If memory serves, and it doesn’t always, 5th grade was my last year at Meadowlark Elementary School. And two things stand out. Or rather the shame and embarrassment of them burn still.
The first was my first experience with what we here in Utah call “maturation.” But I’m pretty sure in Oregon they just called it sex ed. It was the first day of the class (which, now that I think about it, is kind of weird. In Utah you go to a two-hour presentation one time in 5th grade–and maybe again in 6th? I don’t know. But in Oregon it seems like we had an entire until of instruction. Maybe 6 weeks? Sheesh. Even a whole week would have seemed a little bit much for 5th graders.)
In any case. It was the first day of class. I wasn’t terribly embarrassed about the subject matter, although it was all news to me. But what made my face go beet red and raised my blood pressure and my body temperature to dangerous levels was when I heard–for the very first time, right there in 5th grade with my 5th grade peers, male and female alike–the correct anatomical terms for male and female sex organs.
I was the oldest of 6 kids. (I was about to write “I lived on a farm,” but, I’ll give myself a pass, because we didn’t move out to the farm until the next year.) And I had not the remotest clue. And for some reason discovering my ignorance felt shameful.
And so you can bet my kids knew the correct names for every part of their bodies whether or not they chose to call them by their proper names.
The other thing that happened was I got played. Betrayed. Humiliated. (Perhaps the reason the primary things I recall about 5th grade are humiliating is because 5th grade is just that time in your life where everything is humiliating? And 6th. Most definitely 7th. 8th…)
There was a boy I liked. He was in 6th grade. I don’t remember his name. But he pretended to like me. In fact he even passed me a note telling me he liked me. I remember that queasy but tingling feeling that began in my stomach but went all the way down to my toes and, at the same time, kind of made my head spin a little. I remember that feeling because it was the same feeling I felt every time I had a crush on a boy and I found out he liked me. It was also always short lived. Because them liking me back was always the death knell for romance. Fear replaced anticipation along with any kind of attraction and I was just done.
But I digress. In this case the actual facts of the matter were this boy did not like me. In fact he and another girl I had thought was my friend (and thus began a good twenty years of not being particularly fond of girls, either, for true girlfriends were few and far in between) were in fact pranking me. The entire point of their little hand-written declaration of interest was to get me to respond, as which time they both too great delight in dashing my hopes and mocking my pain to humiliate me.
So yeah. 5th grade. It was not a very good year.