On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters.
You’ve changed since I was 12. I remember you a shadowy room, full of the odor of the science teacher’s imported-to-Iowa sea water and “mystery powders,” which we burned over open flames or fizzled with vinegar. You housed our “personal development” unit, in which us girls awkwardly sat under the teaching of a female stand-in instructor who handed us postcards we could fill out and send in to receive free personal development “kits.” We didn’t have our periods, silly, but of course we would be intrigued by anything free, especially tampons and sanitary napkins in bright purple cardboard boxes designed specifically to pique our interest.
I self-consciously wore my mother’s clothes here, her yoke-front jeans skirt and button down shirts. My hair sported a ponytail on the side, my ears big hoop earrings. Our homeroom and science teacher, who I adore retrospectively, dragged us on outings particular to his passions: he had a religious fanaticism for raptors and life in the ocean. And he expected a lot from us girls, as he should have, reprimanding me for dropping out of the Extended Learning Program, reprimanding my table-mates for their own drive-lessness. You were lethargy and boredom for me, Sixth Grade. Seriously, who flipping cared about owls like that?
I was depressed (parents divorced that year, blah blah), but I kind of thought everybody was (and has been) with you, but I’m watching my Oldest now in the same school district and it’s like you are her very own personal social club and crack cocaine. Who needs Facebook and uppers when they’ve got Mr. Snyder’s sixth grade classroom? She’s having so much fun that she doesn't even notice the fact that she's learning, and I do know she’s learning because her test scores come back higher and higher, and she placed into pre-algebra for junior high math next year (which I didn’t even know you could do, SG. And that's how all the smart kids got a year ahead of me in math!).
Truly, you're like this recently-come-near relative who’s won the lotto, presenting us with gifts and delights you were never able to offer before. And we take full advantage: to hear Oldest talk, you’d think her teacher was a stand-up comedian (deemed “Most Ironic” of anyone in the class). At certain times he lets them have smart phones in the room where, I should add, there seems to be a steady stream of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Hunger Games references, jokes, nonsensical gibberish, dares, and ground-rolling stunts that the entire room finds profoundly funny. Oldest repeats the same ludicrously-funny-to-her stories ad nauseum around the dinner table. Sometimes I have trouble catching the joke. “It’s sixth-grade humor!” she cajoles.
I don’t remember you being such a riot.
No hard feelings though. I’m glad you’ve changed. I’m glad you’ve been good to my oldest baby. Third and Fourth were not so good, downright traumatic really. So thank you for an environment where friendship and endearing nicknames grow. And for friends with whom she’s coordinating matching outfits, surprising the gym teachers and the principal with a triplet of brainy dark glasses and black blouses with white polka dots. And that she’s having so much fun and such good self-esteem (really, she doesn’t hesitate to declare “I’m amazing!”) that the love of one of those unshowered, scab-picking sweet young men in her class is Completely Unnecessary and goes Completely Unnoticed.
Seventh has a lot to live up to.
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