With my own children deep into the drama-fest that is middle school, I've been thinking a lot about my own middle school (grades 5-8) experiences. For the most part I think we can all agree that middle school is a form of torture for most kids (although Skyler seems to be kicking its ass). I mostly have memories of being shy and awkward and not fitting in. The more these thoughts crossed my mind, the more I thought about one person who absolutely made a difference in my life. Someone who did the thing I always beg my kids to do...she talked to me. She invited me to sit with her at lunch. She didn't see a reason to consider me the awkward weird kid that I felt that I was. We're both 41 years old now and I still remember her kindness as transformative.
I've mentioned here before how shy I was as a child. I always had a book in my face, a. because books are awesome, and 2. because it was a defense implemented to set a wall between me and other people. In seventh grade, I had English class with Mrs. Maguire (everyone loved her - where is she now?), and was seated behind Melanie. She was smart and pretty and all the boys loved her. But the best part was that she'd turn around in her seat and talk to me. My immediate defense was to think "is she making a joke of me? Can I really just sit and chat with her?" I was cautious for a long time. I wasn't quite sure what to think but loved the idea that I could be one of her friends. Then one day, as I was coming out of the line in the cafeteria, she waved to me and asked me to sit with her and her friends. I adopted the deer-in-headlights stance and wanted so badly for her to mean it although I was terrified of being made fun of in some way. But I did it, I sat at her table. I became friends with her and her friends. I finished off my middle school years a lot less awkward and ready to tackle high school, a bit of confidence and a group of friends you are comfortable with can do that for a kid.
Though Melanie moved away at the end of eighth grade (or before?), I have always remembered her for this kindness. I give her credit for the teen I became, who had a lot more confidence and much more armor against the idea that "you aren't good enough" and when those didn't work I was able to fake it. I have never thanked her for this although I have thought of it often, mostly when I'm telling my kids that they should always befriend the new kid, ask a quiet loner to sit with them at lunch, and just know that everyone has something going on and none of us are ever as confident and "cool" as we are perceived to be and that you will be remembered for your kindness and the fact that you made a difference in another kid's life.
Thanks to the wonders of facebook I am friends with Melanie and I enjoy watching her raise her beautiful daughter and laugh with her at the stupid things we all post to our pages.
I'm going to post this and send the link to Melanie and you know what? I still feel a tiny bit like I'm emailing one of the cool kids.