by Maria Schulz
My girls are getting older now. As I watch them navigating through the rocky shoals of high school melodramas and teen angst, it makes me think of my own life during those uncertain, unformed times.
My memory was jogged just last week, when the term “Freshman Friday” time-warped me right back to the 80s. In case you think Freshman Friday is some kind of fun, exciting tradition in which upperclassmen help newbie freshmen acclimate to their new schools, think again. Freshman Friday is the day when Seniors turn into every Freshman’s older brother or sister—you know, the one who teased you mercilessly and, as they say in music class, “with feeling.”
As a result, all parents of students in the high school my daughter goes to got an email from the Principal that went something like this:
Dear Helicopter/Hyper Vigilant/Concerned Parents:
It has come to our attention that, this Friday, many of our Seniors intend to participate in what is traditionally called “Freshman Friday.”
Every year, Seniors dress in black and seek out the Freshman for a day that they consider a beloved school tradition. But instead of being kind and mentoring, they shove the freshmen into lockers, make fun of their clothes and hair, or run after them until they cannot breathe. Then they punch them until they admit being on Team Jacob or Team Edward, or make them sing the entire chorus of One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful.”
It is my obligation to warn you that any Senior who participates in these “festivities” could face suspension and/or criminal charges. No Senior should arrive at school this Friday in black clothing. If they do, they will be sent home to change.
We will not tolerate any acts of bullying whatsoever, and that includes giving Freshmen wedgies, flat-tops, or cross-eyed looks. Laughing and teasing are never allowed. Certainly, forcing an underclassman to sing an entire Justin Bieber song is never an option.
“Principal is spelled “P-R-I-N-C-I-P-A-L,’ because I’m your Pal.”
Now, having lived through my own years of bullying, teasing, and humiliation at the hands of many, many children, I can say that I’m not a fan of those methods whatsoever. But….
Here’s the reality: Freshman Friday is going to happen (in some form) even if the Principal threatens to put every last kid in jail. I’d really love to be a fly on the wall when the hardened criminal in the cell with one of our kids says, “What are you in for?” and he/she replies, “Wedgies, with the intent to flat-top.”
My daughter said the principal had to do something, because last year the Seniors got so into it that they didn’t only pick on the Freshman—they branched out to the Sophomores.
Maybe the principal should make “Freshman Friday” an event, sort of like Field Day. It could be officially put on the school calendar, and Seniors could be assigned a Freshman to “pick” on. The pair would have to work together to win points at random events scheduled throughout the school day.
The activities could include wrapping your Freshman in toilet paper, dressing your Freshman up as Niall from One Direction or as Miley Cyrus, “stealing” their sneakers (have them bring in an extra, cruddy pair and give them back afterwards), a shaving cream “facial,” potato sack and relay races in the gym, tug-of-war, or a scavenger hunt for items like duct tape, blindfolds, broken gym locks, pocket protectors, protractors, and overstuffed school bags. Both team partners must complete the hunt throughout the day.
The principal would declare the Senior/Freshman pair with the most points the winners. They would each receive crowns (sort of like homecoming or the Prom) plus a gift card to a coffee shop, or wherever it is they hang out separately.
Ideally, they can create an event that does become a beloved tradition. Or, the adults can embrace it with such over-the-top enthusiasm and make it such a sanctioned event that no one wants to participate, effectively killing it once and for all.
Just thinking about the psychology behind Freshman Friday launched me back to my own high school experiences many moons ago.
For most of the day, it was the fear of what might be inflicted upon us that began to give Freshman Friday the mythical power of an urban legend.
I’m sure you’ve heard of urban legends before. Remember this one? A young couple’s car breaks down on the side of a dark, unlit road. They try to stay inside the broken-down car, but then they hear banging on their roof. So, the hapless young people get out to investigate. This, however, is a fatal mistake, since they soon discover that the noise they are hearing is the sound of a crazed maniac banging someone’s severed head on their roof. And guess what? They’re next.
I wasn’t sure which crazed maniac might be in my immediate future, and so the myth of Freshman Friday was enough to keep me running from class to class in total terror.
Some of the teachers tried to help ease my fears by saying helpful things like, “So, did anyone try to beat you up today?” I barely had time to shake my head ‘no’ as I ran for cover in my next class.
If my principal had sent out a note to parents, it would have read something like this:
Dear Uninterested/Uninvolved/Not Even Sure You Have Kids Who Go to This School Parents,
Your kids are invited to participate in Freshman Friday. If they are Seniors, they will be “the hunters.” If they are Freshman, they will be “the prey.”
Seniors should wear black clothing and brass knuckles. Freshman should wear long pants that will make them trip while trying to escape and signs on their backs that say: Kick Me.
Juniors and Sophomores should watch and laugh, but not offer any help whatsoever. Teachers and administrators will do the same.
It may be spelled PRINCIPAL, but I’m NOT YOUR PAL
So I guess it goes without saying that I knew I was in for some form of torture that day. I was hopeful that the Freshman Friday gods would smile on me, and guide me safely home without incident. The truth was, I had 2 brothers who were Seniors, and I knew a lot of the kids from that class. I was pretty sure they would leave me alone, or at least not beat me up too badly.
Of course, when the 2:41 bell rang, all bets were off.
I was walking home with some friends when I heard screams behind me.
“FRESHMAN FRIDAY!” one Senior yelled, as he led a pack of laughing kids straight in our direction. It was like suddenly being in a scene from The Night of the Living Dead, because these kids were brainless BUT it was different because they could move really fast.
We all began to scream and scatter in several thousand directions. Of course, being the slowest human being in the history of Freshman Friday, I was in imminent danger of being subjected to a Super Atomic wedgie (no, girls were not exempt, and yes, there were girls running after us), having my sneakers torn off and thrown over a telephone wire (my mother would kill me. You can’t find sneakers on sale every day in the bin at Hills Supermarket), or having to sing an entire chorus of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.”
To put it in evolutionary terms, if this was the Ice Age, I would be a Wooly Mammoth.
So what did I do? I froze.
This strategy would get me killed in any battlefield scenario, but here, it worked like a charm. That’s probably because the Seniors were drawn to fast-moving objects, like dogs chasing squirrels. As the slowest moving creature alive, I wore the “Cloak of Invisibility.”
While they picked off all the runners, I was able to make a break in the other direction, escape into some neighbors’ backyards, and make my way home.
So what did I learn thanks to Freshman Friday?
1) Running really does give me a stitch in my side
2) Seniors enjoy mindlessly torturing underclassman
3) I was never going to be Jackie Joyner-Kersee
4) Use your brain and you too could survive the Zombie Apocalypse
5) I couldn’t wait to be a Senior
Three years later, I didn’t participate in any Freshman Friday activities. It’s not because I’m benevolent and good. It’s more likely that I was busy eating The Slim’s Bagels “power” lunch of a plain bagel with cream cheese, a Boston crème donut, and a glass of fruit punch.
I hope my girls don’t ever find themselves in a “Freshman Friday” type of situation, because I hate the idea of my kids—or any kids—being picked on. We live in a different world than the one I grew up in, and the world can sometimes be a scary place.
With that being said, are we doing our kids any favors by stepping in and keeping them from encountering any grief or injustice at all? Being raised by my generations’ parents was like being raised by wolves. But too many parents today want to shield their children from every single misfortune.
Intervening in a situation that can go bad fast (like Freshman Friday) is probably a smart move. But where do you draw the line? At what point do we push our little birdies out into the big, bad world and expect them to fend for themselves?
Here are a few good examples of parents going overboard to make life smooth and successful for their kids:
- Offering to go with your GROWN child on an interview
- Calling their boss and demanding a raise and/or promotion for your (looks like an adult, but acts like a third grader) child
- Making believe you’re the 25-year-old taking a phone interview, when you’re really the middle-aged parent
My parents would have NEVER, EVER gone on an interview with me. They would give me interviewing advice, like: dress to impress, proofread your resume and bring copies, leave early enough so you’re not late to the interview, be polite, and thank everybody. What my parents would not have done is:
1) Come with me to an interview to “check the place out”
2) Call the HR person to complain: “my child didn’t get the salary offer she deserves”
3) Pose as me for a telephone interview. Yes, my mother and I sounded a lot alike. But she would have never made believe she was me. Of course, I couldn’t say the same, because I often posed as her when teachers called to complain about my brothers
4) Gone to an open house at a prospective employers’ to “make sure it was a good fit” for me. Come on…my parents had lives and jobs of their own! It was my job to figure out if the job was a good fit, not theirs
5) Complain to my boss that I wasn’t being recognized for my many contributions and suggest a six-month review
While my parents wouldn’t have helped me land the actual job, once I got it, they weren’t above meeting me on my lunch hour.
A few wonderful times, we met for lunch at a great little Italian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. While we watched, the cooks made the pasta by hand, and served it up hot and fresh right to our table with the sauce of our choice (I always loved Fettuccine Alfredo). Then we’d share a jug of wine, a loaf of hot, crispy Italian bread, some extra virgin olive oil for dipping, and an antipasto.
We would talk, and laugh, and share stories about our day. When lunch was over, they’d head back home and I’d go back to my desk. It never occurred to me to ask my mother and father to come back to my office and yell at my boss, or negotiate my mid-year raise. That was my job!
Maybe I was born at the wrong time.
Those lunch hours at the Italian Restaurant were some of the best times in the world. So, in honor of those memories, here are two recipes. One is for homemade pasta, and the second is for a lightened version of one of my favorites: Fettuccine Alfredo.
So, Hungry Lifers: did you ever experience Freshman Friday, or some variation of it? Do you think we tend to shield our kids from too much? What’s your favorite pasta dish?
Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!