Today marks the fourth day of my daughter’s junior high career. So far, it’s been a bumpy ride. She’s done everything she’s been taught, keeping that chest out and chin up and upper lip stiff. But I can see the cracks that have formed on that tough exterior. Even the strongest dam will break with enough pressure.
It’s been a long while since I was in the sixth grade. At a certain point, all those years beyond the last ten or so melt into one fuzzy memory of misshapen moments. Tough to tell the truths from the imaginings sometimes. My sixth grade year was like that until this week. Having my daughter endure it has allowed me to remember much, especially how scary it all was.
The news kids and new teachers. The new school. The extra homework. The hormones racing. Waking up in the middle of the night, trying to wipe your mind of the nightmare you just had about not being able to get your locker open or not finding a seat at the lunch table. Go ahead and chuckle. You know what I’m talking about. Chances are you’ve had those very dreams at some point and maybe even still do from time to time. To me, that proves just how important this time is in my daughter’s life, and just how much of it will cling to her in the coming years.
The biggest test of all came yesterday. She had been warned ahead of time—over the summer, in fact—but that didn’t make things easier. Seeing a thing coming from far off might lessen the surprise, but not necessarily the dread.
Not math or science or language arts. It was dressing out for P.E.
The thought horrified her. Standing in front of a chipped wooden bench in that smelly locker room, feeling your toes on the cold concrete. All that silence banging off cinderblocked walls. Taking your shirt off first because that’s bad but not nearly as bad as taking off your pants, only to discover after that your pants are all you have left. Trudging through the next forty minutes of laps and volleyball, knowing you’re going to have to do it all over again when that’s done.
Baring yourself right there, in front of everybody.
I remember that well, and how terrible it felt.
It’s not only a girl thing, either. The boys suffer, too. One teacher even told me the boys react worse. The girls cry. The boys throw up.
I never yarked my lunch, but things did reach the point when I started wearing my gym shorts under my jeans. It was uncomfortable and god-awful hot, but at least there was little chance of anyone seeing something they shouldn’t. Something only my doctor and mother should see, and only in extreme circumstances.
We don’t like baring ourselves. We’d rather be covered and clothed. We need that barrier between us and the world, even if it is just a thin layer of denim and cotton. If we don’t have that, there’s nowhere we can hide.
I tell her she’ll get used to it. I think that’s true, even if I never did. Of all the lessons my daughter will learn this year, I think the one she’s found in gym class is the most important. Not because I particularly want her just fine with prancing around wearing little more than what the good Lord gave her, but because there will come a time when she will have to bare other, even more private things.
Her heart, for one. Her fears. Her weaknesses and worries. Her faults and failings. We go to great lengths to cover those things, too, and with more than jeans and underwear. And sometimes, we hide behind those things better.
My daughter made it through yesterday well enough. It wasn’t bad, she said. No one looked at her because they were too busy staring at themselves. I think that’s true for a lot of things.
She still doesn’t see this as a learning experience, mostly because she’s stuck in the middle of it right now. That’s another lesson my daughter will learn soon. Unlike junior high, the tests we get in life often come first. The answers come later.