First day of 5th Grade. A new school year. A new, grown-up “tween” world view. A new uniform shirt color. She told me at breakfast this morning she felt nervous, an unusual admission on her part. Reason? She didn’t know who (which friends) would be in her home base/fine arts and content classes.
She will no doubt form her own memories of 5th Grade, her own mirror to gaze upon when her own child or children begin the school year.
I remember Jimmy Wertz, with his reddish-blond crew cut, freckles, and impish eye. I remember Mrs. Patton, who went on to become a school district administrator. I remember staging a class play of “Charlie Brown Christmas,” with scripts I spent hours handwriting, and the “after” Charlie Brown Christmas tree, made of white posterboard attached to a broomstick.
But 5th Grade also had a darker side. It was the first year I remember kids mercilessly teasing one classmate in particular. I can’t recall what it was that initially triggered the cruelty, but I’ve never forgotten being part of it.
We made fun of her name, probably about some aspect of her personal appearance. I still remember the little rhyme we created, to the the tune of “The Addams Family” tv theme. It’s remained Super-Glued to my brain.
We were mean.
I don’t remember if she ever told anyone, and I don’t recall Mrs. Patton telling people to stop.
I also don’t know what happened when she went home. Did she cry? Did she tell her parents? Did she hate her classmates, or even going to school?
Today, this is openly recognized as bullying. Then, we thought — when or if we thought — we were simply teasing someone.
My own experiences in today’s bully-conscious schools have shown me there are now mechanisms in place to help address and counter this type of behavior. Students are lectured, educated, info-tained and generally taught about bullying, and what to do if they are being bullied by an individual or by a group of schoolmates.
It has a touchy-feely kind of vibe. But it’s also a potential lifeline for kids who are suffering at the hands of their classmates. It might deter someone from spewing cruel words, seeking to make others laugh while hurting someone’s feelings.
Treating someone this way — bullying — has lifelong ramifications. The subject of the cruelty carries the scars forever, even if they’ve reckoned with the situation and pushed it behind them.
But it can leave a mark on the “bullies,” too.
I’ve never shared these memories with anyone. I’m clearly not proud to have been part of this, ganging up on a fellow student and making her miserable.
I can’t imagine my daughter being on either side of the situation. I believe her naivete and overall goodness would prevent her from ever being so cruel.
But I also know how angry and hurt I would feel if I were to learn she was the subject of scorn and ridicule while at school.
My anger would rise and my heart would break.
And now I regret never realizing someone could be so deeply hurt, whether a student or a parent, when something like this happens.
Time and age have provided perspective for me.
I’m hoping her 5th Grade memories will be the normal combination of sweetness, success, friendship, learning — a bit of frustration, of course — that aren’t tainted by foolish cruelty.