I was driving home from Massachusetts yesterday and, per usual, had This American Life playing on my phone. I’d already listened to all of the recent episodes, so I delved into the “Favorites” section in the app and found one about middle school (episode 449 from October 2011). It was freaking fascinating.
Middle school was, without a doubt, one of the greatest periods of my life thus far. I can’t entirely put my finger on why, but it was just awesome. It truly was a time filled with friendship-forming, self-exploration, and just generally realizing that the world is this huge place that we’re about to be thrust into. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. But these are things that I’m realizing NOW. What struck me listening to this episode is how self-aware these kids are in the moment. When I was in 8th grade, I didn’t realize how much my life was going to be changing in a short time. I didn’t realize how petty and exaggerated all of the drama was. In that moment, everything DID feel like life or death. Hormones were raging, but I didn’t know THAT, either. That’s just how life was back then. Every single moment of every single day is blown up and examined on this huge scale, and the tiniest things would send me reeling. Every emotion was amplified to the extreme. In a way, it was awesome. Amazing. I wish life could be more like that now.
One of my most common thoughts while listening to this episode was the intense desire to help some of these kids through what is such an awkward and overwhelming time. Annie, the 14-year-old who initially requested the topic, said “And then no matter who you are, or what you do, you’ll get made fun of for it. Anything, anything in the world you can get made fun of for.” — and this is totally true, and something I remember very vividly. I was lucky that I went to a small, private school. Our classes averaged 25 students each and many of us had been in school together since kindergarten. I had “my” group, but even in such a small class, there were other cliques. I remember it being my group (all girls, but sort of the “weird” girls), the popular group (maybe 3-4 girls), the nerds (another 3-5 people, boys and girls), and then the rest of the guys. Funny how that works. We had to wear uniforms, so we were luckily spared much of the confusion and anxiety that must come with public middle schools. But considering how much I still stressed about things like my shoes, tights, jewelry, hair, makeup… it was definitely still present.
Ultimately, I look back at that time and, as awesome as it was, I wish I could do some things differently. I wish I could have been that girl who didn’t care WHAT people thought of her. I wish I hadn’t let myself get so caught up in the trends, in the “cool” brands, in what I was “supposed” to wear or do to fit in. I can’t go backwards in time and change it, but I would love to inspire and encourage other kids to live that life. To do whatever makes you happy, even if it’s considered nerdy or weird or uncool. Even if YOU’RE considered nerdy or weird or uncool. Because those are the best people in life.