7th Grade Girls

7th grade girls are sweet and funny oddballs who change so much in nine months it’s almost bewildering. This year I have heard all range of things, like:

“Ms Blythe. I was fine until _____ destroyed my life!”

“Ms Blythe, why do you know everything?” answered with, “Because she’s secretly a goddess who has lived for thousands of years.”

“Ms Blythe – do you like me?” I answer, “yes of course I like you!” Answer, “no you don’t.”

“Ms Blythe, Ms. _____ hates us.” I answer, “no, she doesn’t hate you.”

If 6th graders are bundles of raw emotion and sweet happiness, transitioning into teenagerdom, then 7th graders are bundles of raw emotion, anxiety, confusion, tears, and absolutism, albeit momentary.

I have taught 7th graders for most of the years that I have taught. I think, in fact, there has only been one year that I haven’t taught them. My friend Jackie coined 7th grade “The Crying Year” because most of them, at some point, will break down crying, sometimes for no reason. One of my favorite memories of The Crying Year was one day, several years ago, when we were listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s album Bookends while drawing botanical drawings of pinecones. I looked up and noticed a child had buried himself in a fortress of binders. I went over to him, knelt down, and asked if he was ok, to which he replied, “this music makes me so emotional”, in his strange, monotone voice. Later I coaxed him out from underneath the fortress by changing the music.

We just ended our year, my first year of teaching 7th grade girls, as opposed to boys and girls together. I also taught 6th grade girls, but as I said above, they are still bundles of light and joy and excitement. They scamper everywhere. 7th grade girls can be sullen, funny, energetic, silly, disrespectful, lazy, and philosophically challenging. This year, one asked my coworker if she wanted to always be a teacher. She answered yes, and the student asked, “don’t you have any aspirations?”

It is an adventure working with middle schoolers, but in a single-gender environment it is almost as if the daily emotional toil is concentrated and ever-brimming at the surface, apt to boil over. The dramas are similar to the infighting of a small town; alliances shifting and changing daily, for very small and insignificant reasons. It is as if 7th grade girls exist on an emotional see-saw, perpetually tipping the balance in the direction of interpersonal dramas for a day or a week, and then reverting the see-saw to equilibrium once more.

I learned this year that this is the year in which kids stop talking to their parents and they seem to grow an almost adult concept of not wanting to burden their parents with their thoughts and fears. They seem to not want to add stress to their parents’ lives (a mark of their growing maturity) but also desperately need people to listen to the contents of their worried minds. Perhaps this is why we all glommed on to our junior high school friends so intensely, but I cannot tell you the amount of times I said this year to different students: let yourself be a child for a while longer, and tell your parents you love them and need them.

On Thursday, when we all said goodbye and ushered them into cars and buses, there were many, many tears and marker-signed shirts and yearbooks with “H.A.G.S.” written all over the inside pages (Have A Great Summer). I giggled at them and hugged them, telling them they are fine as they are coming back to the school in a couple of months, but it was to no avail: “Ms Blythe! I love you so much. I am going to miss you!”

I am going to miss them, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Duke of Gems

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“Go outside, clench both hands into fists and holdig your arms straight at your sides, come back inside and show me your left palm.”

I followed instructions to the letter, walking back into the studio on an early summer afternoon, after a long boat ride, a visit to a messy school building, and a conversation with a master puppeteer and stained glass artist. I had spent my morning eating gingerbread and staring at deep purple iris, gazing at the dark blue water and watching the land and the ocean pass by.

In the studio that day were piles of gemstones, both precious and semi-so, laid out on our cases, packed inside plastic bags, stored inside black cases.

The Duke of Gems grasped my left hand and rubbed it with the fingers and thumbs of both hands, and said,

“Who is this guy?”

I said, “excuse me?”

“Who is this guy? Do not commit to this! You don’t know him, he is not here yet. Do not commit to this, for marriage for the sake of it, for the paper, is not right.”

I stood, bewildered. My coworker said, “Do mine!”, and he proceeded to ask if someone was bleeding, sick. She, looking shocked, said, “I am a midwife, what do you mean?” He also mentioned that there was no threat to her father but that he must behave during recovery.

Next he turned to another coworker and asked, “why are you holding on to this? This weight is on your shoulders; it is as if you are diving into the deep water, and are doing it by choice!” She looked sad, explaining her situation, and he told her to stop.

Lastly, he said to our fourth at the studio, “sometimes when you help people this much, you are actually hurting them.”

Then he said, nonchalantly, that sometimes people tell him he is in the wrong profession.

We four, bewildered, continued to siphon through stones, picking out treasures as he continued. He and I spoke in Spanish, he told us about his family, and about the trade in stones. He showed us a $10,000 mystery stone and told us about buying and selling, winning and losing money.

Just before he left, he said to me, “Patience, what are you doing here?” I said that I had been offered a teaching position out on an island and he shook his head. “No,” he said. Then, “you can try it. You can go ahead and try it but it is not what you will do. You need open space, this place is too small, you need the open spaces. I would love to see what you will be doing next time I come, but you will not be here.”

The feeling of mystery continued until he left us almost four hours after he had arrived unannounced, and unknown to any of us. I had an idea to whom he was referring in my case, my coworker continued to counsel her patients and told her father he must behave, and our other two friends made moves to reconcile the emotions that he had voiced for them, too.

The next day he called us said he had been up all night praying for one of us.

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