Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mind the Rule of Three

I used to work in special education (as a paraprofessional), and I know I missed my calling there. It came naturally to me, having grown up in a household with disabled siblings. I was nine when the older of the two was born. And since I spent so much time with my younger siblings and their peers, I was surrounded by kids younger than I from just about the age when you start to develop cognizant perceptions of people and who they are, right as you start to do it for yourself. Kids with disabilities were more "normal" to me than typicals, simply because I was around kids with disabilities way more frequently. 

I think this, in part, has to do with why I always despised my peers as a whole when I was in middle school. Not just having matured emotionally at an earlier time than most of them because of the home situation, but because having been around kids with disabilities so often, I found the behavior of my own peers without them insufferable. You see,  kids with disabilities often have behavioral problems, sure, but these can be traced back to their disabilities and how they're treated and cared for regularly; when given appropriate coping skills and in the care of people that understand  them, those behavioral problems can shrink down to a bare minimum. Kids with disabilities may seemingly behave selfishly, but that seemingly selfish kid may actually not be able to understand concepts like selfishness and its opposite, selflessness. They may act out, but if you figure out the trigger and eliminate it, it can be prevented in the future.*

Middle schoolers? They're just selfish assholes that act out at any given opportunity, for no other reason than the fact that they can't see past their own goddamned noses. 

You, right now

Yes, I said it. I can't stand middle schoolers. Even when I was in middle school, I couldn't stand  them. I think some of my peers thought I was stuck up, and in a way, I guess I was. Because I knew I was better than them. Not in the Pride and Prejudice kind of way, but that I was a better human being. I actually gave a damn about other people, I didn't try to be center of attention every second I got, I didn't make a scene over absolutely goddamned nothing

And duh, I get it. Middle school, your tweens, is the time in your life where, like I said already, you're starting to understand individuality in more intense ways than just "I need to poop" and "I want a puppy." It's puberty. It's when you're trying to attempt self actualization, without even really knowing what that is, or what it looks like, or what you want it to look like. When you start to want to do things outside the house with your friends, so you either need to bike or bus it, or figure out a way to cajole a ride from those assholes you have to call your "parents." It's social  pressure. It's really caring about what people think about you, while simultaneously trying desperately to not let that show, otherwise you're really uncool.

I get it. And I got it back then. But I was still disdainful at my peers writ large, en mass. Because, the way I saw it, just because you may be having a hard time on your own, you still didn't (don't) have the right to be an asshole (at least, not in a situation where no wrong had come to you- by all means, stand up for yourself and your beliefs). I guess that since I had had so many  huge things already happen in my life, I thought it was petty and pathetic that there would be so much drama over such stupid shit like backpack brand and who sat next to whom in the goddamn cafeteria. And I didn't realize  it, but a lot of that was privilege, on their  end- I went to school with some rich-ass kids, and while the biggest complaint  they could lodge with their parents was that they "need mo' allowance," I had dealt with violence, death, and so much pain, from personal, deeply influential experiences, that I couldn't relate to most of them. I couldn't relate to how all they cared about was themselves, when I had grown up caring so deeply for my family, and especially my younger siblings. From the moment the older one was born, I put them first, and I didn't understand how so may of the kids in school with me couldn't comprehend how to do that, ever. Especially the ones with siblings a similar age as mine- I had seen some  of these middle schoolers be mean to their younger siblings when we were in elementary school, and I especially didn't want to be around these individuals. 

Now of course, I had friends. I had tons of them, and because I was (am) so goddamned nice. And these friends were consistently also more mature than errbody else, which is why I wanted to be friends with them in the first place. I was beat up and made fun of, sure, but there were always specific reasons for that, i.e. someone with a personal grudge or beef with me over something entirely inane, but that was so goddamn important because... middle schoolers. (Sigh.) I was actually, I would say, of the Middle Class, socially- the Popular kids would sit or chat with me when not enough of their own people were around, and I would get invited to birthday parties by people of every ilk. I was usually more comfortable with other Middle Classers and also Lower Class kids, though, because they were usually less selfish and asshole-ee then the socially elite.

But back to the beginning. Like I said, I have always been extremely comfortable (one could say "at home") around kids with disabilities. So I get mildly embarrassed nowadays when I tell someone for the first time that I used to work in a special education room, and they get all reverent at me. They say things like, "You must have the patience of a saint!" or "Wow, that's amazing!" or "Ohmygod, really? I could never do that!" It feels weird to me, like they're really saying, "OH MY GOD YOU KNOW HOW TO BREATHE!"

Every bloody time...

Well, you know what I say to anybody when I find out they teach middle school?

"You must have the patience of a saint!" and "I could never do that!!!" Etc.

And I mean it. I could never teach a whole class of goddamn middle schoolers. I would literally prefer to be in a classroom where getting poop thrown at you isn't entirely unheard of than have to deal with middle schoolers all day. 

Now,  before you get all, "MY KID IS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HE/SHE IS AN ANGEL!" on me, let me get to my theory about middle schoolers, and why I was able to maintain friendships with them back then, and also why I've never actually strangled one to death.

See, they're fine on their own, or in pairs. Even in groups of three, they can be decent, even enjoyable to be around. I've met many a sweet, kind middle schooler in my adult life, and I'm more than happy to, say, keep an eye on a middle schooler on their own when in public. I like chatting up the middle schoolers that come to the store I work at when their parent(s) are busy, or when they're all at the register. I especially enjoyed ringing up families during the Back-to-School season when I was head cashier at an office supply store- I liked asking the kids their favorite subjects, if they played any sports or played any instruments, etc. Because I like kids, I do. And the poor things often look so painfully miserable to be there. When they're in smaller numbers, I actually try to engage. And when I was in middle school, I didn't usually do things in big groups (and whenever there were more than three involved, there was eventually drama, even if not immediately).

But when there are more than three...

I think it's a law of physics. Like  when too many of their bodies are in the same space, the chemicals in their brains start going  haywire, and they compulsively turn into walking turds that bump into you, block your way, yell in your ear, insult you, and go out of their way to make sure you can hear them swearing profusely. If you separate them out, they'll go back to normal and wonder why you're so upset with them, as if they can't even remember how bratty they were behaving literally ten seconds earlier. In packs, they act out, they give you the side-eye as they misbehave in public, making sure you're noticing them but totally playing it cool and pretending to ignore you. One-on-one, you can have meaningful conversations with them and enjoy their presence. 

To prove this theory, I went into the field earlier today to gather data, at my own peril, for the sake of Science. Namely, I went to a Safeway across the street from a middle school ten minutes after school got out.** 

And it was utter chaos.  

Packs of middle schoolers were running and shouting everywhere, flailing their  arms like Kermit the frog as they scampered from aisle to aisle. It was so bad, there were actually five security guards in a huddle by the registers as I left, and from what I could overhear, they were literally strategizing how to handle the groups of kids causing problems. But see, that's just it: the ones causing the ruckus were the ones in groups of four or more. Because I also saw a bunch of kids flying solo, or with one or two companions, that were much quieter and politer. While the ones running around in hoards would bump into me without a word, would congregate in the middle of the goddamn aisle, shouting as many swear words as they could fit into each sentence, would barrel out of the aisle without yielding to those passing***; if there were any less, they would smile and make eye contact, would apologize if they bumped into me by accident, would hold out a hand as if to say, "After you," if we both got to an intersection at the same time. Hell, I even saw a kid on his own bend and pick up the can an old lady just dropped for her, and while a cluster of five boys on the other end of the aisle was holding a shoving match, to boot.

I mean, damn, can you geta better symbolic moment than that??? Seriously. I'm picturing beams of light coming from the can as the solo kid hands it to the woman, her eyes glossing over in gratitude, an undulating blob of darkness behind them. Then the beams fade as the foreground and background slowly switch in clarity, and we discover the blob is actually a cluster of boys  rough-housing in the middle of a goddamn grocery store. ::cue horror movie music::

Bam! See? 

Yeah, yeah, I know, anecdotal evidence isn't proof of anything. But just as how the lived experiences of women may individually be anecdotal when it comes to harassment, while the overall reality is that women deal with a lot of shit men don't "get" every goddamn day, I find this idea of mine too often corroborated to be merely a whimsical notion made up all by me onesie. Because a number of (adult) friends of mine have said they feel the same about kids that age. That on their own, they're fine. But in groups, they're terrifying. 

And it makes me think, "God, I hope I do a good enough job that my kids aren't little snots like that when they're that age." This isn't to say  the behavior of every delinquent-esque middle school kid is the result of failed parenting. I just hope I can teach my kids the lessons I learned without them having to learn them the way I did.

And as an adult, I realize that was probably part of it, too: I was jealous of them, because I knew why we were so different had to do with how different our lives had been. I resented them for not having known the kind of pain I had. And no, not every friend I made then had experienced tragedy and trauma like my own, but you could say, in those cases, it was a mild form of bigotry with the, "Well, you're different," qualifier attached to the friends, "the exceptions  that prove the rule," or something. 

So no, I don't want my kids to live the way  I did. But I hope they act the way I did. That they  respect others (or at least,  those deserving), that they apologize for bumping into someone, that they save the swearing for the house, and that they be willing to sit  next to the school's biggest nerd when he/she is alone, too. And all this, even while they're in that "delicate stage" of life, or whatever the fuck it's called.

But I'll still tell them to keep their social engagements small. Three, at most. 


I would never wish any actual harm to a child. This was just a sort of rant from a stodgy old woman that doesn't appreciate getting her glasses knocked off by some kid flailing his arm and yelling at a friend, a kid that then laughs and  runs off with the rest of his buddies, and a chance for me to muse over something I've thought about a lot in the past. Like I said, I do love kids, and I would put myself in harm's way for the sake of a bunch of middle schoolers, if it came down to it.

*Yes, I know I'm being very simplistic, here, but hang in there with me.

**I lied. I actually totally forgot school was getting out, and I nearly got back in my car when I realized the huge mistake  I had made in going to that Safeway at that exact, unfortunate moment.

**Grocery Store Etiquette 101, you ALWAYS yield when exiting an aisle. 

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