Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Today was the first day back to school for our small town. I already miss my son. It's his first day of seventh grade. Hopefully, he is having a blast discovering the fun of new lockers, new classrooms, and the return of old friends.

My eldest daughter started preschool in Germany when she was three years old, way back in 1981. So that means I have been seeing kids off to school for 32 years. That is a LOT of time to be doing such a thing. But in our case, much better than homeschooling. I wouldn't be slightly crazy as people accuse me of being now. I'd be totally off my rocker! 

I don't remember seventh grade as being a stressful time for either of my girls, so I'm hoping my son copes well. He struggled a bit last year with the changing of classrooms - he's a very social animal so he accumulated quite a few tardies - but other than that he transitioned fairly well from the elementary over to the middle school.

I wasn't nearly so lucky back in the day. In fact, seventh grade was possibly the absolute, most definite, without a doubt, most traumatic time of my life. Let's get real, folks. Isn't puberty bad enough on its own? Why throw in more stress by tossing a bomb like junior high school into the mix?

Throughout my entire public schooling experience, I had walked to school. I knew the entire 9/10ths of a mile by heart and could have traveled it blindfolded, in the dark, backwards. I recognized every voice of every other grade-school kid I encountered along the route. I knew the acceptable shortcuts and the one to avoid if Mrs. Burmeister's car was in the drive. (We never even TOUCHED her stupid flowers.)

The school was small enough that we never got lost on the way to the bathroom or the lunchroom. It was all on one level so we didn't fall down flights of steps or show up in Room 201 rather than Room 101 and listen to the giggles and jeers from kids we'd never met. School was like an extension of our home, with longer hallways and several more rooms. No biggie.

Suddenly, I was riding on a noisy, smoke-belching bus halfway across town to a behemoth of three stories, basements and sub-basements. There were numerous restrooms, but never where you needed one. Strangers laughed and rough-housed throughout the cavernous hallways - big ninth grade boys who could crush a small, frightened seventh-grader. There were rows and rows of lockers on every level, all identical just to confuse me, and locker combinations that never stayed in my head. 

Surprisingly, I survived the first two weeks with few mishaps. Then I lost my schedule, and ended up in Mrs. Barnhardt's 4th hour home economics class and didn't notice for several minutes that no one looked the slightest bit familiar. Just when I started getting that really creepy feeling that I'd messed up, Mrs. Barnhardt stopped her demonstration of towel folding and looked at me and smiled. "I think you're in here NEXT hour, sweetie," she said. Humiliation!

Then there was the science experiment in Mr. Farley's 7th hour class that went wrong. I guess I inhaled too many phosphorous fumes, because the only thing I remember was being outside on the front steps with Mr. Farley telling me to take big breaths. He even drove me and another student home that day to explain once again to my mother that he thought I was okay, but he'd understand perfectly if she decided to take me to the hospital.

Many other horror stories abound in my memory from seventh grade, but they are too numerous to tell at once. It was the year, though, that I began having nightmares. Really weird nightmares.

In my dreams, I was always at school. And I was always in my pajamas. And ALWAYS in bed. It wasn't my bed, however. More like a gurney, because it had wheels, so that I could push myself down hallways, down staircases (that part was exciting) and into my classrooms. I don't remember ever dreaming of the lunchroom, or the library, but in every dream, I was always late for class. My classmates would chant to me that I needed to HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, and then they would laugh uproariously. 

That may seem like a harmless dream, but it was terrifying for me. The worst part of it was this: If I couldn't hurry fast enough, I would eventually rise from the bed and run to my classrooom. Seems harmless enough. But what would actually happen is that I would get up from my real bed and begin sleepwalking through the house. Sometimes I would run into a wall or a closed door. It was painful. And humiliating. And frightening. But it must have somehow been associated with my discomfort and unfamiliarity with seventh grade, because the dreams eventually stopped.

I'm hopeful that my son's experience with seventh grade is a lot better than mine. I know if I could go back in time and replay a part of my life, that would not be a period I would choose.

What about you? Any horror stories from seventh grade? I would love to hear them.




Sharon Ledwith said...

I think I can see another book materialize out of this post, Cordelia! Teachers were so different back in the day (60s and 70s), and had the power to wield the dreaded strap. But my grade seven teacher was a gem, and I immortalized her in my book because of that! Now grade eight, that's another story...

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Hey, Sharon,

Actually, most of my teachers that year were at least okay. Some were a bit scary, but I was afraid of everything back then.

My 7th grade English teacher, Ms. Tandy, was awesome. She'd read aloud in class, and any time there was a sad part involving an animal, she would let me go out to the hall so I wouldn't cry in front of the other kids. Of course, I kept the door open so I cried in the hall, but that was still safer.

Alan Tucker said...

Seventh grade was a big transition for me as well. Contained campus to one with three buildings and multiple floors as you described. Also, we moved across town so I changed districts and knew absolutely NO ONE my first day. It all worked out eventually, of course, but I was pretty stressed out for the first few weeks.

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Hi, Alan. Thanks for stopping by. I guess it was nice that I knew some kids, but there were many more I'd never clapped eyes on before that day. It took me a while to make new friends, but I survived!

lia london, author and writing coach said...

Seventh grade was when I was too shy to say that I went by my middle name (Lia) instead of my incredibly common first name. I tried to blend into the background, and was successful except in choir class where we found out I could solo really well. I still have nightmares about vision being like underwater and trying to figure out my locker combination through the haze...

Michelle Isenhoff said...

Lol, Cordelia! I still dream that I can't remember my locker combination and will be late for class. And I don't know how many times I've traipsed to the office in my dreams to replace a lost class schedule. I still miss the bus a lot, too. I guess these things never leave us. :)

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Ha! I feel so much better now, knowing that others have similar memories and ghosts from those days. And the fact that we survived - even with scars - says a lot.

Suzanne Warr said...

What an awful dream, and an awful time! But you know, I was homeschooled during the junior high years...and I don't think that was any better. So maybe they're just meant to be stinky cheese for some of us?

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Suzanne - Oh, dear. Jr. High was bad enough for me. I would have never survived home schooling, and neither would my parents. They were both so talented and intelligent, but they still had their limits.

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