School Days

Monhagen Middle School in Middletown, NY, USA

Monhagen Middle School in Middletown, NY, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He says he is shy and that he doesn’t know anyone. He tells me he feels uncomfortable. There are twice as many kids in his classes as there were at the old school. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, maybe we can find a way to make a change..

We’re two days into the new school year and some of the stories that my son tells about middle school have brought back old memories. Not all of them are good.


He is a good student and most subjects are easy for him but math isn’t one of them. It could be one of his favorites. It could be something that tickles and stimulates his mind but it is not. Some of that can be attributed to bad math teachers and the bad attitude he has developed towards it. He is 14 years-old and has already decided that he knows as much math as he is going to need. But there is a bigger problem than his bad attitude and bad teachers.

Her name is Denise and she teases him constantly. From the moment he walks into class until the bell rings she will be the epitome of the mean girl. For 50 minutes she will pick apart his clothes, the way he looks, how he walks and anything else that she thinks will hurt him. For 50 minutes he will grit his teeth and try to ignore her barbs, pretend that he doesn’t feel their bite.

If she were a boy he would be ok because he knows how to deal with that. Were she blessed with a dangling appendage he would threaten her with bodily harm. Were she male he would be in her face and the traditional methods that boys use to work out their differences would be in play.

But she isn’t and he is at a loss. He won’t share his misery with anyone. It is junior high and he hasn’t developed the thick skin that will protect him later in life. Appearances are critical and he can’t afford to let anyone think that this girl has a thing on him. But it gets harder each day not to scream at her.
From Some wounds take longer to heal

I tell him that everyone feels a little bit lost and awkward. He looks up at me and I see uncertainty in his eyes. He wants to believe but he isn’t quite ready to.

It is hard to see him like this but there is not a lot I can do. I tell him I will always be here and that I will support him. I remind him that I will listen and then I tell him that he cannot whine.

He hasn’t. He isn’t crying. He is composed and I am glad. But my gut tells me that I need to push him just a little now.

“I won’t coddle you. You aren’t a baby anymore and you haven’t been in years. You need to walk tall and show some confidence. I have faith. Don’t be a sucker.”

My words are a blend of support and male bravado. Someone is going to try to mess with him. Someone will call him names or talk about his clothing/walk/hair.

My words are supposed to prick just a little. When I see him arch his back I smile and tell him to remember to use that spine when necessary. Pick and choose your moments. Ignore what you can and when you have to stick out your chest and tell them to stick it.


We are standing in front of the school. My middle sister is holding my backpack. That is because Danny pushed me…twice. My sister recognizes the look on my face. I have had enough.

When he tries to push me again I punch him in the mouth. It is supposed to be hard enough to knock out all of his teeth and rattle his bones. I just tried to give him all I have got.

It doesn’t quite do what I want. He doesn’t suffer the way I want him to, but he does go down hard.

Danny is a year older than me and has picked on me on and off. This will be the end of it. It won’t be the last fight I have in junior high or high school.

Times really were different then. We didn’t have a zero tolerance policy. Teachers didn’t come running to break things up. Surely they saw us but they took their time getting in between. I don’t if why that was, just that it existed.


Bed time comes and my big guy is all smiles. He is happy and there is a light energy radiating from him. He looks up at me and asks if I am going to let him miss school.

“No, you need to go. No options. Education is too important.”

He smiles at me and says, “that is what I thought.”

That smile helps. I feel better that he isn’t as nervous as the prior night, but it will take a while for me to sleep. There are lots of good memories but some of the rougher ones have come to play and I wonder if he’ll have similar stories to tell one day.


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  1. Hajra August 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I don’t have kids of my own but mys sister is going through a similar experience lately. Her son hates the fact that the school is “noisy”! Hopefully the kids drown the unwanted noise soon! 🙂

  2. Jens P. Berget August 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    This makes me think about what’s going to happen next week when my son starts at school. He’s used to 12 people in his kindergarten, next week it will be 25 people in his class and several hundreds in his school 🙂

  3. Seattledad August 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I’m sure all your worst fears were running rampant through your head. Sounds like it started to get a bit better there so hopefully that trend will continue. That would be a pretty tough transition to make.

    • The JackB August 16, 2012 at 11:51 pm

      @ff82f50cbbf6bbfa1e32ec116f491472:disqus Yeah day number 3 was far better than the first two so he came home with a huge smile and a much improved attitude. I am optimistic and I don’t believe that his experience has to mirror mine so I am doing my best not to make my issue his.

  4. Bill Dorman August 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Ah, Jr High; I only had to stand my ground twice I believe and they were really just skirmishes instead of all out fights. We did get our asses whacked however; yes, they still busted ass back then.

    The best of times, the worst of times……….

    • The JackB August 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      A good skirmish sometimes helped establish things for students so that they could walk around school without having to take any grief. Definitely a lot of that best of and worst of times involved in all of it.

  5. Betsy Cross August 16, 2012 at 5:18 am

    There are times that I really wonder about the wisdom of sending my kids to school. Times have changed so much. School is more a reflection of family life than ever before. Kids are brought up in violent and sometimes neglectful environments and know no different. There will come a day, I’m sure, when it won’t be safe to send my kids anymore. I know that sounds over the top reactionary, but in the past 5 years things have become so bad that the typical advice I’d give my kids is no help. They see teachers struggle with disciplining students and also with ignoring really dangerous behavior because they’re fed up. Right now the scales tilt barely on the side of there still being more education going on than bullying, etc. But the shift is almost there where I’m going to have to think of alternatives…
    Good luck, Jack!

    • The JackB August 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      I think it really depends on the school. The ones that have an active PTA seem to do better for obvious reasons. When the parents are committed to helping their children receive a great education they focus on making sure the proper environment is in place.

      It makes it much easier for the teachers too. Doesn’t remove all of the challenges, but it is better than it would be.

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