young beauty would see the glaring "Loser" sign on my forehead. So I said nothing through lunch. I hung back feeling about as awkward, ugly and stupid as someone could possibly feel. I looked down at my lap. And I heard her say, "Who's that, Daddy?" Mr. Buro must have answered her and she said, "She's pretty." I was 110% positive they weren't talking about me so I didn't even look up. There was a silence and I lifted my head after several seconds and one of the girls said to me, "She's talking about you. Say thank you!" Wow. I so needed that one. Obviously since I remember it to this day. What a little angel.
Somehow..the year ended with my finding my own slightly different, unclassified kids. And I was asked to the sixth grade dance by three boys, all wonderful (at the time), all of whom I would eventually date in 7th grade. The electricity was out in my house the morning of the last day of school dance and I curled my bangs in the dark. I was hopeful until I got to school, looked in the mirror and found out that they looked...awful. And I mean awful. And yet one of the cutest boys ever asked me to dance to "Tears in Heaven." And even some of the popular kids asked me to hang out that day. Maybe people liked my electrically-shocked bangs. But my true theory is that I was starting to find myself and gain confidence. I had survived 6th grade. People are drawn to that sort of survivor, strong, independent stuff. I'm sure of it.
Which year was it for you? The year you struggled the most and maybe even gained the most knowledge and strength..