Sixth Grade

Natalie started sixth grade this year.  That feels weird.  Sixth grade is one of the first grades that I can remember with any narrative certainty.  Oh, I have memories before that, but they’re more like snapshots, or maybe little repeating GIF’s.  Sixth grade though, that’s where the narrative arc that continued for some time began.  Or should I say narrative arcs.  I could start any of a number of painful young adult novels with events that occurred in and around sixth grade.

St. Mary's School

St. Mary’s School, on the hill, Janesville, WI

It was the year of Mrs. Neumiller at St. Mary’s K-8 parochial school.  My class had a reputation for being “lively:”  fun for the teachers that still had the energy, hopelessly exhausting for those that didn’t.  Mrs. Neumiller fell into the latter camp, and if memory serves, she quickly retired after our sixth grade year.

st Mary 6th_1

1987, St. Mary’s 6th Grade

She wore a collection of chunky turquoise rings that hung loose on her fingers as she wrote on the board, held in place only by knuckles grown arthritic with age.  She wore a pen on a string around her neck that dangled forward as she distributed communion wine at weekly mass.  And she wore a look of harried concern most of the time.

 

Here’s a sampling of some of my story arcs that got their roots in sixth grade . . .

…Once, while demonstrating how one can perform the Heimlich Maneuver on oneself using the back of a chair, Mrs. Neumiller lost her footing, slipped, landed across the back of the chair and had the wind knocked out of her.  It probably hurt a lot.  I’m pretty sure that most of us either stared or laughed.  Theme:  kids are mean, and it takes awhile to have the human decency knocked into them.

…In sixth grade I started trying to look like other people.  Prior to this, I thought that looking unique was most important.  I sewed some clothes, made some interesting choices at the store for others.  I wore a sweater with sheep on it.  I had my mom put my damp hair in braids so that it would be wavy in the morning.  Then someone called me Tina Turner, and that was the end of that.  Conformity it was.  I tried to figure out how to make my bangs big.  I had a curling iron, but not any of the correct products or a mentor to teach me.  My mother had styled her hair by letting it air dry short for as long as I can remember.  My bangs never achieved the lofty heights of my classmates who had older sisters and ready access to mousse.  Theme:  even a desire to conform isn’t necessarily enough. 

 

Sixth Grade_1

Sixth Grade, before I started to experiment with big bangs.

…I got my period in sixth grade.  Shortly thereafter I was at a pool party at a classmate’s house and, newly menstruating girls being what they are, unpredictably had it arrive.  I had to use feminine hygiene products from her mom’s cupboard.  It was not OK.  Theme:  puberty sucks and I should really have been keeping track of things on a calendar.

…A classmate’s father died that year after a brief battle with brain cancer.  I remember her standing up to offer an intention during morning prayers one day.  She used the word “chemo” in such a familiar way that it still gives me chills.  It was the first funeral that I ever attended.  It rained.  I started to realize that life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan.  Theme:  life doesn’t come with any money back guarantees.  This is hard to learn.

…That year, we participated in a goal-planning activity.  It came with a green, shiny booklet that I’m sure was sponsored by a bank or something. It was the first time I had to answer the question “where do you want to be in 10 years?”  (I still hate that question).  The program also attempted to teach us basic financial skills and boiled money down to understandable facts.  I began to get the idea that maybe finances were a topic that could be discussed rationally and and without all sorts of emotion hanging onto them.   Theme:  there are ways to approach life other than your parents’ way;  this can feel like betrayal at first. 

…I longed to be noticed by boys, but I had absolutely no idea how best to go about it.  Apparently, showing off in class, dressing like a middle aged woman, and laughing painfully loudly was not the correct way.  Theme:  they’re really pretty easy to figure out once you stop trying so hard.

 

I wonder what narrative arcs Natalie will start this year?

I hope that her memories of me are of the patient moments.  I hope that she can avoid some of the embarrassments and that those that are inevitable are quickly blurred by memory.

Put a fork in her, she’s done: “Kid Summer” fades to black

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s almost time for the little people to head back to school. As if the numerous back to school sales and advertisements weren’t enough, the naturally occurring signs of the season’s demise are all around us.  And for those previously mentioned little people, the Kid Version of Summer has definitely begun to show its age.  It’s gotten a little bit frayed, worn out, and ready to go in the hand-me-down pile.  I’ve taken a brief inventory of some of the indicators that Kid Summer is ready for retirement.

Top ten indicators that Kid Summer is finished:  

  1. There are no more complete sets of intact flip flops anywhere in the house.  They’ve either all broken, been chewed up by the dog, or disappeared in kicked-off glee.  Because I refuse to buy new ones, my people will shuffle through these last few days with mismatched flip flops held together with duct tape.  Classy.20170823_072823
  2. The list of “summer expectations” is no where to be found.  It was a noble effort, and for a month or so we were pretty good.  No electronics before X,Y,Z, keep up with personal hygiene, rudimentary chores.  About July the list was popsicle stained and rumpled on the front of the fridge.  When I checked today, it was simply gone, a mysterious smeared handprint in its wake.
  3. The sunscreens are all 5/7 empty and choked with sand.  They’re gross, I don’t want them in my bag, but there they are.
  4. The girls’ hair has achieved that “end-of-summer” crispness that only a ruthless trim will take care of.  They swam every day.  The personal hygiene got a little lax.  Instead of the special Swimmer’s Wellness shampoo, I’m pretty sure they were using Old Spice Body Wash on their hair the majority of the time.
  5. There are no areas of their arms and legs that haven’t sustained a mosquito bite or injury.  It’s hard to tell what their actual skin tone is.  Bronze tan, white healing scab, red bite, black dirt.  Did I mention the personal hygiene challenges?
  6. There are 12 incomplete projects ranging from half-done jigsaws to slime to living room forts slowly decaying in various corners of the house.  Any horizontal surface is occupied by a project that GOD FORBID I dismantle, despite all indications that they will never be finished.  And, because the little people are around all the time, I can’t launch my usual stealth dismantling attack.
  7. All of the sidewalk chalks are itty bitty nubs.  FYI, I hate chalk.  I hate how it feels, I refuse to pick it up, and I hate watching the kids draw with it.   But the danger of accidental fingernail scrapeage that these nubbins impart?  Shudder.  Time to close the driveway gallery for the season.20170823_072914
  8. We’ve gone through all of the “Outdoor Shenanigans.”  Every summer, Jimmy stocks up on stuff that makes him quite popular with the under 10 set.  We’ve reached that sad point when all of the glow bracelets, rubber band missiles, stomp rockets, and sparklers are gone.  All that’s left at the bottom of the Shenanigans bin are some of those lame snappers.
  9. Morning preparations seems to drag well into the afternoon.  To the little people, “get dressed and get ready for the day” has come to mean something very far from what I intend.  Lack of practice has lulled them into thinking that I mean “sit on the couch in your pajamas until noon, and by the way I was just kidding about getting yourself breakfast and I’m here to prepare lunch for you on an emergency basis whenever it suits you.”  Dear Lord, please return my routine to me.  I am incapable of holding it together during Kid Summer.
  10. They have, on occasion, looked just a liiiiiiiiiitle bit B-O-R-E-D.resized952017081995083544001002-1.jpg

 

Do you think that a review of these clues will be enough to truly convince them that it’s time to head back to school?