The summer before middle school, my daughter “ER” entered a confessions stage, during which she felt the need to purge herself of all guilt from the last several years of her short life. I must have heard “I need to talk to you” about 1000 times that summer.
We developed a routine. Confessions were quick and judgment free. ER would unburden herself and then continue with whatever she was doing at the time. Usually I felt no reaction to her confession, other than gratitude for her trust. Occasionally I heard something that I found upsetting, more rarely VERY upsetting, and that would lead to a deep and serious talk. But usually the events were so far in the past punishments were out of order, and I knew her guilt was strong medicine.
During one of her quick confessions, ER told me that in 4th grade there was a boy in her class everyone thought was weird. We’ll call him Erik. ER confessed she, too, had laughed when the others made snide comments about his behavior, his comments, even his lunch. She didn’t say whether she had teased him, too. Maybe. Probably. Erik did not return for 5th grade at the same school.
The guilt cropped up two years later, this past summer. During her confession I told her guilt like that has a purpose. “You remember how this made you feel when this situation comes up again.”
As fate would have it, she walked into homeroom her first year of middle school and there sat Erik. ER told me after school he was there. He’s a nice boy, I said. Remember how you felt, I reminded her.
Yesterday, just a few days into the school year, ER shared this. “So, I talked with Erik today. We were all out walking during fresh air time and he was by himself, so I went up to him and said hi.”
And this is how it went:
ER: Hi Erik. Want to walk with us?
Erik: Sure. I wrote a story. Do you want to see it?
Erik: It’s about pyramids and zombies and everyone goes nuts! And then some of the people get killed. It’s out of control.
ER’s friends begin giggling and walking faster. ER is nervous.
Erik (now speaking loudly in a voice like a demon): And then spaceships come down and it’s crazy and the aliens are like “I am the master of the pyramid!”
ER’s friends run ahead, laughing.
ER (completely unsure what to do and covering her mouth which needs to smile): Erik, I’m not sure if you mean to be funny. But that makes me want to laugh. Is it supposed to be funny?
Erik: I guess. If it makes you want to laugh let it out!
ER, relieved, lets her laugh out but does not run away.
Erik: I was thinking about showing it to a teacher.
ER: You should. Find one with a good sense of humor.
Sometimes people make us nervous. We don’t understand them and we get uncomfortable in our own skin when we can’t trust our own reactions. It can be unnerving and upsetting. But take it from a 6th grade girl with a lot of guts. When someone throws you off balance, plant your feet, don’t run. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not sure what to do with that.” Maybe you will learn something about the person you don’t understand. Maybe not. But you will absolutely learn something about yourself that will make you proud.