The brutal transition to middle school
In my young mind, transitioning from a snobby catholic school where I was a complete outcast to a public school where I’d be going to school with some of my best friends seemed like a no-brainer. Although I had my fair share of issues in school, I did have a very good group of friends in my neighborhood. I am forever grateful to this group of people. Through all of the cold passive aggressive behavior I witnessed in school, I atleast felt like it was possible to fit in somewhere. As far as I was concerned, attending a public school meant I’d come in contact with a lot more down to earth kids than I did at a school where a good percentage of the kids were pretty well off. In hindsight, I don’t know what I actually expected. I don’t know if I expected it to be a better experience because I would be in the same school as the friends I loved or if I just felt like anything would be better than what I just went through for the past several years. I just knew that I was thankful for the change of scenery. The opportunity to start over was something I desperately needed.
Learning to deal with life at school without mom
Although I always had a friend close by, this would be the first time in my life where my mom would not be involved in the school in any way. Basically, I had just signed myself up to attend a regular public middle school where I’d have several teachers to deal with instead of just one for a whole day. I would have the opportunity to be in class with more than just the usual 25-30 kids I had known for the past several years. It was a whole new experience for me. In hindsight, as I learned once I got much older, I don’t ever recommend moving a kid, especially one with the issues I had, around to different schools throughout their childhood. I think this makes it so much more difficult for kids to learn about you and understand what you are going through. Despite attending a school with all of my friends, I had to face the tough task of introducing myself to whole new group of kids.
I’m not sure if this was fair to me or not, but I would have moments when I would get tired of being misunderstood by my peers. Especially since I was the new kid in the school, I really wanted to find ways to get kids to understand me. Perhaps if I did, they would be less likely to tease me. This was my logic as I tried to explain to certain kids what was really going on with me. Some understood, but several used it against me. I also believe, as I will probably elaborate on when I talk about high school, I probably should have gotten more involved in activities at school. Unlike my siblings, I wasn’t ever encouraged to do anything. I liked playing basketball and baseball so I did that through the city’s Athletic Association, but not through the school. I think finding a club to participate in would have made a difference too. Another factor that comes into play is that, well, middle school is hard for just about every kid. A lot of changes go on during this time in our lives. This tends to lead to some interesting interactions. Being a kid with all of my issues plus being fairly unknown didn’t help me that much.
The interesting thing about middle school is that while it might have started out rough, I do believe that the kids became nicer as they got to know me. I can’t say I made a lot of good friends outside of my immediate circle, but I did find that I was much more at ease as time went on. It also helped that I was given unlimited bathroom privileges by my teachers. This gave me the opportunity to take care of myself on a more independent and consistent basis. Having time between classes also gave me the opportunity to stand out a little less than I did by excusing myself a ton of times in per day in front of the same kids who didn’t have the same privilege. Despite having a little more flexibility, I still had a lot of issues with my bowels. Having an imperforate anus is not an issue that is easy to resolve. As far as I know, there is no particular way to manage this issue that works 100 percent. Even as an adult, I still have some pretty terrible days. The only difference is I am much more experienced in how to manage it so that it doesn’t become the type of issue it was for me 25-30 years ago. It took me until high school to truly figure out the best way to manage the issue. Until then, I endured lots of questions and teasing from my peers. Sadly, even to this day, I can’t find a lot of information on how to manage it. No amount of fleet enemas, mint flavored pills for your poop, or suggestions from doctors can fix the issue. From my perspective, you pretty much have to figure it out for yourself. Thankfully I started to figure out what does work by the time I got to high school. Most teachers were pretty understanding, but there was one who used to make me stand out in the hall rather than just letting me manage the issue and come back. As far as I can recall, this was one of the most embarrassing things I can remember a teacher doing to me in regard to any of my issues. Most teachers were pretty understanding or passive aggressive about how they viewed me, but this one made it pretty clear that he didn’t understand my issues and didn’t want to deal with me.
I had two more cleft related surgeries during middle school. Both occurring during the summer of 1991 and 1992 respectively. Although the surgeries to correct my nose, palate and philtrum were beneficial to me and how I perceived myself, I can’t say that it did much to change some of the issues I grew accustomed to. If my cleft was noticeable to people as I got older, they rarely commented on it. I’ve come to learn that there are some people who think it is ok to ask questions, but much to my surprise, most people don’t bring it up. For all of the things I could say about society, this remains one of the biggest surprises of my life. Even as a kid, I believe most people understood that there are boundaries you just can’t cross. Personally, I only find it inappropriate to ask if I don’t know you very well. If we are friends or you are a doctor (or I am writing a blog about it) I am more than happy to talk about it. Otherwise it seems a little invasive. With that said, despite society’s general understanding of what is appropriate, I can’t help, but to sometimes feel like it affects the way I am viewed. When you see some of the same patterns of behavior as an adult as you did in school, you tend to develop a good sense for it. From my perspective, this is one of those secrets of life I have learned that gets overlooked by others. It is always better to treat all people with the same respect rather than assuming that they can’t pick up on anything you might be uncomfortable about when it comes to the way they look, talk, act, etc.
A short stay in the Reading school district
Unfortunately, I only attended this school for two years and one quarter. The city of Reading was becoming immersed in the “gangsta” culture that was starting to emerge in the early 90’s. Although my parents had tried to move out of the city a few times before, we finally found a situation we all agreed on. At the time, especially considering the obstacles I had, it made sense to move away from a city culture that was becoming more harsh everyday and move to a suburban school. There is no way to predict how life would have turned out otherwise, but sometimes I wonder if I actually would have been better off staying in the city. By 8th grade, I was starting to feel more comfortable with many of the kids I would have attended high school with in the future. I could sense that the relationships I had been working on were starting to build more over time. I also already had a great group of friends that were behind me and knew me very well. However, the opportunity to live in the suburbs, away from the noise and harshness of the city, was something I was in favor of trying. My brother and I also thought we might have a better chance at succeeding in sports since the city is flooded with lots of talent (I will admit that this was a silly assumption in hindsight!).
One of the most valuable traits I developed during my time in the Reading school district was toughness. As a kid living with all of these obstacles, you are probably going to develop a certain amount of toughness regardless of where you grow up. However, I have to admit that nothing makes you tougher than going to school in the city. The teachers and students are much more real than anywhere else you will ever be. They were always the most straightforward (for the most part). Some of my favorite teachers can from this era of my life. My 6th and 7th grade English teacher, Mr Ott, was probably the best teacher I ever had. He was unlike anybody I’d ever had in a classroom. Tough, honest, and fair. I think many kids viewed his style and personality as intimidating. Mr. Ott drew the line from being coddled as a grade school student to starting the transition of growing up and taking more responsibility for yourself. I went from crying and struggling early on in 6th grade to laughing and flourishing under his style by the end of 7th grade. I can remember thinking that I didn’t want another english teacher for the rest of my school career. That is how much growth I experienced in his class. Mr Ott was just what I needed at that time in my life. I had some good teachers in high school, but none of them impacted me as a person or student in the same way Mr Ott did.
As much as the toughness of inner city Reading impacted my life in a positive way, it didn’t prepare me for the culture change I was about to experience when I left in 8th grade. I made some good friends in the suburbs, but I often wonder how I would have turned out if I had stayed in the city. In hindsight, I believe I was growing into it much better than I ever did once I transitioned to my next school. I’ve had my struggles at every point in life, but I feel like I may have missed out on some important growth because of the dramatic change of scenery. I lost my core group of friends when I left the city. I never really developed a good group of friends like that ever again. Frankly, to this day, I haven’t managed to find a place where I truly feel like I belong. As an individual, I am very confident in my ability to be engaging with people, but I never really learned how to fit in. I think this and many other skills would have been learned if I had stayed in the city. Having to repeat the process of teaching a whole new group of people about myself proved to be a pretty daunting task. A process I will not only talk about in my high school themed blog, but am also currently writing a book about too.