Y raised her hand in homework block, so I went over to her, assuming I’d be answering another question about the Power of Powers rule (you multiply the powers: (X²)³ = X^6).
Instead, I was handed this:
I have only a vague idea of what she was talking about. She has certainly been chatty in my class and seems to get the other girls at her table chattering and giggling when they should be working on their homework. But to my mind she’d committed no act so egregious that it warrented an apology note. So I went over to chat with her.
“Thank you for writing me this note, Y. I see that you’re working now and that’s what matters,” trying not to sound confused.
“Ok, Ms.,” Y replied. “But…Ms. can I tell you somethin?” to which I nodded vigorously. “I don’t want to go to basketball practice today. Some of the girls are being mean to me, saying, like, saying I dunno how to play. Like just that I don’t know.”
“Hmm…so how does that make you feel?” I queried as I tried to wrap my head around the direction this conversation was going.
“Really bad, Ms., so I’m not going.”
“Ok well you don’t have to go but do you like playing basketball?”
“Yeah…I dunno…not as much as volleyball.” She is obsessed with volleyball and the school’s team won the city-wide middle school championship (despite have a 4 in 3 record, though that alone would have made them the winningest sport at the school this year).
“Well here’s the deal, Y. I want you to do what you want to do, not based on what other people say to you. Plus I think you should talk to the coach about what’s going on because it is not ok for people to say mean things and hurt your feelings.”
“Ok, Y, take the bathroom pass and a deep breath and then we’ll talk more later.”
At that point I was feeling a bit like I hadn’t handled that conversation super well. But it seemed like most of the other kids were paying zero attention and that she would be saved from any embarrassment of crying in school. I also wasn’t sure if she’d be headed to practice.
She didn’t go to practice. I pulled her aside at the end of the day and layed it out for her like this. She couldn’t just skip practice forever, she needed to talk to the coach. I offered to take her down to see him the next morning so she could fill him in. She didn’t have to play but she did need to at least tell him she was quitting. She nodded along and kept the tears at bay.
“I just don’t understand, Ms. Why do some people act mean and act like we’re friends?”
Ah yes, I thought, the classic frenemies question. Welcome to being a thirteen-year-old girl.
“Ooof that doesn’t feel good, does it?”
“No, Ms. I just don’t get it.”
“Yeah I hear you. That’s a common feeling.”
“You mean other people in this school feel that way?”
“Ha oh Y, people in this school, in this city, in this country, in this world. I’ve felt that way too!” Gotta throw in some good news: “But the good news is that you’re not alone and people grow up. How old are you going to be in ten years?”
“Um, twenty-three.” Older than Ms. A-P, but I didn’t fill her in on that.
“And that means that those girls are also going to be ten years older and you guys will be more mature. Not perfect, but..”
“No one is perfect, Ms.”
“Exactly! So you just keep being you and being respectful. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be nice, ya know? You don’t need to be friends with mean people, just use common decency.” Not sure she got that vocab word; she’s still building English skills. “Just be respectful. Plus in just a few months you’ll be at a new school for high school with a whole bunch of new people you can meet which is exciting.”
Which was met with the most skeptical look ever.
“Ok so it also probably makes you feel nervous, but also excited?”
“Yeah…” she replied, with a slow smiling spreading across her face. “Ok, Ms.,” she said, in what seemed to be a bit of a conclusion. I started to turn back to my computer to post attendance when she asked, “Ms. you walking to the bus right after school today?”
“I sure am!”
“Ok I’m gonna walk with you.” And with that she turned and bounced away to her locker.
“Let me just grab my coat!” I called after her.
We gathered our things and walked out into the freezing cold world of snowdrifts, the sounds of dismissal filling our ears (aka screaming students enjoying their newfound freedom), and headed to the bus.