No Childhood Left Behind

Last night, I went to my neighbor’s 8th grade graduation.  These days, it’s a full blown thing – cap and gown, diplomas, etc.  I really enjoyed their principal, who seemed to know every kid.  And he was genuine and just appeared to be a stand-up guy.  Groups of kids sang, some better than others.  Several kids gave brief speeches.   In all, 148 of them walked the stage while the in bleachers, full of family and friends, we cheered them on. 

It was very sweet.  It was warm in that gym, and loud.  So, it’s not something I’d do every day, but our neighbor was well worth the sweat.

Apparently, my life overlaps all over the place, because their PTO president appears to be the wife of our CFO.  It makes sense – we live in the same part of town (and presumably school district), and he has kids that age.

In the courtyard, I ran into Susan – a former co-worker.  When I started at PureSafety, there were not many women in positions of power.  She was a team manager, and she’s a few years older than me, so I adopted her as a mentor.  I still remember having to go to lunch with a creepy co-worker who made me uncomfortable.  She helped me navigate the process, and I was grateful to have someone take my concerns seriously.  My own manager would have told me to “figure it out”.  Which, ironically that is why the creepy guy invited me to lunch in the first place.  He told our manager that I didn’t seem to like him and he couldn’t understand what he’d done.  My manager suggested he invite me to lunch to work it out.   Bad idea.  So bad.

Anyway, Susan is amazing.  She speaks a number of languages, went to Oxford, and has three kids.  Her son graduated last night, and her twin daughters will graduate next year.   I asked her if the principal was as good as I thought, and she confirmed he was.  It was just a positive experience and I’m glad we went.  Parking was a nightmare, and the crowd of crying kids and family at the end was overwhelming, but hey – you only leave middle school once!

It made me think of my own 8th grade graduation.  I honestly cannot remember whether they called everyone’s name.  I know we didn’t have caps and gowns.  I wore the same thing I had worn to the dance a few weeks before – a white sundress from The Limited.  I loved that dress.  I was in the process of growing my hair out, so it was a mess.  I had it tied back either with a strip of white cloth, or a piece of lace my grandmother had given me for my birthday once.  Yeah, it was an odd present, but that was Baba.   I didn’t wear much makeup back then.  I might have had lipstick on.  Which is to say, I might have put on lipstick and chewed it off. I definitely had braces.

So here’s true confession time.  I peaked in 8th grade.  Sad, right?  But that was a peak year for me.  As was 10th grade, but right now, let’s focus on 8th.

I was on the Jr. Academic Bowl team, and we won state that year.  I was a yearbook editor, I helped write the school musical that year, and I had a decent role therein.   I had lots of friends and went to parties.  I had a boyfriend.  And although he was a complete asshole to me who failed to recognize my existence pretty readily, I had a boyfriend.  And I got my first kiss (and subsequent others), and a little under-the-shirt action.  Don’t judge me.   I thought I loved him.  That’s a lie.  I knew I didn’t love him, but I also knew I wanted a boyfriend.  Whatever.  It was a symbiotic thing.  He got to cop a feel, I got to have a boyfriend.   

Finally, it’s worth noting that I was well on the principal’s radar.  She adored me, and would from time to time pull me into her office to chat.  She decided she wanted me to do some speaking parts at graduation.  So I did.  I couldn’t tell you what or why, but I did.  She also, bless her heart, gave all the kids on the academic bowl team a Cross pen when we won state.  It was a nice pen, and I had it for forever.  I may still have it somewhere.  She was a lovely person, but she was also a little quirky.  She was a blonde (not natural), wore bright red lipstick way outside of her natural lip line, and had a very distinctive southern accent that I could mimic perfectly.  She actually knew that I could imitate her and didn’t seem bothered by it.  

But she liked me for whatever reason.  Now, understand that I was not, in any sense of the word, popular.  The population at-large knew who I was (and probably thought I was a dweeby kiss-ass), and among the brainy set, I was a reasonably welcome fixture, but I was not popular.  I was also not that smart.  They put me in Algebra and Physical Science at the start of the year.  I failed out of Algebra within the first three weeks, and they moved me down to pre-algebra.  I was pretty well stuck in Physical Science and I floundered through that.  The result is that I would always be out of synch in Math and Science throughout high school. Oh well. 

On the other hand, I was killing it in French class.  My teacher had requested me because I had traveled  in a tour group with her to Europe the previous Summer.  I was one of two people from my homeroom block who had her instead of the other French teacher.  I was delighted because Mme. Adams was the better of the two teachers.  We learned a lot that year.  In fact, I won a commendation for that class (as did my friend from the homeroom block), and the guy we sat next to got a commendation for most improved.  I like to think we had something to do with that. 

And then, there was chorus. I'd had a few solos over the years, and I was a decent Alto.  At the end of 8th grade, we had to audition to determine placement into which group.  I went in, sang a few bars of Chapel of Love for the HS director, I think he may have had me do a scale and some tonal memory.  I ended up in Chansons – the women’s group.  At first, I was bummed – I had wanted to be in Varsity – the mixed chorus.  But, once I got to High School, it became clear that Chansons was the more rigorous, exclusive group – I was one of three Frosh in it.  I made friends with the older girls, and I’ve stayed friends with many of them. 

Clearly, my intelligence was skewed to the right brain.  And I was lazy when it came to Math and Science.  So, as a result, I was not a Junior Beta Club member.  This made me the one student in gifted classes who wasn’t a member.  The day they left town for the annual conference, and the day they went to Six Flags were a little awkward (and quiet).  I remember Mme. Adams telling me she fought for my inclusion into the club, but a C in 7th grade math killed my chance.  She called math my bête noir.  And because I spoke a little French and had a sophisticated vocabulary, I knew exactly what she meant.

So, after 8th grade graduation, I gathered at Dairy Queen with some classmates for a little ice cream celebration.  And here, here is the memory of my 8th grade graduation that is crystal clear in my mind.

One of the boys in the group started talking in hushed tones.  Now, this was a nice boy.  Like a super clean-cut, athletic, smart Wally Cleaver-esque kind of guy.   Eeeeevery girl with half a brain had a crush on him at some point.     For ease of narrative, let’s just call him Wally.  So, we’re all packed into a booth at the DQ, spooning ice cream into our mouths, when Wally begins describing a sexual act.  He names it, and none of us know what it is, so he details it out for us.

And remember – I’m not a prude.  By this point, I’ve been felt up!  I’ve frenched!  Wally told us what it was, and my jaw dropped - if not physically, certainly mentally.  I was clearly not as sophisticated as I thought.  I filed away this act in my brain, but even 43 year old me thinks it it’s pretty evolved , so my little 14 year –old brain was just appalled.  I don’t think I said anything negative.  I think I just nodded and kept eating.  I wondered where he had learned this information, and if he had employed it.  Remember, this was pre-internet, so there were no online videos, no Urban Dictionary.   

I am grateful that my boyfriend wasn’t there – remember, he didn’t acknowledge me to his family*, so he didn’t join the gang for ice cream.  It was Wally, a few girls, and a few boys.  I cannot reliably tell you who was there – I seem to think I remember a few people, but it was 30 years ago.  But I can remember I was sitting across the table, leaned in to hear.  I don’t think that this the Leaning In Sheryl Sandberg was talking about.

I remained friends with Wally, though not super close friends.  Just “we’re in a lot of the same classes” friends.  One of my pals had a massive crush on him, and I felt bad because I knew he would never go for her.  She was tall, tan, athletic, outdoorsy.  He favored petite, blonde, ultra-girly girls.  But she was blinded by her affinity for him.   She’s married now and raising a lovely tall, tan, athletic, outdoorsy daughter.

Although we went to college together, I saw Wally there only once in my Junior year.  The last time I saw him was a few months before I got married.  I was at the grocery store, and I looked up and there he was.  He was engaged (to a petite ultra girly-girl), and buying cat litter for their shared animal.  I wonder if they were participating in that act, or if he had found something better, newer, kinkier.  We may never know.

So here’s what I really remember about 8th grade graduation:

Rainbow kiss – an act where a couple engages in oral sex on each other to completion, then share an open-mouthed kiss to exchange fluids.

Nothing like this at all.  Please move along.

But that’s really so 7th grade.  By 8th grade, if you haven’t moved on to donkey punching, you’re behind the curve.

I kid.  I kid. 

You may move your tassels.  Congratulations!


*The boyfriend’s family was not stupid. They knew about me.  I ran into his mother some years later and she mentioned he was dating a girl who reminded her of me. So, I have to hope that they thought he was kind of a jerk to me.  Because he totally was.