Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Light Comes From Within

I chaperoned my son's very first middle school dance last night. I'll be honest. I volunteered, not to keep an eye on him, but more to study the rituals of the 6th through 8th grade crowd. Yes, I was all of these at one time in my life and I lived through those years with my older son but I've lost touch with what "they" are like today.  Watching their Facebook posts have piqued my interest and pulled the trigger of my protective instincts.  I wanted to be there to infiltrate them, to study them like Dian Fossey in the deepest part of the jungle. To learn their language and befriend them.

Some things never change. Middle school kids are still the same physically, okay maybe the boobs are a little bigger and the dudes are a tad taller but the awkwardness is still there. They walk as if they haven't grown into their bodies. They do not seem aware of the space around them so they bump into each other a lot. They mostly travel in crowds, girls all holding hands and locking arms - guys with their hands in their pockets, looking cool and aloof.

I had a station to work for most of the night, which gave me the opportunity to observe the kids meandering back and forth from the food area to the dance area. I was particularly struck by a fair skinned girl with glasses and a lovely little dress. She moved on a circuit at lighting speed, gathering food, sitting for a few minutes to consume, circling the food area then walking to the dance area for approximately 10 minutes before returning to start the whole thing over again. Each time she sat down with her food, she chose a different spot, never siting by the same person twice.  Sometimes she sat next to people, other times she sat across from them, facing them head on. She never spoke to another student, nor did I notice any student paying her the slightest bit of attention. It was as if she wasn't there.

In addition to her glasses and cute dress, she wore something else. She carried the most excited look upon her face accompanied by an ear to ear grin that never left her. Here she was in middle school girl hell. Not one friend to be found in a sea of boys and girls all hanging in their tight-knit packs. I kept my eyes open to see if there were any other girls without friends, determined I could find her someone to hang with. I even asked my son if he knew her, hoping he could tell me who her friends were.

Finally, as she was passing by me on her circuit, I stopped her. She happily engaged me in conversation, first in English and then in Dutch. She explained she was born in Amsterdam but has lived here for the last six years. She doesn't understand why people in America refer to her home country as Netherlands when it is clearly THE Netherlands. She spoke for ten minutes telling me the exact number of inches her water bottle stuck out of her coat pocket. I asked if she had any friends here. She pointed a few out as I watched them walk past her without so much as a glance in her direction. I then asked her the question I had to know.

You look like you're having a blast. Why are you so excited to be here? The answer was simple, almost like she was silently prefacing it with a Duh.  She said, "I get to be away from my parents for a few hours".

I always think of us, the human species, as being naturally inclined to want companionship. Many people cannot go to a restaurant or movie by themselves for fear of the stigma or shame of being alone. They worry what people are thinking, doesn't she/he have any friends? That's exactly what I thought of my little Dutch friend and I'm ashamed for thinking it.  Here was a girl so comfortable in her own beautifully pale skin, she didn't need anyone. By middle school standards, I'm certain she is viewed as peculiar. But that's okay because she is intrinsically cool with her pretty dress, her bottle of water and the opportunity to be away from her folks for a few hours.

It reminds me of the Tanya Davis song about being alone. I can eat in a restaurant alone, I can go to a movie alone but to go to a club and dance, I'm not there yet. However, I am feeling inspired and lifted up by this 11 year old girl who walks her own path, over and over again, with the most delightful smile upon her pretty little face. She lights up the room, even when nobody is noticing.


  1. My son, 12, refuses to go to any dances, parties, etc. Everything is Stupid! I find it much easier to manage a classroom full of middle schoolers than to eat dinner with my one!

  2. As a teacher of 8th and 9th graders, they are all "peculiar".LOL! I am on my 5th year of teaching these young darlings and the one standard is that they have to be surrounded by "friends". This young lady has a lot to teach other young middle schoolers about self-confidence and being comfortable in her own skin. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I want to be this 11 yr old. But I'm not there yet. Someday?


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