Tales of the Fourth Grade Crypt

jj-thompson-142854

I have vivid memories of fourth grade.  Not long drawn out memories, but vignettes that have retained clarity over thirty-four years.  First was sitting down in the front row of class and realizing that I was out of rows.  My inching forward year after year had led me to a front row seat and a still blurry chalkboard.  I could see nothing.  Finally admitting my handicap to my perfect-vision parents meant starting the year in the front of the room with my chubby face famed by brand-new large plastic framed glasses.

I don’t remember when in the year the spitballs began.  Mrs. Busick – a teacher name worthy of a Stephen King novel if there ever was one – would turn to the board and about the time the chalk dust scent reached me I’d hear the fwwt as tiny wads of spitty paper balls were blown through the barrels of Bic pens at the ceiling above my head.  As Mrs. Busick scratched her lessons some of the spitwads would miss their mark and go careening around the room.  Others wouldn’t be sticky enough and rain from the ceiling-tiles marked with holes like giant incomprehensible braille messages.  However, when the projectiles hit their mark the bulbous white insect larvae would dangle above my head waiting to drop and infest my hair and clothing with their sticky bodies.  Throughout the day I could hear them plop down around me, and each morning my desk and chair were littered with the dried husks that fell overnight.

My best friend’s younger brother was in my class, and I remember his guilty confession one night at her house, “I’m sorry about the spitwads, but everyone else is doing it, so…you know.”  I did know.  He felt bad doing it, but not so bad that he wanted to risk being the next target or not join in on the fun.

At some point the year got better.  Maybe Mrs. Busick finally put an end to the shenanigans, or maybe the boys moved onto someone or something else.  While the spitballs are one of my sharpest memories of fourth grade they weren’t life altering.  I haven’t spent hours at the therapist talking about those mean kids.  In fact, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve given the episode more than a casual thought, normally brought on by ceiling tiles in antiquated bureaucratic buildings.

The memory is important now, because tomorrow my daughter starts fourth grade.  I know we are different people.  She has perfect 20/15 vision – I never say “no” when our pediatrician asks if we’d like her vision tested even though she’s always had perfect sight.  (This 20/400 vision mom has the opposite bias of her own parents.)  I also know my daughter’s school would never allow systematic bullying of one girl… well… not for long anyway.  The memory matters because this is the year I expect kids to get mean.  I expect them to flex their intimidation muscles and try inflicting some pain.  This is the end of the nice years and the beginning of real life, and I want to prepare her but not scare her. How do I give her the resiliency my parents gave me, so that if she is the target she will be bothered, but not damaged?   What if she decides to be on the other end of those hollow pen barrels?  How do I teach her crappy she’ll make other people feel before she inflicts that pain?

Ah parenting.  What a journey this little person has brought me on, and how unexpectedly she’s forced me to relive my own past.  Fourth grade here we come.


Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

9 thoughts on “Tales of the Fourth Grade Crypt

  1. Ah, parenting is a trip, right? I hope your daughter has a great fourth grade year. I have a daughter in fourth as well. It is a big year at her school because it’s her last year in the elementary building. We’ve had some issues here and there with girls starting to be mean. It breaks my heart how early that starts.

    My older daughter is in eighth grade. Oh, the memories I have from eighth. I wish I could wrap her in bubble wrap and protect her from the perils of peer pressure, hormones, acne, periods, mean girls, etc. It is going to be a long year.

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    1. Oh! That seems like a big jump for your fourth grader. My kid just entered the other wing of her building for fourth grade. She doesn’t move again until 6th grade when she goes upstairs to middle school. (She’s in a K-8 school, so as long as she keeps liking it we’ll keep staying in the same place.)

      I once had a friend tell me that the worst two years of any woman’s life is when she is 13 and when her kid is 13. I remember those hormone filled years as filled with confusion and fighting with my parents, so I’m going to try and enjoy the heck out of the next four years. Good luck to you with your girls!

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      1. I feel like it is a big jump. I like the way your daughter’s school does it better! Ours is K-4 in one building and 5-8 in the middle school campus and 9-12 on the high school campus. It seems so young to thrust them into the world of middle school. I hope your daughter has a good year.

        I have heard that as well about the worst two years. We are doing okay so far with 13 but I see changes coming. She is getting so emotional. She is a very good kid overall so I hope that the next few years won’t be too tough on us. If anything, I think I’m more worried for my younger daughter to turn 13. That one will test me for sure. She already tests me at 9…

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    1. Thanks Kathy! And best luck to you as you enter the college years. I can’t even imagine what that might be like. So far the first week has been spitwad free for my kiddo. Phew! Hopefully after this year I can let go of that personal humiliation.

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      1. Awww thanks Johanna! It’s a little exciting and nerve-racking all at the same time. Luckily, she goes to the college where I’m teaching, so I worry less, but still lol Happy to hear there are no spitwads cause that would be a weird and ironic happening for her…Cheers to letting go 😉

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        1. She also still has better than perfect vision, so I guess she really IS a different person than me with different life experiences. Go figure… I’m glad your kiddo is close by, and good luck letting her find her own space at your school. (My mom worked at my high school and I loved it. She gave me space, but also money when I forgot my lunch. Everyone won!)

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  2. Kids – and especially girls – can be so mean! They seem to look for any excuse to exclude or victimize someone. I remember in about 7th or 8th grade, there were Head & Shoulders commercials that made a big deal about head scratching be a sign of (gasp!) dandruff. For about 6 months at school, anyone who even placed their fingers anywhere near their scalp would be called out – even by friends – and mercilessly ridiculed.It was so ridiculous! Since I still remember it, it obviously made an impression, just like your spitballs.

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    1. Ugh. I can’t imagine not being able to scratch your head for 6 months without being ridiculed. This life we live, it’s full of embarrassment, isn’t it? Thankfully we get older and develop thicker skin while *most* people stop getting their kicks by being mean to others. Now, off to maniacally scratch my head, because of your story!

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