I asked to go to boarding school.
Strike that. I decided I wanted to attend boarding school and put much thought into how to approach it with my parents. I presented my father with a convincing argument that included the pros and the cons and then… I begged. The begging was my back-up plan but I could sense my father wavering and it slipped out. I was 11 at the time. The next school year (7th grade) I was enrolled at Rift Valley Academy and I never regretted that decision. I truly adored boarding school.
School life wasn’t “happy happy joy joy” all the time, naturally. My 7th grade year was pretty amazing. Then again, my brother was a good looking athletic senior. I think that fact carried a lot of weight on the junior high popularity scale. Inevitably, he graduated. My 8th grade year was wretched. Like Big K, I was small for my age at the time. Like Big K, I had some perceived eccentricities. Like Big K, I was teased and rejected. Unlike Big K… I knew me.
I had a pretty strong sense of self early on in my life. I was a tomboy. I liked being a tomboy and I resented the pressure from other girls at boarding school to “be more girlie” than I wanted to be… hence, ridicule and rejection. There was enough misery that 8th grade year to make me question my identity. The year ended, as marching time does, and 9th grade began much as 8th grade had ended but, as the school year progressed, I found ways to express myself and continued entrenching myself into the athletic community… the only place I felt almost fully accepted. While I was carving out that niche, however, I refused to pretend to be someone other than I was and, for this, there was still much rejection. I played on the junior high basketball team. I played on the junior varsity field hockey team and then, in my last trimester, I qualified for my varsity letter in track… as a freshman. My popularity status changed almost instantaneously… and I rejected it.
At the end of 9th grade we returned to the United States for the one year we spent here for every four spent in Kenya. It was a rough year. Being the short little white girl from Africa dropped into a public high school in the middle of KKK Country, USA wasn’t the easiest transition. I had a lot of enemies. Courtesy of the local Air Force Base… I also had a lot of friends. Military Brats are not unlike Missionary Kids. We were in the States for 10 months. In that time, I grew almost 6 inches and developed a few feminine curves… bought some makeup… paid better attention to my wardrobe and realized quite fully that I would not be returning to Kenya as the same Beth who left. Well, not on the outside. I managed to merge tomboy and young woman quite successfully.
After confiding in my parents what my prior two years of school had truly been like for me, I was given the choice to change schools and return to Rosslyn Academy where I’d attended for 1st-6th grade. I declined. I was not a quitter and I would not run away with my tail between my legs. I went back to boarding school for 11th and 12th grade but I returned with an agenda: 1) I would not let the opinions that particular individuals had about me define how I perceived myself. If someone didn’t want to be friends – so be it. 2) I would not, under any circumstances, treat anyone at that school the way I had been treated during 8th and most of 9th grade. 3) I would change for no one.
I lived by those rules then and I’m learning post-divorce to live by them again. Ten months away from my regular high school had afforded me the opportunity to recreate myself on the outside. It had also given me the strength to realize that what was on the inside needed no recreating. I still knew me. I liked me.
The teen has suffered. His bad years were 7th and 8th grade. Junior high age kids are cruel… the little shits. Labels were applied. It’s easier for a boy unsure of who he is to accept those labels than it is for him to apply the effort needed to become his own man. I shared my story with him as we talked. “Summer is almost here,” I said, “I can’t give you 10 months like I had, but take the summer to invent the man you want to be… the best K possible. Screw public opinion.” His eyes lit up. He seemed renewed.
I realize, of course, that going to boarding school is not fully comparable to being emancipated from one’s parents. I had teachers and dorm parents. I had curfew. I didn’t have to cook my own meals. Still, I had far more independence than my parents fully realized and living away from them from the age of twelve didn’t exactly foster the type of relationship where I felt comfortable sitting down and talking with them as my son did with me last night. I was own master. I understood, very early on, that the consequences of my actions were my own.
The teen desperately wants to pursue the independence I had at his age, but now he realizes that he needs to pursue himself first for he is unable to answer a very fundamental question: “Who are you?” I told him I was here for him during this discovery but he had to allow me to be his parent… and his friend. And, yes, as long as he lives under my roof… he’ll live by my rules. Oy! That phrase. I sound like my father.
“Everyone wants to tell you what to do and what's good for you. They don't want you to find your own answers. They want you to believe theirs. I want you to stop gathering information from the outside and start gathering it from the inside.” ~Peaceful Warrior, Film (2006)
Photo credit: Josh Sommers