The Divine Miss M has officially started middle school. Interesting years those. Most of us generally leave middle school with great memories of that unique time in our lives, of friends, fun, silliness, endless laughter, carefree days. It’s the real transition from children to teenagers. Far less freedom and responsibility than high school, but the first tastes of each.
It’s easy as a parent to be excited for your child to start down this path, assuming you can relax your fingers enough to let go of their hand on the first day of school. (I managed it after practicing for many, many days). But in the back of your mind, especially if you’re a woman (I’m sure for men as well but, obviously, I can’t speak for them), it’s hard not to worry a little about that one group of girls. You know the one, right? The one group that every middle school has? They’re basically every other girl’s worst nightmare, and simultaneously define both middle-school popularity and viciousness? Yeah, those girls.
These days, kids may be starting a little earlier than middle school. There was a group of girls in M’s elementary school, thankfully a year behind her, that were already the worst of the middle-school stereotype. They travelled in a pack and bullied, in middle-school-girl fashion, everyone else. Taunting other children based on clothes and hairstyles and who knows what else. One of their common targets privately dubbed them the Sass-Masters, a moniker that makes me smile every time I hear it. So much so, it’s the euphemism I now use to reference all of them.
What is so easy to recognize now that I didn’t recognize as a kid is that the Sass-Masters are always the most popular because they are always the most feared. I wonder why that was so hard to see when we were young? Or maybe it wasn’t, we just lived in the reality of that fear and tried to work within the safest boundaries.
My best friend, whose daughter is in the same year as the originally named Sass-Masters, wondered recently if she would know if her daughter acted like that. We all knew Sass-Masters growing up. Did their parents know? Would we know if it was our child? Obviously, I would love to say, “Of course I would know,” but any parent who answers those kinds of questions with ‘of course’ is just asking for trouble, and probably delusional.
However, that set me off on another line of thinking, do the kids themselves know? Even in hindsight? It’s a tricky question because I’ve never, not once, met an adult who, when asked about those school years, cannot immediately bring a Sass-Masters group to mind. This begs the question, though, who do the Sass-Masters bring to mind when asked? Each other? Do they know they are/were the Sass-Masters? I’d love to know the answer to that but, apparently, there is just enough of the middle schooler still in me who feared those girls that I wouldn’t ask them such a question even today. Huh. Do we ever completely let go of who we were then?
This has also made me consider one other thing. One thing adulthood brings, if you’re lucky, is a rather large dose of humility. I can recall saying some pretty thoughtless and sometimes downright hurtful things to other kids when I was growing up. Granted, the real Sass-Masters seem very intentional in their actions, rather enjoying the torment they heap on other kids. But Sass-Master or not, none of us escaped those years without inflicting a few wounds here or there.
One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s difficult to think of truer words. For all of the Divine Miss M’s intellectual prowess, social interaction is such a struggle, made more so by the fact that she seems unaware when she’s not doing it well. Unlike academics, there are no black and white rules for her to memorize and follow. It’s all abstract intuition and feeling your way through – not her strong suits. I’ve thought a lot about this lately because I think these difficulties not only make her an easy target for Sass-Masters, but I’ve seen her unintentionally hurt people’s feelings at times. She needs black and white, it’s just how her mind works and social interaction is just so … not black and white. The only thing close to a hard and fast rule I can think to tell her is to consider how whatever you’re saying or doing will make someone feel.
Seems simple when you say it that way, doesn’t it? But for reasons I doubt we can articulate, it never is that simple. At all. Not even for those of us who aren’t Sass-Masters. I suppose we’ll wait and see how the year progresses, and I’ll quietly watch with curiosity to see if the real Sass-Masters emerge.