Sixth grade was probably a coming-of-age year for me. I’m sure it was like that for most of us. Once we graduated into sixth grade, we were on top of the world – or monkeybars – and finally considered the “big kids” on campus. We officially owned the backseats to school buses. We possessed most of the power during recess, particularly over the basketball court. We were “Safety Patrol Officers” during the last 20 minutes of class, making sure no “little kids” cut in line, ran in front of, or missed their bus. We… were The Sixth Graders.
This particular year was both difficult and exhilerating for me, because there were several incidents where I needed to choose whether to back down or stand up for what I believed was right. Ultimately, these moments would greatly affect the way I felt as I entered junior high and have become defining moments in my life, no matter how small.
Ms. Hatala and the rest of the sixth grade teachers had to take us all through several weeks of Sex Education. Unsure of who felt most awkward – the students or the teacher – we would all do our best to simply stare forward and wait for it to pass. While I’m sure whatever the boys learned in Mr. Wooton’s class was interesting, I don’t think anything could beat the fascination all the girls had when Mrs. Johnson showed us what happens when a tampon is dipped into a cup of water.
Of course, there were videos too. Wonderfully orchestrated videos depicting very real situations involving young men and young women, all going through changes in their – ahem – anatomy. Allow me to describe one such video…
Enter “Mary”, a cute and everso slightly timid girl, unsure of the transformations her body appears to be going through. Her breasts are budding, there’s hair “down there”, and she just got her very first period. Worst of all, it’s come at the most inopportune time – during school. The bell rings and students rise to go to their next class. Mary runs to her best friend and confidant, Julie.
“Julie, quick!” Mary whispers desperately. “I’ve started my menstrual cycle! What am I going to do?!”
Julie, obviously the rock in this relationship, takes hold of Mary’s hand and reassures her, “Don’t worry, Mary. We’re all going through these same changes. It’s a part of life.”
Mary smiles, remembering her confidence, and follows Julie to her locker. As students fill the halls, Julie fiddles with her lock. “I’ve got just what you need,” she says and opens the door. Reaching deep inside the confines of her locker, Julie feels around. Mary stands on the tips of her toes, anxiously waiting for Julie’s magical remedy. Finally, Julie pulls out and holds in her two hands an entire package of maxi-pads.
“Here you go,” Julie hands them to Mary with a huge smile.
“Thanks, Julie,” Mary says relieved. “You saved my day!”
As Julie turns to leave, Mary stashes the maxi-pads into her backpack and, having a restored sense of self-esteem, strolls toward her next class.
However, just when we think it’s over, when we think that Mary has prevailed over her unfortunate circumstance, something horrible happens!
Mary trips! She falls, head-over-foot onto the ground, sending her backpack flying and the contents therein! And there, resting at the feet of Mary’s studly crush, lay the entire package of maxis… A large crowd of boys begin to point at Mary and laugh at her expense. Face red, Mary tries pulls herself up and suddenly finds herself gazing into the eyes of the one she most admired.
“Are you okay?” the handsome boy asks.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Mary answers quickly, covering up her embarrassment.
“You dropped these,” the boy says, adding the most genuine smile to the end of his sentence and handing Mary the feminine product.
Realizing how much he understood, Mary takes the package and smiles back. “Thanks,” she replies.
“You’re welcome,” the boys says, giving one last gaze before he heads down the hall.
No longer afraid of puberty, Mary holds her head high as she enters her class. She has endured probably the hardest day of her life, but in the end, she feels that much stronger. She’s becoming a woman… And she’s proud of it.
The film ended and Ms. Hatala flipped the lights back on. My sixth grade teacher was a snooty woman who wore a gold elephant belt around her beige suit and no matter how much she tried to relate, it just wasn’t going to happen. And even though I knew she shouldn’t, Ms. Hatala decided to speak.
“So now that you know what to do whenever something like that occurs, do you feel more confident in the transformations your bodies are going through?”
The silence spoke for itself.
“You girls should be proud of the changes your bodies are enduring. You should not be afraid to tell people what’s happening, because it’s natural.”
It was at this that I decided to speak.
“Ms. Hatala – That’s so fake.”
“What was that, Ms. Bishop?”
“That video we just watched. There’s no way anything like that would ever happen.”
Crossing her arms in front of her, “Oh really? And how do you know so much?”
At this point, I had not gone through what “Mary” had gone through, but I was a smart, and very logical 12-year-old.
“Do you honestly think that if Mary got her period in the middle of class that her best friend would fly to her rescue and deliver an entire package of maxi-pads?”
“It could happen, Carly!” Ms. Hatala argued.
“No, Ms. Hatala,” I stood my ground, “It couldn’t. For one thing, we don’t even have lockers here. There would be no place to keep them. No one brings an entire package of maxi-pads to school. Ask any girl here.”
She continued to stare at me.
“And secondly. There is no way that a cute guy is going to pick up an entire package of maxi-pads and hand them back, as though they’re just another textbook. He would have been laughing at her, just like the rest of those guys.”
“Not all boys are like that, Ms. Bishop.”
“Oh yes… Yes, they are.”
“Well, that’s your opinion.” She turned and walked toward her desk.
“I can assure you it’s everyone’s opinion, Ms. Hatala.”
At this, several girls around me started nodding and raising their hands. And so began a real talk about real situations and real answers to the real problems.
And I became an assertive, stubborn, outspoken little wench and maintained that persona all through the rest of high school and college. And I don’t express my opinion at just any given moment, but rather only the right moments. The moments when my heart tells me to “Speak up! Rise above!” and only those.
It is at this time that I feel I need to speak up and rise above. Stand up and face the plague I have been forced to endure for the last 12 years. I’m finally ready to battle this asphyxiating problem and bring it to resolve.
The war with my Anxiety Disorder will begin Tuesday at 4:00pm with a counselor whose last name I cannot pronounce. I have allowed this to go on far too long – I feel the need to kill that which hinders me.
A Former Sixth Grader.