Monday, December 22, 2014

What becomes of elementary school classmates?

It's that time of year again.

The time when we take a step back and reflect, particularly on the people in our lives -- both current and former -- and how we've treated them.

Do you ever wonder what became of your elementary classmates? 

I do.

We live a stone’s throw away from the house I grew up in and, subsequently, the elementary school I attended, which I intentionally drive past twice a week when I take Scotty to his Play & Learn class.

Each and every time I enter my old subdivision it’s like going down Memory Lane – both literally and figuratively.

Because my parents and I moved after fifth grade, I never attended school with these kids again.

But motherhood – coupled with my weekly elementary school drive-bys – have prompted me to reflect on the relationships I had with these kids.

If I could go back in time, would I change the way I treated them?

This post is about two I won’t soon forget. And while everything you are about to read is 100% true, I’ve changed their names. (What with Facebook and social media, the last thing I wish to do is dredge up someone’s past and embarrass them.)

First, there’s Heather, who was one year younger than me and lived four houses down. We met when our big wheels collided on the sidewalk one summer afternoon.

The details of our first encounter are murky, admittedly, as I was only four years old at the time. But I do remember this: I couldn’t understand a word Heather said because she had a severe speech impediment.

And I also remember that it didn’t matter.

What did matter, however, was that she knew every single lyric of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” and Lionel Ritchie’s “You Are the Sun, You Are the Rain,” which we sang together nearly every day under the large pine tree in my front yard.

And from simple activities like that one, we forged the strongest friendship of my childhood.

It was as if, seemingly overnight, my ears became trained to understand each and every word Heather said because her language issues became less and less of a barrier.

I don’t know what ever became of Heather, but I think of her – and her mother often.

As a mother myself, I often wonder what Heather’s mom must have gone through, having a child who couldn’t verbalize her own name and ended up transferring to a special elementary school because of her disability, and how relieved she must have been that I accepted Heather wholeheartedly.

Isn’t that what we all want our children to experience – acceptance and true friendship?

And then there’s Bennett.

Bennett was a classmate as well as the brother of a fellow Girl Scout member.

And his legacy, as far as I can recall, boiled down to two words: “Booger Bennett.”

Short and petite, Bennett was always the proverbial runt of the class, which, as a boy, put him at a disadvantage from Jump Street.

Then the death knell came sometime around the third grade when someone noticed him picking his nose.

Stunned by being called out, Bennett then proceeded to try and wipe his finger on the sleeve of a nearby student.

It was all downhill from there, and a vicious cycle ensued.

The more Bennett was teased, the more he wiped his boogers on people. He seemed to revel in his unpopularity, which, in hindsight, was all just a coping mechanism, I’m sure.

Thirty years later, I still wonder about Bennett, how he eventually turned out, and whether the incessant teasing he endured still affects him today.

And here’s the one regret I have: While I never teased Bennett, I never really made an effort to befriend him, either.

I can’t help but wonder if the true essence of his identity was lying dormant under the armor he had built up to protect himself.

Was Bennett ever truly able to be himself after that fateful day in third grade?

Like Heather, all he probably wanted was to be liked.

What relationships from your childhood do you remember – for better or for worse?

*This post was originally published in Gannett's Hometown Life newspapers.

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  1. This is an interesting question in this age of Facebook (and being able to google pretty much anyone). Also, I didn't go to Elementary School (I was homeschooled through 8th grade) so all of my "where did that person end up questions" are limited to High School. Although I didn't have any particular beef with High School immediately on entry to college... some time and distance has given me the uncomfortable feeling that I didn't actually enjoy it very much.

    There's still a few people from that time period I stay in touch with, but most of them have gone about their lives and I've gone on with mine. I've no burning desire to track them down!

    I do feel sorry for Bennett though... my husband was bullied through most of school and it certainly did affect him. I hope Bennett's torment was limited and he has been able to move past it.

    1. What a thoughtful and insightful comment, Dakota! Thank you for sharing! You come to the table with a unique perspective, with regard to your homeschool-to-high school situation...

      I'm actually in lock-step with you with regard to not having a burning desire to track people down. Although I was senior class president, a cheerleader, an athlete, etc., I was somewhat of a loner in that I had friends in different segments of high school but I didn't "belong" to a particular clique, if you know what I mean.

      But with regard to elementary school, I think about the two kids I mentioned in this piece because of the route we took to Scotty's playgroup: If I didn't pass my old house regularly, I don't know if this would be the case.

      I certainly feel for anyone who was bullied, though; and particularly the kids who go through it in this day and age because what with social media, they never really leave school for the day, so the bullying never really ends.

      Happy Holidays to you and your family.


    2. Yep, I absolutely know what you mean. I was "adopted" into a circle of friends but was on the periphery of a few more, and always felt like a loner. It stuns me that my High School Senior year so many people wrote that "oh you're so sweet," in my yearbook - because certainly they turned down my invitations to hang out so many times that I stopped trying.

      Bullying scares me, honestly, because as you say it's so far reaching now. I'm not even sure what I'll do if it happens to my kids, but I do know that it will be deeply felt and vehement. :P

    3. Dakota, I could have written your second paragraph VERBATIM. As you already know, K and S are 1 and 3, respectively, and I am already bracing myself. Not because I anticipate that they will be bullied -- but because bullying is such an epidemic now that I know that it *can* happen to anyone -- for any reason not just the usual ones like jealousy. And there is no "off" button. The bullying doesn't just stop when they leave school. Social media makes it an ongoing thing. This $hi! scares me...

      With regard to your first paragraph, I thoroughly dislike fake people. Their loss not to have befriended you. They totally missed out. And I'll just leave it at that.


  2. Subtle yet deep. I was the brunt of school yard bullying, it to was subtle. Being ignored, spoken about and refused seating at the lunch table. Made for some very ugly days. Thought I was done with it when leaving school, then I had kids. Fast forward to the oldest being a freshman, and a year of horrid torture for her and by the end of that year we had to pull her from school in order to save her from herself. (No lie) I still can barely think of it, and have not blogged about it. She owns that school now, and sticks up for many that can't find their own voice, she stand proud and we stand by her too. Here's hoping that Bennett found his voice and passion and succeeded in life :) Well written Courtney, it is a tough subject to tackle. You did it justice mate.

    1. Thanks, Ray. I appreciate your words much, much more than you know...

      I can't even imagine the pain your daughter endured. I can't possibly write anything that you probably haven't thought of/discussed already. Just know that I think we are both one in the same in that we both feel very passionately about this topic.

      Bullying sucks.

      Thanks for commenting.


    2. Yep bullying sucks, and honestly even after living through it I have no idea how to stop it. Sadly!