Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gobble Gobble

Sapphire's starting to come home from school and cry.

Like all puberty-afflicted kids, her bedroom door is shut more often than it is open these days.

Last night, soon after I got home, patted the dog, called out 'Hi' to Love Chunks, knocked on her door and opened it straight away. Yes, this is an invasion. No, she wasn't doing drugs, cutting herself or murdering anyone.

She wheeled around, pretending to fold up her school jumper. I knew something was wrong; she's never been one for folding her clothes.

"Are you OK?"

A nod of the head.

"Sweetie are you sure?"

The sobs erupted and she ran to me. "I'm still thinking about 'Titanic' Mum, it's soooo sad," she wailed.

Yep. Roll your eyes if you must, but LC and I let her watch 'Titanic' at home on Saturday night. Picture the three of us on the couch, some chocolates, Milly in her beanbag and the comfort of tracksuit pants. It was old hat for us, but the most engrossing, heart-wrenching, involving, daring and saddest movie that Sapphire had ever seen. She sobbed so hard that Milly wobbled over on her creaky legs, tail wagging uncertainly as she pressed her nose against Sapph's leg, trying to figure out why one of her beloved pack members was crying.

The soundtrack to the movie was playing in the background as I stood in her room.

Girls can be bitches when puberty kicks in; the passive-aggressive games start and they start to self-select those who match their needs based on ever-changing perceptions of usefulness and coolness. To see my daughter buckle under the weight of trying not to let it affect her was finally becoming too much.

"Mum I'm not cool. I know I'm not cool because, in the maths class where I'm the only year five girl, all the other kids walk in and sit at every table except mine. Someone only sits next to me when there's no other place left."

Yup. It's been a grrrrreat idea to have streamed Maths, Science and English classes that blend year sixes and year fives together. Sapphire's friends are in the other classes, so she's cursed with being younger, brainier and therefore way uncooler.

We've had cuddles and conversations before about why being 'cool' is restrictive and shallow and I know - geez do I know - that all the comforting words of a parent who experienced the same shit decades either doesn't help the hurt when it is occurring to you and only you.

She said exactly the same thing that I remember saying to my Mum. "Why is it all so hard, Mum? Why can't I go back to being a kid again?"

Trouble is, I said (sobbed) it at fourteen; Sapphire's doing it at eleven. My beautiful, funny, smart, kind incredible little girl is wondering where and why and how she fits into the scheme of things in her tiny but hard primary school world.

"I feel trapped at school sometimes." Her NAPLAN results are off the charts but when her once-dear friend says - all too regularly - "I have a great secret but I can't tell you" and only shows interest when they're in home class and are doing an assignment together, I'd gladly throw that result in the bin if it meant I had a happier child who wasn't wondering what it was that she did wrong.

"I can't tell the teacher about her, Mum, because all she says back is 'I didn't mean it like that' or 'I don't know what you mean' so it's me that looks like I'm being nasty and making trouble, not her."

At the dinner table - we three like to discuss Good Day, Bad Day and Funny Day over our meals - LC could see that my anger at the world was growing and my rationality and sense was not. "No, Kath. Don't contact her parents or the teacher. Sapphire knows that she's got a few jerks in her class and she's stuck with J as her home-class partner until the end of the year.

Sapphire nodded, this time patting my hand to comfort and calm me instead of the other way around. "I can't get a new partner for anything in home class now. She and me are known as partners and nobody else hears what she says to me or what she's really like. I've only got a few more weeks to go."

We watched a recorded episode of Glee, did the dishes and talked again when it was time to say good night. "Mum I found that old key ring of yours that has the elephant on it with birds all over him, saying 'Don't let the turkeys get you down.' I like that saying."

"Me too," I smiled, smoothing the sheet over the blanket. "But I also know that turkeys are everywhere and somehow you have to learn to ignore their noise but not annoy them. That's the challenging bit."

She nodded again, eyes filling up. "It's so hard, Mum."

"I know mate, and I also know that it's hard to soar like an eagle when your classroom is only eight foot high and has ceiling fans."

That made her laugh and as I flicked off the light and closed her door I waggled my finger accusingly as the hall light cast a silhouette, scolding, "No more 'Titanic' for you," and walked jauntily up the passage.

The light steps were for her. The anger, frustration and inability to make things better for her is hidden until the passage door is closed and LC is waiting.


Elisabeth said...

Oh the tortures of growing up a girl in this hard edged competitive world. I'm dealing with the sixteen-seventeen year old group and it's tough as nails, the volatility, the vulnerability that rasps against the occasional cruelty and bitchiness. Sapphire's lucky to have parents like you. She,ll survive well, I expect and keep on learning.

Kath Lockett said...

You're right, Elisabeth, she will. Just like the rest of us did. It hurts when your kid hurts though.

franzy said...

What's wrong with crying about Titanic? I'm crying reading about crying about Titanic!

[Side story: Years ago a mate of mine's dad went to the Adelaide premier and happened to be walking out of the cinema right behind Totti Goldsmith (remember her?). She was in tears too, quite distraught, and she turned to her friend and said through the sniffles: "That was AWFUL! I had no idea all those people died!"
/side story

Oh, Kath. Well, nothing much to say here. I know the exact feeling. The same shit used to happen to me in primary school, not even because I was clever, just because I was a tragic dork. Then, I hit puberty nice and early and it solved all of my problems ... until high school. But that's a different story, with a similar ending. I think the thing that helped me the most in the was actually a feeling of pity for the people who play these tiny little games, for they will continue to play them, long after you've moved on past the ceiling fans. (Unless you work in a uni, am I right?)

The bad news is that being above it all means it'll be lonely at the top for a few years.

Good luck, Sapphire. Just remember that when someone tells you that they've got a great secret that they can't share or that your clothes aren't right, you call them out on their bullshit:

"Wow! What a passive aggressive thing to say! You must be feeling very unconfident today. Don't worry, I'll help you. We can even look up 'passive aggressive' together."

I'm going to go and look at pictures of Charlie now.

franzy said...

ps. What episode/season of Glee are youse up to? I download them as they broadcast ... for ... ah ... for Mele, yeah. For Mele.

Do you want me to post you a disc?

Hannah said...

Oh, Sapphire (and Kath). I, too, have always been at the top of my class and in all those streamed classes, and while I didn't have to cope with once-friends treating me poorly, I know that it can make you feel more "other" than you want to be.

In all honesty, I still struggle with feeling out of place today, but the thing to remember (and Sapphire seems to have a good head on her shoulders in terms of knowing this) is that these crappy times WILL pass, and soon you'll find friends on par with you, and who'll appreciate you for your loveliness.

And also - feel free to cry. I still cry a lot, when I feel down, and it helps. As do hugs from the mum :)

Vanessa said...

Your post has left with so much to think about. I am very interested to hear how the whole streaming thing goes.
My eldest (also 11.5 yrs) had a hellish year, two years ago in year 4, for the same reasons. It suddenly became apparent to those who like to outcast others, that she was pretty smart. It also became apparent to miss i that she was smart and it set her apart from others. We fortunately had a new Challenge teacher come to the school who was a great mediator for us with her teachers and the Principal, to help meet her needs. She explained that miss i had thought processes well above her peers and was starting to hold back in her language even at Challenge, to try to 'keep it simple' for the other kids.
We explained to her that there is always the shortest kid, the tallest kid, the fastest runner, and the smartest kid and to continue to have empathy for everyone and it would all come good. Her year 5 teachers 'streamed' her within the class in a way that wasn't obvious to everyone (eg she worked from different level texts).
Like Sapphire, my miss i is pretty and confident. She is good at dance and drama and gets lead roles in concerts etc. I am positive this must suck to some of the other kids, to be good at so many things. What they don't understand is that like the athletes (of which she is not), she puts a lot of time and dedication into everything she loves to do. For her, the academic side of things comes very easily. This year (year 6)she still struggles with friendship bullshit. She is not one of the coolest kids (who determines this is beyond me) but has a large group of girls she plays with. She is very keen to start at a new high school next year with the opportunity to meet some great new friends.
I know this is long winded, and I don't have the magic bullet, but I just feel emapthy with Sapphire and you because there are issues for her that go beyond fitting in with her peers. I know miss i is happiest when she is mixing with other bright kids. They share a similar sense of humour, they can share books and ideas and their crushes on Glee characters.
I guess I would ask you to consider a few things for Sapphire to be in a peer group that meets some of these needs. Would she consider skipping a year to be in the classes she is in at the moment, but be one of the higher level kids? Most research shows that these kids need to be in their academic peer group when in academic situations.
Would she consider sitting scholarship/gifted and talented program exams next year to get herself in programs with like minded kids?
I am certainly not saying that this solves all the problems but it has certainly helped my girls.
I really feel for you all as it is all so close to my own story.
Oh and I can understand why Titanic would upset her so much. It is common in these kids as they have so much empathy and thoughtfulness.
Hey, does Sapphire watch Big Bang Theory? We tape them all week and have Friday night BBTathons. She would certainly get the humour. Although there is quite a bit of sexual innuendo so maybe I shouldn't be admitting I let my girls watch it.

Mrs Dump - Adelaide said...

Both our sons have had similar problems in various ways. Our youngest, however is much more laid-back and copes better with the comments, so they don't get quite so nasty. However, he did choose a t-shirt for Xmas last year which proclaimed "Sarcasm is a service I also offer". He liked it because many of his "friends" would not understand it. The older son also has a shirt with the succinct tag of "Meh". Pretty much sums up their current attitude to the negative opinions of others.

River said...

Love the turkeys comments.
It's hard to cope when you're in a smarter group than your peers, my K was in mixed grade classes from grade two onwards, then when we moved from Vic to here, she skipped a whole grade. T and M did too.
Sapphire knows the reasons for her friends behaviours and will cope...oh heck! I kind of know what I want to say, but can't get the words right. Hug her for me.
I've never seen Titanic.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Franzy, I had no idea that you went through such a time. I always got the impression (tell Mele not to snigger) that you were always a naturally cool guy.... Clearly that was not the case, and yet you survived to become a bloke with a terrific brain, sense of humour, sense of self.... Glad to hear too that it's finally okay to admit that crying in 'Titanic' is a given - LC had tears rolling down his cheeks as well.

And I'm going to cut and paste your suggested retort and add it to a list that Sapphire can read through. Possibly only to cheer herself up and maybe to use. However she often says, "Nobody in my class gets my jokes except for the teacher."

Oh as for Glee - we're watching each episode as Channel ten releases them, so it was the adorable episode where Kurt visits the gay-friendly boys' college - a bit of a relief to have an episode with a lot less Rachel in it.

Thanks Hannah. 'Titanic' opened the floodgates I think because she'd been dutifully soldiering on for months, knowing not to bite back or sink to J's level etc. In the end it built up and got a marvellous release over a film that she completely lost herself in and loved entirely.

Vanessa, I wondered if your Miss i might have been in the same boat. I think next year we'll have Sapph sit some of those 'accelerated entry' exams but somehow - how I don't really know - not put any pressure on her to feel like they're her only hope. Sometimes just having a new class of kids with a few of the key turkeys flown the coop can help a lot too. Hugs to your Miss i too. Oh and Sapph LOVES Big Bang Theory - we've talked her through some of the adult content but she adores the wordy nerdy humour and earlier this year made her way through our entire Frasier collection as well, chuckling heartily throughout.

Mrs Dump - Sapph would love BOTH of those t-shirts and your boys are wise to choose 'em - if someone smiles after reading them, they know that they 'get it'.

Thanks, River. I'm in two minds about the 'skipping' thing - she is mature for her age but would older kids be interested in befriending her? Years ago we were offered that choice when we were in Adelaide and she was in year one, but we thought that she might be emotionally too young to handle it. As for 2011, it's an option....

Thanks for all of your wonderful, insightful comments. Like a repeat viewing of 'Titanic', it's got me crying again. In a good way.

Kath Lockett said...
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Kath Lockett said...

All those deleted comments are my own - essentially the second long comment got published again and again and again. Damn eyes were too fogged up to click straight....

Wally The Walrus said...

Aye. You have no idea what I went through at school. Being the smartest in a bunch of turkeys is hard.

It does not really get a huge lot better. As you move off into the workplace where you are generally amongst colleagues of similar mind and similar intellect, you find that the hardest thing is STILL dealing with people. People are just hard to deal with, and in your professional life, its a different kind of turkey you deal with but the effects and the underlying behaviours are not all that different.

Doing the WORK is usually the easy part. Dealing with the people sucks.

(Word verification = diccu. Seems appropriate).

franzy said...

Hi Kath, just read your comment ...
"naturally cool" ... excuse me ...

*laughs until pants explode*

No, but seriously, there was no quick fix. If it helps explain anything more clearly: out of ALL the people I knew in primary and high school, whether they were called friends or if I just knew them in passing, I only stayed in contact with ONE of them after year 12 exams.
And I met him in year one.
And he was the best man at my wedding.
And he's best friends with my son.

I didn't connect with one other person enough to care what they did with their lives. Not that they were bad people - I have a lot of fond memories of school and it wasn't a tortuous experience - that was just me.
(Discovering Facebook ten years later only served to illustrate this further. Reason #494 why I quit FB)

Sapphire - none of this will be very helpful. I think I was able to get through because I put a lot of my intelligence behind fitting in. I'm a good actor and imitator. I had to be - I was a fucked-up looking teenager: big head, shit hair, skin like a fresh cheese toastie.
You've got intelligence on your side. Use it. You will fortunately NOT be as crazy-looking as I was. This will also work in your favour.

ps. LC cries during Titanic? Pf. Baby. Real men only cry during Cold Hand Luke and In the Name of the Father.

drb said...

Teach your kid/s to be cool.
Being cool is not shallow.


The instructions on the wedsite are correct.

drb said...

dyslexia slip

JK said...

Your daughter is wonderful from what we read in your posts, she is just wonderful. It's all so heartbreaking, you describe it very well. (Memories of my school days returning). Sounds like you're doing really well with it all and she's well supported.
Cool sucks!!

franzy said...

*COOL* Hand Luke


Baino said...

Awww that's so sad. Mine didn't really seem to have a problem but they were never elevated into higher learning classes. You're right, there's only a few short weeks to go and it'll be a new class, new home room. Lots of hugs and understanding and keep up the dinner conversation, sounds like a fantastic idea.

Deep Kick Girl said...

Not much of anything useful to say to help Sapph. I know she is a wonderful girl and she will get through this.

It's hard for parents to watch, that's for sure. We have almost the opposite problem in that our W is not the sharpest tool in the shed but he is a lovely, sweet natured boy who get's along with everyone. In the past when some low level bullying has gone on it's all gone over his head and his friends have told me about it.

I spend a lot of time worrying about how he'll fare in high school.

Whereas your Sapph will have some hard times through school because she is so bright, she is destined for a wonderful future. Our W is probably going to sail through his school career without a great deal of emotional angst (I hope) but it's his future in the big bad world which is much more difficult to predict.

The most important thing for Sapph is your love and support and humour. You can't "fix" the situation but you can give her the support and emotional tools to get past it.

No one gets through childhood unscathed.

Pandora Behr said...

All I know is that Sapphire is very lucky to have you and Love Chunks for parents. If only my parents had a clue as to what went on with me at school. Sending love.

Shamozal said...

Oh Kath, I agree, so so hard at that age and so unfair that it all starts so much earlier. We had problems when we first moved to Doha last year, I wrote a post called "mean girls". Give Saphire a big cuddle for me, it got better for us and I'm sure it will get better for you both as well. Great post, well written.

Kath Lockett said...

Wally - and now your sons are going through it too? late primary and high school years are fleeting, despite how much they dragged at the time. Turkeys are indeed everywhere - there's a fair old flock at my new workplace....

Franzy, to describe yourself as "big head, shit hair, skin like a fresh cheese toastie" - makes me laugh out loud. In sympathy of course.

drb, by 'cool' you mean to be confident, have good body language, 'act' the part, NOT be a mean-spirited tool.

Thanks JK. Yes, being the official definition of 'cool' (not the link that drb has provided)creates so much misery for anyone (ie MOST of us) who don't fit into the narrow category put in place by people we don't like very much.

Baino, the countdown to end of year is happening; the dinner chats are a good venting and advice point and hearing her now sewing happily in her room I can see that she knows that home is a sanctuary.

Deep Kick Girl - "No one gets through childhood unscathed". True, it hacks into us all, doesn't it? Your boy will be fine - he has you to do the worrying for him!

Thanks Pandora. Maybe that's all we can do - be more 'aware' of things; more willing to listen and take it seriously?

Shamozal, cuddles are about to commence right now....

River said...

Kath; Vic is ahead of SA in schooling, over there year 7 is high school, here it's still primary grade 7, so when the kids got here they already learnt the work of grades equivalent to their ages. The teachers weren't keen to skip K because was only 9, but they tested her and agreed.

mele said...

well it sounds like she has a few good mates. I had three at school who I remain close friendships with for the last seventeem years.

We avoided the bitchy girls and because I had the support and love of these gals, I learned to be myself and not give a shit about what anybody else said. Couldn't have survived catholic school without them

drb said...

Yes, can be cool without becoming a tool.
Plus if S becomes cool, J will eat her heart out.

Helen said...

There's an interesting discussion at Hoyden at the moment. Is "bitchiness" really a female trait? What about excluding, snarking boy behaviour - why doesn't the world "see" that?

Describing J's behaviour as something inherently female - a fault of a group to which, after all, Sapph belongs - may be satisfying in the short term, but in the long term?

Kay said...

I've been wondering how the J situation was going. Heartbreaking, isn't it? We've been through it here....and I'm sure it will continue to be an issue. Miss R is not academically inclined but is Aspie so just doesn't "get" many of the social nuances. Fortunately this year has been better; the group of girls she hangs out with are very patient with her but there have been occasions where they have laughed at her, rather than with her, when she's made some lame comment to something she hasn't understood (being a literal thinker). Fortunately (again) much of this goes right over her head, but not over mine....and it hurts to see your kid mocked/teased/bullied/not invited to parties.

As for Titanic? I saw it at the movies and hated it. Couldn't understand why everyone around me was sobbing. Might have had something to do with the fact that I had a tiny premmie baby in the hospital at the time.......going to the movies wasn't a good way to take my mind off it, after all.

Wally The Walrus said...

I read what Franzy wrote...

Sounds similar to my experience. Except that from High School I have contact with NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM. I had nothing in common, and want to have nothing to do with any of them. Even those who I got on with (which was a few - not many). I have contact with some on FB, and really care not what they do, just as they don't care about me.

I do take a grim and perverse satisfaction in knowing that I've turned out better than them all, and the things I've done in my life thus far have made a difference (especially in the last 10 years) to people all over the world. Working in designing new products has its rewards - you can change the world even if only in small ways.

Those who I went to high school with have gone who knows where - I know a few are now dead, a few might be bogan tradies and probably worth a lot more $ than me. And a few are just hopeless nobodies.

When it comes to University, I likewise have kept in contact with few of them. I've bumped into 1 or 2 over the years, and keep in sporadic contact with maybe 1/2 a dozen. Trying to organise a 25 year reunion has been about as much fun as pulling teeth - its amazing where people have ended up. Again I had little in common with many of them.

The lesson in all this: go your own way. You can do big things. But it won't make you lots of friends.

Kath Lockett said...

River, that sounds fair enough. I don't think that Sapphire is advanced far enough to skip a year but maybe an accelerated learning program in highschool could be on the cards.

Mele, I had three girls who helped me navigate my way through high school relatively unscathed as well. Sapphire does have other friends to turn to; just not ones that really, truly 'get' her yet. Maybe that'll happen for her in high school.

Helen that's a fair point. For now though, Sapphire sees boys as being fairly uncomplicated (in her view at least) and has even said, "Being an eleven year old boy seems to be easier. Be good at sport or into computers and yell and swear at each other. At least then the argument's over." She hasn't realised that boys can be just as destructive and just as good at the passive aggressive stuff. LC and I have not paid much attention to boys' issues - as worried parents, all we want is for our own child to be happy but perhaps should be getting her to open her eyes more to the experiences of kids around her, including boys.

Kay, it does hurt. Actually just tonight we three sat and watched Hamish and Andy's TV special and how they brought out Frank Stallone - Sly's younger brother for an Australian concert. He looked bewildered and thrilled at all the attention his early eighties song was getting but I felt uncomfortable at how he was being laughed 'at' more than being 'with' the joke. Still, he's an old man: for a child and for a parent to see what's *happening* to that child....

Wally, Sapphire and I talked about your comment today. It's been a weekend of reading through various magazine and newspaper articles and she pointed out that a lot of successful and famous people say (or claim) that they weren't popular at school, struggled to fit in etc. I'm sure that a lot of them are using false modesty but I didn't want my girl to let go of her observation just yet.