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1.09.2007

HomeStaying Queen

I was never that girl in school.

I was never asked to dances, picked by team captains, invited to parties. I was relentlessly teased by the cool kids when I wasn't being, mercifully, ignored.

I remember we used to square dance during P.E. I don't know if they even do this anymore. Is there anything more demoralizing than the do-see-do? But, ten years ago this was their attempt to keep kids off drugs and out of their backseats. And it sort of worked because everyone loved square dancing. Because at least it wasn't climbing the rope with the amorphous Mrs. Holz and her trembling chin hairs.

Well, almost everyone loved P.E. square dancing.

The problem with the process is that the clueless teachers set it up so that all the girls would line up on the bleachers in the gym and then the boys would come choose us individually. Here's the best part: there was one more girl than there were boys. And every single torturous session the same thing would happen. THE SAME GIRL WOULD BE LEFT ON THE BLEACHERS.

We would each slowly be picked one by one by reluctant boys (at least mine was always reluctant) and the leftover girl would remain and watch the rest of us dance for the next hour.

The image of this lone girl sitting there, the forced smile on her face, high up in the middle of the bleachers while the rest of her entire ninth grade class danced and laughed has been indelibly imprinted on my brain.

As hellish as school was for me, imagine how it was for her. How does the human spirit, especially that of a 15-year-old, recover from that sort of rejection day after day?

I spent the majority of my adolescence believing I was unattractive and unloveable. This gave way to, as it often does, an adulthood where I have experienced hot dates, great friendships, and frequent promotions. True I owe this transformation in large part to my discovery of tweezers. But, it also seems to be the natural progression. People tend to peak either in high school or adulthood.

I often visit my hometown and when I do I frequently see justice prevailing:

The former football jock who never gave me the time of day hitting on me in line at the grocery store.

The ring leader who relentlessly teased me about my leg hair waiting at the bus stop in a Wendy's uniform.

The prom queen who I hear lives in her parents' basement with five kids from three daddies.

And I come home to my full life here where I have spent the 10 years since high school working on my personality and my relationships and my career and writing and my looks. And I realize that high school gave me the best life lesson. You have to work for what you want in life.

I never received the message that things would come easily for me or that I could skate along. I was always too well aware of my invisible status and that gave me determination.

So, now as a parent I have mixed feelings when Savannah's teacher tells me that "Savannah is so popular!". A big part of me feels tremendous relief that maybe she will not have to endure the torture from her peers that I did. But, another part of me wonders what she'll miss out on if she doesn't.

I often think of that girl up in the bleachers. I wonder if she's a mother now. I wonder what she hopes for her kids. I wonder what sort of person she turned out to be. And I have a feeling she's amazing.

55 comments:

Amy Lou said...

You have such a great head on your shoulders, Lena. I'll bet you anything that Savannah will be one of the rare breeds of "popular"--one that is kind to all and a great peer advocate. So, essentially she will be fighting for others.

I remember witnessing something similar to that...the whole "outcast" moment. The situation revolved around running "the mile" in middle school. There was a girl in our class that was very overweight and had a really hard time finishing the mile. And she had asthma to boot! The horrible, evil gym teacher would make us (both boys and girls) wait outside watching Casey finish b/c she wouldn't let us go inside until she was done. Apparently this was character building...please...it was humiliating. I remember crying when we got into the locker room b/c I felt so terrible for her.

She now works as a scientist for NASA and is a published author. I truly hope that everyone from our class knows this.

Sorry for the WAY TOO LONG comment---darn you for making me think!
:-)

Chris said...

Unfortunately, success never repairs the damage. Success is a coping mechanism and in many cases a symptom of traumatic youth-based events. In my view, only chocolate cake can make it all better. That an my blankie.

MelissaLBC said...

What a great post Lena. I still remember Sotero Campus making fun of my leg hair in 7th grade. He's got to be on probation by now!

Virenda said...

First off, I too remember square dancing.

I think that people can be so focused on "Oh she's so pretty" and "Oh he's a great at sports", that they forget to help their children progress past that.

If a girl is told she is pretty constantly, what need does she have to grow emotionally? After all, she's told from the very beginning that the physical makes her special. Ever wonder how many times a pretty little girl is told she's smart? Or funny? Or Kind? Or empathetic?

As a parent of 3 girls, I can tell you that my middle one (who's almost six) has N-E-V-E-R received a compliment (aside from her close family and friend), other then a physical comment about how pretty she is. What people fail to understand, or even look for, is that she's an exceptionally smart, funny, and warm child.

My daughter is far prettier on the inside, and I plan to nourish that as much as possible.

Dan said...

I hopped in from Kristin's.

This is a wonderful post, Lena. I feel for you (and the girl in the bleachers). I hated school for the same reasons -- often the guy who sat by himself on the bus to class trips. The straggler who had to basically beg to be part of a group.

Don't you just wish that you could go back for one day, with your new beauty and maturity, and be a kind back then once again?

I'm happy to be who I am today, as I'm sure you are. And had we not had our pasts exactly as they were, we wouldn't be exactly who we are today.

Karly said...

My time in high school was pretty good...not overly popular, but not a big "dork" either. I do remember a few times getting made fun of though and will probably never forget it.

I could cry just thinking about that poor girl sitting in the bleachers.

chirky said...

You expressed that so eloquently, and I kind of feel like leaving a comment is staining this entry, because there is no way my words can say any more aptly what you've already said.

Lena said...

Jes - as usual your comment makes me smile. Broadly.

blog Portland said...

I always picked the weird/freaky girl when we did the Texas two-step in P.E. That karma was never repaid to me on the basketball court though, until I myself became tall and mucho freaky senior year.

Izzy said...

High school was okay for me but middle school was fairly unpleasant. I moved before 9th grade and it was a lot better ater that. But I remember the girl you speak of. Sometimes she was me. Sometimes she was someone else. There were a lot of girls who wore that hat. I have a feeling we all turned out fine. Better than fine :)

(And dude...you have two blogs now? Same name, different content? One here and one at ClubMom? I am SO confused)

Kristen said...

I would not trade my high school experiences for the world. They have made me who I am today. Stronger.

Delton said...

Wow, great post! Interesting way of looking at things from the point of view of bleachers girl. It seems like a lot of us have been reliving high school memories on our blogs lately. I think all the garbage that so many of us suffered through back then just made us better, stronger people.

jennster said...

if that comment i jus made doesn't post, i'm goign to lose my shit

jennster said...

um. i posted the longest comment in the world and now it's gone and i cdant possibly write it all again and now i'm pissed

Butrfly4404 said...

I stopped counting how many schools I had been to when I hit 20. I was at a new elementary school every year. I learned very quickly about first impressions - and how you can choose to be anyone you want. Sometimes, I became very popular, sometimes (usually when I was upset about ANOTHER move) I was withdrawn and shy. A couple times I was THAT GIRL. By HS, I was a very well-rounded person (Okay, I was a horrible bitch in 9th grade and tortured some people - but by 10th!). I was friends with all kinds of people.

Point? I guess that I belonged to pretty much every social grouping there was in school and I turned out okay. Being popular didn't give me false ideals and being unpopular didn't scar me too much.

Really, all you have to do to popular in PreK is be funny and share. Those aren't bad qualities at all.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I hear you, lady. I'd never repeat high school but the hell I went through made me stronger.

Leslie said...

I wonder how miserable the popular kids were that they had to be so nasty. As adults I bet they feel guilty.

Recovering Wino said...

Tell me about it...I was such a unpopular dowdy girl in grade school/high school. I often wonder what will happen with my kids...

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