Seventh Grade: Feeling Old But Evolved

Given that seventh graders tend to be more standoffish than sixth, I felt a little apprehensive before starting seventh grade this morning. Luckily, it turned out that I had nothing to fear. As I told a friend today, middle school is a lot easier to handle the second time round. It helps that I don’t worry nearly as much about what the kids think of me. I’ve already embraced the silliness of my pretending to be a kid, so I don’t embarrass easily. Since I often felt humiliated as a student at Altimira, being shy and overly sensitive, I’m pleased with this progress.

I met my student guide, Carolina, at her first period P.E. class out on the blacktop. Thinly built with black curls and dark eyes, she greeted me with a shy smile. As we chatted about her schedule for the day, her classmates began to ask the usual questions about who I was, so I made a general announcement. I’m so used to talking to groups of middle schoolers from my work with Spark, as well as substitute teaching, that I feel pretty comfortable with what can be a tough crowd.

I do always feel extremely old when I tell the kids that I attended the school from 1991-1994 and find out that they weren’t born until 1995. Most of the sixth graders were born in 1996, during my junior year of high school. I remember the first time I had the experience of feeling old compared to my students: I was 23 and chaperoning a seventh grade field trip to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. The tour guide, a young man about my age, told the kids that the house had been damaged during the 1989 earthquake. Then he looked straight at me and said, “YOU remember it.” I looked around the room and realized that no else in the group remembered the earthquake, because they hadn’t been alive in 1989. At least the current students at Altimira were born in the 90s. My kindergarten classmates at El Verano were born in 2003, after I’d graduated college, which blows my mind.

I’d hit upon Fitness Day again, and this time we were instructed to circle the dirt track — walking the curves and running the straightaways — until the teachers called time. Again, the whole horde of us bunched onto the track and began to run. This time a couple of kids actually fell down as the group lurched forward, but they seemed to be all right. I decided to try and beat my 8:17 mile but not strain myself, so I kept a strong pace but one that didn’t make my lungs burn. I ended up with an 8:32 mile, disappointing but still not bad. I do want to try for 8:15 next week. After I completed the mile, I kept circling the track as instructed, easing my pace, and ended up running two miles before the whistle called us back into the locker rooms.

At break, we stood in the long cafeteria line so Carolina could get a snack, and then we joined her friends at one of the tables in the plaza. The eight-or-so Latina girls greeted me politely, but the table went quiet after I sat down, and I felt a little awkward about being the grown-up who throws a wet blanket onto the conversation. However, after a few minutes the girls warmed up a bit and were chatting more by the time the bell rang. I hope that they’ll have completely gotten used to me by tomorrow. Carolina seemed to feel comfortable with me right away and did a thorough job of explaining her routine as we walked around campus. I’ll write tomorrow about her computer and science classes. I left midway through the day because I felt so exhausted, and I wanted a short nap. It’s a beautiful thing to exercise my adult privileges and go home when I want to.

I’m still going to the once-a-week, after-school guitar classes at the elementary campus, and today I performed a bit of Wilco’s “California Stars” for the third grade class, a version using only chords we all know: A, D, and E. Since I’ve played only for Darren so far, the kids comprised my first live audience. I felt nervous, singing and strumming more softly than usual, but the kids gave me a big round of applause and the teacher asked me to print the song for everyone to learn. Having previously struggled with performance anxiety when I’d done piano recitals, I felt good about being able to play guitar for people — even little people — and not see it as a huge deal. Tonight I learned a couple of songs off the Garden State soundtrack (which has been looped at my favorite coffee shop approximately 75 times and still remains one of my favorite albums) and the Indigo Girls’ “Get Out the Map,” one of my favorites.

Bed now. Today I made, and just broke, a pact with myself not to start blog entries after midnight, so I can get my health back on track. I still have pains in my head and chest that concern me, and I must constantly remind myself that good health comes first. Staying healthy will allow me to wordsmith, play guitar, and tackle to-do’s, all the things that I do instead of take care of myself. Self-care continues to be my biggest challenge. But now that I’ve proven that I can beat my best mile time and not be intimidated by throngs of middle schoolers, maybe I’m ready to handle it.

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