Today’s trip back in time to the land of 13 years old is sponsored by our partners Teen Angst and Team Awkward. The bitterness and amazement are thrown in for free. 

I’ve been married for nearly thirty years now and I have no idea how it’s lasted that long. You see, I’ve never liked “pairing up.” Nothing strikes fear and loathing deeper in the heart of a true introvert than the teacher saying, “Now, just pair up with someone else in class and discuss blah, blah, blah blah blah. We’ll get back together in five minutes and compare answers to the problem.”

First of all, the teacher supposes that I have someone in the class with whom I discuss this blather on a somewhat regular basis. Secondly, they assume that anyone cares about said blather and lastly they think I, an introvert, am just going to go up to anyone in class and put myself out there and ask to be their partner. I’m not. I’m shy, sensitive, self-conscious and frankly I don’t think anyone understands blather the way I understand blather.

I suppose this makes me a snob, an elitist. I don’t care. It’s an accurate statement. No one puts forth any type of thoughtful commentary in Blather 101 and if I do by some small miracle find a partner I’m almost certain that any pithy, relevant input on Blather will come from me and guess who gets credit? Myself, of course, but also my accompanying imbecile. And when my partner, Imbecile, returns to the crowd, he or she will no doubt explain to them that I am a know-it-all, a nerd and not to be associated with. So, what’s the use?

Still, I’ve been given a directive so I will search for a “partner.” This is how this goes. This is not my first rodeo so I don’t even take so much as a longing gaze at the girls who have entered puberty early and with great zeal. I don’t give a thought to trying to find one of the cool guys who seem to not be in awe whatsoever (unlike me), of said girls and occasionally even dare to converse with them. In short, what’s left are chess clubbers, band members, the science and spelling bee-ers and the math club. And me.

Okay, I’m being harsh but middle school is a caustic environment and any kid that’s been there knows what I’m talking about. Heck, I’m in my fifties and I still remember what it was like. Each and every one of us cast-offs are considered to be second class citizens or below. The difference between me and my accompanying flotsam is I may, just may, be able to string together a sentence. And do it with using the words “dude” “you know” “umm” and “and…..Yeah” (where my voice trails off and my eyes float up and to the right). If I’m lucky I’ll be able to deliver it without studying my shoes. Still, I don’t dare delve into my missive on Blather with any kind of zest or enthusiasm or conviction. No, I must bring forth “our” answer with an apologetic tone. You see I have to be sorry we (I) understand Blather or I’ll be labeled a teacher’s pet, a brain or worse. I’m already an outcast, I can’t afford to further distance myself from the pack because as certain as we’ve been asked to partner up, sometime in the future we’ll be asked to get into groups. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but someday and if I don’t lay some groundwork now I will be in a group with a bunch of math and science whizzes and band and music people. If I play my cards right I might be able to avoid this. Still, there’s no doubt about the role I’ll fill in the group. I will be the worker.

You see, small groups largely form on caste lines. Puberty-stricken girls and cool guys usually form a group or two. Middle-of-the-roaders, kids who’ve managed not to stick out in any way, make up the majority and then there are the dregs. If I’m lucky I’ll get in with the middies. But I’ll still have to work, and organize, and present and do at least one other person’s share (this number increases with the size of the group). The difference is I will have moved up a notch on the ladder and probably into the level where I should rightfully be (even though I dream of cool hair, cool clothes and full sweaters). The group I’m in will have several types of people in it.

As I said, I will be the worker. Usually there’s only one of me. Somehow as these things are formed the powers that be (and I’m talking kids here) find it possible to only include one of my kind. (I think they do it by smell) Heaven forbid those in my social class be allowed to experience companionship or the satisfaction of working alongside someone else. However, the other types can and often do number more than one.

First, there’s the pretty girl. She’s had almost everything given to her in her entire life and can’t understand why she’s asked to work on this dumb Blather project. “It’s all so stupid! ______ (insert female teen pop sensation here) would never have to deal with this!” She’s only in our group because the puberty fairy has not visited her yet. Once that happens, she’s outta here.

Second, there’s clueless boy. This classification is the most likely to come in multiples. Too homely to hang with the upper echelon or not quite affluent enough to buy his way in; he doesn’t’ think that paying attention or contributing is necessary. It’s not that he thinks it’s his birthright, like the pretty girl, he just doesn’t see the need. If he hangs back enough, someone will pick up the slack (me).

Finally, you have the activities queens and kings. They’re much to busy with dance, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, etc. etc. to fit in our little group. How could they expect to after four hours of practice every night? Chances are I’ll have to ask my parents to take me to their house from 9:30 until 10:00 so they can contribute their half-hearted attempt to the project. Then I can stay up past midnight trying to forge something that carries a shred of meaning so my grade in the class doesn’t suffer. It’s an age-old dance and a dance that I somehow mastered, moved beyond or got god-awful lucky in and found the right partner. Because somehow, I got married. Somehow I got lucky.

Over the years I’ve found that my partner in this dance has been all the above kids sometimes and none of those kids most of the time. I’ve learned that I can be all of them too, because I have been. Shoot, some of them I’ve been much too much of the time. What I’ve found though is that partnering up or being part of a small group (aka a family) is understanding all those personalities and not being afraid to extend a hand and offer to solve a problem, work on a project or come up with an answer together. Thankfully those problems, projects and answers have absolutely nothing to do with blather. Even more thankfully those things are done together.

Now, sometimes I still do more than my share of the work, but sometimes they do too. Sometimes one or more of us doesn’t want to be part of the small group but we’re still bound together because the powers that be (and I’m talking about God here) have lumped us together. Partnering up or being part of the small group may not have fit our plan for that day but we’re still charged with going the distance. That’s what marriages do. That’s what families do. Somehow, someway I’ve been fortunate enough (and I consider myself the luckiest guy on the earth) to finally find my partner and my small group; for life.


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