Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Middle School: The Remix

I now know that if you wanted to torture me, forcing me to carry on a conversation with a twelve-year-old girl will do just that. It's torture.

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Pressured by the only other female in my department, I signed up for this work-sponsored mentorship program. It's actually a great program that encourages girls from the poorer part of town to be involved in science and technology. Each girl is paired with a working work from my company and we do online activities together over the course of several months.

Someone failed to tell me, though, that I have to appear actually talk to this middle school girl four or five times throughout the program. Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong. Apparently, I have blocked out all my memories of middle school, like a sane person.

Middle school was such a rough time for me, like any girl who wasn't tiny, confident, and pretty. I was kind of the new girl because I had only been at my elementary school for a year before entering middle school so I knew some people, but didn't really have any friends. And the only people I knew were now popular so they wouldn't acknowledge me in public (You may think this is an exaggeration, but my next door neighbor would only talk to me when we walked home from the bus. If there was anyone else around, she was horrible to me.)

Throw in puberty when I gained thirty pounds in the span of about six months to add to the physical awkwardness.

Add a bit of being the smartest person in every class so I was picked on by the boys (Again, not an exaggeration or bragging. I had a teacher who used to check the answer key against my tests to check HIS answers. Not great for trying to make friends.)

And now, somehow, I'm back in that cafeteria all over again. I see them and I have flashbacks that make my skin crawl with awkwardness. No matter how well dressed I am or how cool my job is (I work with robots, damn it! It's awesome!) or how cute my boyfriend (husband) is, there's the scent of judgement on the air and I suddenly can't breathe.

In an effort to distance myself from my own middle school history, middle school girls have become a completely separate species to me. If they were younger, I could talk to them about kid stuff, like dinosaurs and kittens. If they were older, I could talk to them about important stuff, like college and celebrity gossip. However, the twelve to fourteen age group has me completely stumped. I know understand why all my male coworkers complain about their preteen daughters: they are their own species and we must tread carefully as to not upset their delicate ecosystem.

I asked my sister for ice breakers because she works with middle schoolers:

"Just talk to them like regular people."

Ok, but do you have any tips?

"It's you. You're just not good at talking to people."


I asked one of my BFFs, Mitch, since he's student teaching middle school math:

"I show them cool pictures to break the ice, like how to make the Batman symbol on their graphing calculators. Is the mentor program through company name retracted because I think I know some of the girls involved?

Now I just feel like a jerk for forgetting which school he student teaches at...

I've got three more shots at this before I'm into the smooth sailing of online-only interactions. My plan has devolved into wearing a T-shirt with a cool picture on it and making some flashcards with questions about any show currently on the CW.

No way this can go wrong...

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