Most of what I remember about middle school included divining the seven circles of the pubescent inferno: hormones, boys, cliques, sexual confusion, math trauma, gossip and growth spurts.
Not all kids pass through the math trauma level, but it sucked for me. For you, that level of hell may have been diagramming sentences or tests or acne.
The point is that most of us passed through the middle school inferno, and most of us survived. Though I survived, the memory of middle school still has the power to make me cringe. And now my role is to help a young girl — my own kid — through these Stygian years.
Like me at that age, my girl is physically small and a tomboy who doesn’t get girl dynamics. I still don’t get girl dynamics either, and that’s OK. I’ve survived with a few close girlfriends — most of whom are still tomboy types. Probably because those were my friends during the growth spurt days, when half the girls I knew suddenly looked like Carmen Electra while the other half (me and my friends) continued to resemble pre-pubescent Ugly Betties.
Yeah, I was late to develop. I never did develop much up top, if you know what I mean. Nowadays, there are fourth graders who need larger bra cups than I do. I don’t know if it’s due to genetics, hormones in dairy, or higher obesity levels, but it seems that kids are hitting their growth spurts earlier and earlier.
But not my kid. Which has been a frequent topic of conversation at our house (but I’m not allowed to write about it — I’ve consented to censorship, by her at least).
Partially to give our girl a chance deal with all the emotional changes while catching up on the physical, she’s attending a small independent all-girls school — tough on the wallet, but a bit less hot than some other options. This school seems to offer a slightly gentler inferno — an oven set at 325 degrees instead of 450. Or at least that’s what we’re hoping.
For girls, in particular, middle school can be crazy — physically, emotionally and academically. The hormones and body changes and emotions and mood swings all combine to turn formerly sweet elementary-schoolers into raging she-demons (And did I mention that I’ll probably be hitting menopause at about the same time my daughter’s going through puberty? It’s gonna be fun and games at our house).
Middle school’s also the time when many girl scholars lose interest in academics and become intimidated by subjects such as math and science.
Research shows that female students are just as interested in these subjects at the elementary school level, but deeply embedded stereotypes and fear of embarrassment (especially in front of boys), tend to change that once girls hit puberty.
However, parental attitudes toward these subjects plus self-confidence can keep girls on track — both in school and while dealing with those other circles of hell.
That’s going to be my challenge. I’m still intimidated by math, but I don’t want to pass my insecurities on to my girl (I totally messed up her fractions homework last year while trying to help). So I’m just going to keep reminding her that she’s smarter than I am, while hoping that the “new” math will ease her comprehension. And I’ll let her dad help with the math homework.
I hope the all-female mix, the small student-to-teacher ratio, and the constant monitoring of mean girl dynamics at her school will help me support her as she finds her own way through the next three years. I’ll be trying, too, not to revisit my own memories of that vicious and confusing time too often.
Wish me luck.