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Saturday, April 9, 2016

One Clicque Away: New School Blues

It's the first day of school and I'm walking into class in a not-so-hot dress and definitely not-hot glasses and dorky shoes. So many eyes are following me I can hardly get to my seat fast enough. I am twelve years old.

Just a few weeks before, I was at a camp where everyone knew each other and where every day felt like a struggle. Now, a new school stretched out in front of me like a yawning trap in front of a fox. Why was I here? How could I go back to my former school, where I'd been happy for the past six years?

My elementary school had been a small faith-based Jewish day school where the emphasis was on learning Hebrew and Jewish culture. Students could speak Hebrew fluently and fashion was not even remotely a priority. Most of us were close friends and though of course we were anything but angels, the kind of peer pressure that goes on in secular schools to look like celebrities did not exist.

Somehow or other, my mother decided to pull me out of that school in seventh grade. It may have had something to do with her ideas about the English side of my education, though looking back on it now I think she was wrong. Going to camp had been another mistake, but at least that one had been generated by me.

The first day of school in my New Jersey town will always be with me. Girls in tiny miniskirts with shoes that match their tiny handbags. Hair that  looks like a hair commercial, boys with height and muscle, and everywhere, everywhere, cooly appraising eyes.

I made one friend that year (another new girl) and many enemies. Not so much for anything I said or did, but for how I looked (clearly not one of them). They were even meaner to some of the other girls in class who had been long-term outcasts, but since I was not good at sports and had zero fashion sense, I was pretty low on the list of anyone's go-to friend.

My memories of that year aren't good ones. Teasing, blame, scapegoating, gossip. Invitations that felt more like demands to help them cheat on math tests (which was pretty funny in my case, because I'm terrible at math).

I got lucky somehow over the summer when one of the sort-of popular girls decided to befriend me. I can't remember why, exactly, but think I did her a good turn at some point when she really needed it?) Eighth grade was somewhat better, and then going to high school with a much more diverse student body brought many more friends and a much more interesting life.

But those junior high days taught me that there's no one meaner than a tween-age girl who has lived all her life in a clique bubble of like-minded friends. Can their parents help at all (and would the girls listen)? Books and movies about these girls are rampant, but usually they are made by the kids who were outcasts in junior high (and use those books and movies to work out their feelings). 

Somehow or other, though, all of us will be the new kid on the block at one time in our lives. We may not have fashionable clothes or cliques, but if we can learn to like ourselves, even the littlest bit, for what we do have, I'm convinced things will start to go better for us. 

We don't need to be them or even want to be them. We need to be (and become) ourselves.

More ideas on cliques & being new can be found here: