Kids can be cruel: Overcoming the fifth-grade torment
Posted on: June 27, 2017

I have to do something for work that makes me really uncomfortable. I have to record an audio piece that will be available to…people. Like all people who want to listen. I’m a writer who puts her work out there, but this seems different for some reason.

I don’t orate. I write. I write the words other people speak. I quote, paraphrase and inform, but I do not, I repeat, I do.not. speak them. I don’t like to open myself up to criticism in that way. Sure, people still judge me for other things, like they way I parent or what I write on my blog, but I’m not voluntarily going to speak it. What if my voice sounds weird or I talk to fast? And it’s a traceable behavior, in that I remember when it all started.

I distinctly remember a point in fifth grade where I vowed to avoid all public speaking forever and ever, Amen. We had a give one of our first in-class speeches ever. We had to demonstrate something to the class in steps. I decided to do “how to make a salad.” I made lettuce, tomato and things like that from paper. I had a bottle of salad dressing, a bowl and some tongs. For the speech, I used some scissors to cut up the “vegetables” and put them in the bowl and tossed them around. Simple speech for the first one out of the gate.

Me and my brother, circa 1992, at or about the time I was in fifth grade.

So here I am doing my presentation that I had rehearsed and rehearsed. Well, I’m not really here doing it, but imagine it in your mind’s eye.

(Sidenote: I’m sweaty just thinking about it.)

First, it turns out that without my medication, I turned beat red when all focus is on me. At that point in my life, I wasn’t on medication. So I was in front of my class of 24-ish kid realizing that I have no control over the shades of red that my skin is turning. I’m distracted and nervous. One of my classmates felt the need to point this out to another classmate. Which of course, made me redder. Hot, in fact.

Then, several of them proceeded to make comments.

“Do you cut the lettuce with scissors?”
“Are vegetables really flat?”
“Did you make sure that was washed first?”
“What if I don’t like that dressing?”
“When you actually put the dressing on, do you take the cap off the bottle?”

It was the fifth-grade equivalent of heckling. And it dropped me so very, very far down, I nearly cried and ran out. No more. I was not answering questions in class. I was not doing anymore speeches. Clearly my opinions are all wrong. I thought the idea was cute, but I have no idea what I’m talking about because this one group of classmates didn’t think it was cool.

Like Sheryl Crow sings it, “The first cut is the deepest,” and that was enough to bleed me dry.

Looking back on it, this should have been a blip on my radar, but for my fifth-grade self, this was traumatizing. Speaking in front of my class was hard enough, throw that in with extreme blushing and now the heckling? Just no.

Was I the only one who was treated like that? Probably not. But I was embarrassed and I didn’t want to go home and tell my mom how our cute little salad idea was ripped apart by a bunch of fifth-graders.

Well, now she knows. She probably don’t remember it, but it’s etched in my mind, clearly.

So here I am, 36 years old thinking about what it was like to write that one fifth-grade speech and how awful it was and equating that to the audio recording that I have to do. It’s dumb. First of all, I don’t have the blushing issue to quite the extent (thanks meds!) but I still wait for the heckling.

This is why I’m so glad that my daughters do a lot of speaking in front of the class. While they aren’t fifth-graders yet, maybe they will feel confident enough before reaching that point that any classmate heckling will just be a little bump in the road rather than a pothole that knocks them off track. I pray for them that they aren’t as sensitive to the comments by classmates and the mean behavior of kids. It’s going to happen, we can’t stop it. We just have to help the kids develop thick skin and a sense of self-worth.

As a parent, though, how will I know? How will I know if I’ve done enough? How will I know if something is cutting my kid so deeply that she will be scarred by it for longer than she should? Will she even tell me about it? Will it alter the trajectory of her life and career because I didn’t do enough?

So now this one little audio recording has triggered memories and made me question my parenting. Great. That’s what I wanted.

While you all ponder how this works out, I’ll be at my desk trying to write this thing.

Here we go….

Kids can be cruel. How a little bit of fifth-grade teasing has impacted my life, even now.

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