Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Square Dance

Yesterday, I watched an episode of "The Wonder Years."  It was a series that ran on the ABC network from 1988-1992 and follows the Arnold family during the late 1960's-early 1970's.  The main focus is on the character Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage) as he goes through adolescence beginning with junior high school.  I enjoy this series because I personally remember that time period and how close to real life they portray the characters and situations. 

 The episode I watched was from the second season episode 15 called "The Square Dance."  Kevin finds himself in a dilemma when during P.E. class he is partnered with the weird and unpopular Margaret Farquhar during their unit on square dancing. As friends and his brother tease him mercilessly Kevin tries to find a way out of the situation, but in the process he begins to befriend her.  However, fears of what his peers will think overcome him and in a final scene held in the school hallway he tries to convince her that their friendship should remain a secret from others.  As the other kids in the hallway start to take notice and begin to taunt them, Kevin stands and does nothing to defend her. In the final narration of the episode, an adult Kevin (narrated by ac tor Daniel Stern) shares his lesson learned:

“It was horrible.  I wanted to tell them to knock it off leave her alone and Margaret I wanted to scream at her why did she have to be so weird, why couldn’t she just be normal? I could have said something, but I didn’t, I couldn’t…maybe if I was a little braver I could have been her friend…but in the 7th grade who you are is what other 7th graders say you are.”

I remember being in the 7th grade and struggling to fit in.  I remember being teased when what I did or said went against the societal grain and I found myself in situations a little like the above; where someone decided they didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I was too different.  When you are young you get so many mixed messages about how valuable it is to be an individual and yet still encouraged to become part of the herd.  I thought as I got older that the struggle would disappear, but discovered in my adult relationships that me and those I was involved with still had a tendency toward channeling our inner 7th grader.  It saddens me that I allowed others to define who I was and that at the time I wasn’t secure enough to stop playing the part.  I was always under the impression that I had to be different, not different in being who I truly was, but  different in being the same as others said I should be.

 When we are young sometimes it is difficult to stand up because we don’t want to stand out.  Our identities are so fragile and easily influenced we want to please we want to belong.  The societal programming is often so strong that even as grownups we face the same difficulties during our adult years and find it isn’t always easy to escape the 7th grade mentality.
But there is an escape.  I was told by my wonderful mother in law Enid Faust  that when we get into our 50’s we need to stop being so concerned about what other people think we are or should be, that we need to give up on trying to impress and prove ourselves to others.   There are times in our lives when we are building and growing and do have things to prove as we begin careers and start raising families.  But after children have grown we now face a new season, a season where we have opportunities to exercise our identities in new ways because certain challenges do not exist.   

I am currently in this season of life and I am beginning to realize that I want graduate from the 7th grade and start enjoying my unique square dance and stop worrying about how others are measuring me by the partner I have chosen and how exact I do the steps.   After all, it’s my dance.

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