Ruffling Feathers

When I was in junior high school, I was a nerd by every 13-year-old’s definition of the term. I was a good grade getting, over achieving teachers pet whose zest for learning was only overshadowed by my awkward style, pail face plastered with freckles and acne, messy hair and overall poor hygiene. Among the masses of students all seeking to carve out their high school identities in hopes of being labelled into the clique of their choice-  I was one of those students who, without really knowing it at the time, had my label taped to my back right next to the “kick me” sign.

Lucky for me, this lacklustre labelled loser was blissfully unaware of her standing in the junior high pecking order and happily spent much of my junior high existence with a limited number of similarly branded outcasts who had all been given our labels for one reason or another—all of us oblivious to the fact that we weren't as "cool" in the eyes of the rest of the junior high population as we though we were.

Later in my high school years, after my unique style took a darker twist and my jet black hair, dog collars, and thickly plastered eyeliner, earned me both the new label of "freak" and a higher placement on the high school hierarchy—a position earned out of fear and uncertainty as to why the three or four of us in the school dressed the way we did.  We were not cool by any teen definition at the time, we were something to be feared, and we were okay with that.

It was during those years that these darkly painted eyes began to see things in a new light realizing that making sure you walked home with your older brother and his friends to stay safe each day wasn't an average part of junior high life for everyone. Giving up the lead role in your grade eight's Dracula performance because you were threatened wasn't normal, and getting pushed around because you made the basketball team and the other girls didn't causing a fear of attending practise wasn't “just the way high school was”.

I had gone through these years fearing for my own little geeky existence, completely unaware that what was going on wasn’t right.  I was never told that I should just put up with it, but I did so quietly, certain that this was just the way things worked now.

And so we fast forward 10 years—with two nieces in the throws of carving out their own identities amidst the junior high school crowds.  Still somehow, the mere mention of anything that seems remotely close to the idea of them being bullied sends my brain into overdrive.  Perhaps its that old wounds haven’t quite healed yet, but the topic tends to spin my mind into a frenzy, as my thoughts begin running around like a chicken with its head cut off, mentally preparing myself to chew out those little turkeys that are causing my nieces grief and tar and feather them.

Over protective auntie might be the understatement of the century.

It is usually at some point in the midst of furious rants, that common sense, maturity, or failing that, my nieces step in—bringing me back down to earth and reminding me that losing my cool over the situation won't help matters.  The bottom line is, those girls are at the age where even if my over-the-top anger-induced plan of action would help, they wouldn't want me there to fight their battles for them anyway.  A concept I cant say this over protective auntie all to fond of—but one that I’m learning to get more and more used to. 

In the past the identity I carved for myself was one that became my defence mechanism. By creating fear I protected myself, though I wouldn't say it was a conscious choice on my part at the time.  As the bully issue now once again becomes an indirect piece of my life as I’m sure it is to some degree for any one who have children in their lives, my instinct tells me to revert back to that identity I carved for myself once upon a time and create fear to protect those girls.

Through time and run-ins of varying degrees, I’m beginning to learn that these two girls, are each in the midst of creating and shaping their own identities—and in turn learning and developing the skills and tools necessary to take on these challenges as they are faced with them.  As I see these girls weather their share of typical teenage ups and downs—I am amazed at the courage and maturity their personalities each hold—courage and maturity that I’m afraid to admit—I didn’t really learn until adulthood.  The courage to understand the limits, the knowledge to recognize when their personal boundaries have been crossed and their rights inflicted and the maturity to realize, when a situation or problem, is simply bigger then they can handle on their own.

While this Chickie will without a doubt be whipped into frenzies of protective anger again, I am also learning to understand that the two chickadees I instinctively protect are themselves in the midst of pecking away at their own identities and though keeping it cool will be a struggle of my own, I have faith in their maturity- and hope to instil in them the trust that if the time comes when they're ever confronted with a situation that is bigger then them, that I will be there to help them without feeling the personal need to ruffle any feathers.