I remember my elementary school guidance counselor Ms. Kenney. She was a short black woman with a warm smile, a compassionate temperament, and a no shit taking attitude. I remember loving the way her office smelled. I also remember spending hours on end there in 6th grade. You see, 6th grade was a tough one for me. I was some how elected whipping girl for that year and as such was picked on ad nauseum.
During my time in the fetal position on Ms. Kenney’s couch, eyes damn near swollen shut from crying, I would fix my cloudy gaze on this one “inspirational” poster on her wall. It was the cutest, puffiest, cuddliest kitten clawing for dear life to a rope with a knot on the end. It read: “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Inspirational posters, I’ve found, are wasted on children. At the time, I had no idea what the poster meant. I didn’t know that I was that damn kitten and that Ms. Kenney was trying her best to help me hang on.
It frightens me to think of what would happen if my story had been set now. With all the suicides among kids due to bullying, I’m sure I would have been another headline. It doesn’t seem rational to the lucid adult mind why a child would want to kill themselves, but being THAT kid in the 6th grade I do. The pain! There was an incredible amount of pain and self hatred. It hung heavy over me like a dank cloud every morning I woke up. I’d wake up hating the fact that I did. I’d wake up wishing I were somewhere, somebody, or something else. Weekends were hallowed times where I could retreat into me, read, watch television and eat until I damn near popped. Monday’s dropped me off at the gates of hell again. I cried every one. If I looked it up I probably had about 45 days out of school that year.
This past summer when I knew I was sending Zion off to the 6th grade all those old feelings came rushing back. “Would his 6th grade year be like mine?” “Maybe I shouldn’t send him. ” were thoughts that raced through my mind from July all the way through August and occasionally still do. Thankfully Zion’s social adjustment has gone remarkably well. Maybe it’s the school. Going to a school full of artsy fartsy mainly free thinking kids must be pretty cool…I guess. Maybe he’s cooler than I was. Anyway, Zion’s major obstacles have come where I least expected them with academics, and in many ways his 6th grade year has been just as rough as mine was.
I’m happy to report that things have improved dramatically. It’s taking a full on team effort with his teachers, his EC facilitator and myself, but I’m definitely seeing some turn around. What I’m most proud of is my improving patience which has resulted in our improving relationship. It took me accepting that my expectations of him were unrealistic. He is not the student I was. He does not like to read like I did. He is not me. To think I bosted how I was never going to be the parent that tried to relive their existence through there child, but there I was doing just that. I wanted his 6th grade year to be better than mine. I wanted to save him from what happened to me, to see him succeed and in his success he would some how redeem my 6th grade year. To my dismay, none of that shit was based in any sort of reality.
Fact is, the 6th grade/middle school is a huge transition for all children it can and often is awkward and painful. I have to hang in there with him and be the knot that he’s hanging on to when he’s at the end of his rope (and some time that knot is my mom. That’s okay too). I strive to be attentive without smothering. I try to discipline without being a dictator. It’s a tricky balance especially being a single parent, but we do just fine most days. When I read about kids who’ve killed themselves because of the sheer pressure of being a kid in this day and age, it scares the hell out of me. I ask Zion a million questions. He answers two. He seems okay. I try to have faith that he is.
I have visited his guidance counselor’s office and didn’t off hand notice any inspirational posters. She, while quite pleasant, lacks Ms. Kenney’s certain I-don’t-know-what. She’s a new generation of guidance counselor. Maybe it’s the sheer number of children and variety of issues she has to deal with on a daily basis. Her office is not the cozy nook that I remember Ms. Kenney’s being. It was quite dark with a slit for a window and had cement walls. No leather settee like Ms. Kenney’s. I have empathy for her plight though, and wish that I could pop in and hang just one inspirational poster on her wall. While I didn’t really understand what it meant, it was comforting to see that little kitten when I went to her office. Say! I’d always been rather fond of Mick the trainer from Rocky. Maybe he oughta have done a series of posters. They would have looked something like this…
…I so would have gotten this one. Yep, me and Zi will just keep eatin’ lightenin’ and crappin’ thunda until we get through it. Together.