When I was a girl in middle school, I grew up in a very small farming community. It truly was one of those towns where everyone knew each other, and if it wasn’t personally knowing each other, you knew someone from that family. I was a well-rounded child who participated in sports, was a cheerleader, and had a large group of friends. I guess you would say that I hung out with the “popular crowd” but was still on the lower end of the list of popularity within my circle. There were two girls who were the most popular and, as many horribly self-conscious, needy, wanting-to-fit-in tweens can do, I wanted to be just as popular as they were. I realized that they did some mean things though. I was smart enough to know this, but dumb enough to not pay attention to this. An example of their meanness was pointing out how other girls were poor and didn’t have as nice of things as they did. I remember a phrase of “you are a Kmart shopper” marked the kiss of death as far as your popularity.
One day this verbal abuse over pointing out a “poor girl” occurred in the locker room after gym class in 7th grade. This was the early 80’s and we were in a very old school. The locker room was extremely small and all wide open. Instead of individual showers with doors or at least a curtain, our showers were in a circle in the middle of the room. Picture a large metal pipe that came out of the floor and stood about 7’ in the air. Around the top of this were about 8 separate water spickets so that multiple people could shower at the same time and have their own water source right above her head.
A girl named Suzie (name changed to protect the innocent!) was taking a shower with a few other girls and she was washing her hair. Instead of having her back to the water source and tilting her head backwards to wash the shampoo suds out of her hair, she stood facing the water with her head tilted forward. Well this ended up getting the suds and water in her eyes and made her shout out from the stinging in her eyes. Of course this got the attention of everyone…including the “mean popular girls.” They started saying, “Suzie doesn’t know how to wash her hair!” “Oh. My. God!, Suzie has never washed her hair before – GROSS!” and “How do you not know how to wash your hair!?!? Have you never washed it before?” I absolutely hate to admit it but I quickly became one of these asshole girls and I started saying ugly things myself. I did this just to fit in with the popular girls.
While all of this was happening I remember a couple of other girls getting her a towel for her eyes and spinning her around and showing her how to get the suds out of her hair without it running in her eyes. I don’t recall too much with that scenario because I left the locker room laughing with the mean girls. Before class was let out a teacher’s assistant who witnessed the entire thing (and tried to correct us while we were in the act, but of course we did not listen) pulled me aside. I will forever remember the words she said to me. She said, “Connie, I do not know you personally but I know your family, and I know that you are better than this! Why you would stoop to this level just to do what the popular kids did is beyond my belief. You are better than that, and I am disappointed in you.” Although I will forever remember her words, I do not recall how I reacted or what I did after that. I would like to think that I went to Suzie and apologized, along with all the girls who witnessed it, but I don’t think that happened. Rather, that day and those words forever stuck with me.
Looking back on that day, what mean, mean, mean girls we were. Talk about taking a person at their most vulnerable time (being naked on top of it!) and making fun of her. As an adult I now realize that of course she washed her hair. She probably just grew up in a house where they didn’t have showers, only bathtubs. And we all know that washing your hair in a bathtub is so much different than in a shower.
When I look back on that 13-year-old-me, I want to punch myself in the face. However, I will forever be grateful to that teacher’s assistant who wasn’t afraid to pull me to the side and tell me what a little shit I was. She will never know it, but I am confident that her telling me I was better than that and that she was disappointed in me was definitely a defining moment for me. I know she helped me to be the kind, caring and compassionate person that I am today.
I chose to share this story with you because 1) there are growth opportunities every single day; 2) don’t be so busy being busy that you don’t recognize these moments in your life; 3) give thanks when these opportunities appear; and 4) THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! – please do not ever be afraid to be like that teacher’s assistant and SPEAK UP! I truly think if more people would do this, especially when kids are young – take notice and take action – there wouldn’t be as many mean people in this world. I like to think that if they are reminded that they are better than that, that they will begin to act like it. For many, it may be the first time they ever heard those words.
So, Suzie, I am forever sorry that I was a horribly mean classmate to you that day. To my fellow classmates, I am forever sorry that you got to see me being a horribly mean person. To my teacher’s assistant, I am forever grateful to you!
Love and Blessings, Connie Jo Holmes