The contrasting number is 69, which happens to be my age. Tonight I’m going to see Eighth Grade, a film about a girl trying to figure out who she is, how to be herself in the face of friends and parents. I volunteer with 11-year-olds, kids who are starting to experience similar angst.
I tell myself that I’m an empathetic adult who can sense what kids are feeling. After all, I used to be one. Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I forget the young wallows of self-esteem, the despair of loneliness, the pull towards conforming so you can have friends.
So tonight I learn. There’s so much I don’t know. And I want to know more so I can love more. These kids need love. They need to have people in their life who “get” them, who “see” them. I can be one of those folks.
And now the movie …
Kayla has full-blown acne and there are many who can’t see beyond the texture of her skin to find the person. She hardly says anything in school as fear usually rules her day. As the school year winds down, she wins an award … as the quietest female student. And she shrinks some more.
In band class, as her peers try on the trumpet and trombone, Kayla gets to clang the cymbals. Sometimes even that is too much – she can’t quite get the rhythm right. Her world continues to fall apart.
Throughout the film, despite the pressures on her mind, Kayla is remarkably brave. She creates Internet videos, full of tips for kids her age. Apparently hardly anybody watches them but she keeps going. A stuck up girl in her class is forced by her mother to invite Kayla to her birthday party. Kayla knows she’s disliked and still goes to the party. She’s a little overweight but still puts on her bathing suit and heads to the pool … where everyone awaits. Waydago, Kayla.
It was painful to see how most of the teens rejected her, since she was deemed not to be “cool”. Kayla initiates conversation with two of the “in” girls in the school hallway and they barely respond, staring at their phones the whole time. Kayla keeps talking.
It’s so hard for dad, a prince of a single parent, to feel Kayla distancing herself from him. There’s really no dinnertime conversation, just the phone. At one point, he’s driving her somewhere, not saying anything for the moment. Her response? “Don’t be weird and quiet.” He’s baffled. It teaches me that sometimes I just won’t understand what’s going on in the teen’s brain. There’s nothing wise I can say. Just love them from afar.
Kayla has a crush on a boy and tells him that she’s created nude photos of herself (which she hasn’t) – anything to get him to be her friend. Another boy tries to initiate sexual activity in his car, and she’s sorely tempted, but courageously says no.
In the fifty-six years after being thirteen, I’ve forgotten so much about the horrors that kept popping up back then. And I didn’t have to deal with social media. I left the theatre with huge love and respect for the young people who are groping through the mists to answer the question …
Who am I?