There are really only two incidents I can remember, two times when I felt so small and embarrassed, and for junior high, twice is not so bad. When I consider seventh grade, and what it entails, I shudder. The introduction of new friends and experiences, be it kindergarten, junior high or college, all opportunities for wonderful adventure combined with the possibility of horrible pain.
Science class followed gym class. Early in the school year, running late, I wasn't able to finish drying my hair before the bell and so I ran off to science, the ends of my hair still damp from my always humiliating gym class shower. My table mate, someone I barely knew, pointed out that I had greasy hair. I explained about the shower, she made the announcement to the class. Grease starts at the top of your hair, I explained, not the bottom; she could not be swayed. She refused to sit by me, until my grease dried, and then she quietly moved her chair back to my side of the table. Greasy hair does not dry, wet hair does.
Study hall was early in the day. After a few cursory glances through your books you were allowed to move to the other side of the room and sit with other students ignoring their homework. One day an older girl decided that my clothes came from K-Mart, revolting to her and her table mates. Doing my best to ignore her, I continued on with my friends. She moved to my side of the table and pulled out the back of my sweater, revealing the tag. Disappointed, but not defeated, she went back to her friends assuring them that this must be a special day, and they all laughed.
What really horrifies me is the possibility that in those years I could have made someone else feel as small as I did on those two occasions. Away from the guidance of parents and caregivers, children are left with choices, too often ones they are not mature enough to make. Maybe the benefit to cruelty is a lesson in kindness, and a hard lesson learned in how not to treat others.
My children are soon to enter this world, albeit on a four year old level, but a place none the less where I can't control the situation and shelter them from this kind of harsh behavior. At four they will be subject to childhood honesty, not a terrible idea, but one they have encountered infrequently, twins providing a small buffer in that they have always had each other.
We could send them off, dressed in their finest everyday, but maybe it's best to stick with them a few character building schmears on their dresses. And possibly while watching out for each other they will learn to be kind, and take care in dealing with their new friends in this simultaneously scary and thrilling new environment. And while they may not always be the most fashion savvy children, they will always have clean hair.