No Peaking

When did you peak? Are you peaking now? (not to be confused with “peeking” “piquing” or “Peking”) Or are you still enroute?

In elementary school there was a beautiful girl named Barbara in my class. She had long, shiny blond hair in which she often wore satin ribbons. She had big blue eyes with long fluttering lashes and wonderfully stylish outfits with a matching pair patent leather MaryJanes for each.

Barbara was an A student. She had a dazzling smile, a peaches and cream complexion and a pleasantly soft, rounded physique. She had tiny boob buds  before anyone else (except Donald, who had full blown bosoms at age 8).  

The teachers all loved Barbara. The boys were all besotted with her. The girls all wanted to be her, or failing that, be her friend. A select few succeeded.

Barbara and I ended up in different junior high schools and met up again in senior high. Barbara was in my home room. But I didn’t know that until attendance was called. I stared. This plain, chunky frump with the glasses, the old-lady perm and bad skin was Barbara? She wandered the halls alone, struggled with school work, faded into the background. Eventually I lost track of her.

Imagine peaking in elementary school?

Or even in  high school? There was another Barbara who was queen bee by then. (What is it with Barbaras?)  Her father was a doctor. Most of the other kids’ fathers were farmers. She was sassy and rich; an athlete extraordinaire. She had the body and face of a supermodel. She travelled with an entourage of male admirers. Except for her two henchwomen, she was the super-nasty alpha bitch around every other female. And cruelly mean to any guy who wasn’t up to her standards.

She was so busy being “all that” that she barely made it through high school, ended up flunking out of community college and getting married to a local farm boy who was once a football star, but turned into a big, disgusting pig.  People who still live in the same town often gleefully report sightings of her. She’s as far away from “all that” as possible these days.

I was never really part of any clique. I always had friends from a variety of the school’s social strata.  I had smart geek friends, weird friends, sporty friends, stoner/artsy friends and even some friends among the popular crowd. I was never a great student, but I had fun and got involved in stuff.

 In university, I suddenly came into my own. I got A’s all over the place. I was editor of our student newspaper. I was elected student rep to the university’s Board of Directors. I won awards and scholarships. I had a ton of friends. I had energy out the wazoo – going to school, working almost full time, writing for the paper, partying until the wee hours.

So I reckon that was my peak. Not a bad time to peak, I guess. Though it would have been nice to save all that energetic peaking for my career where it would have at least earned me fame and fortune. But, meh…it is what it is.

Life has dipped and levelled off since then. It’s not a bad thing. I couldn’t have kept up that intensity of activity for long anyway. I may have another, less frantic high somewhere down the road, though. Who knows?

It’s interesting the paths people’s lives take. The kids we were so envious of back in the day – who had it all; who made other kids’ lives a misery — are usually leading very ordinary and even unenviable lives now.

Many of the geeks that had an awful time growing up are now wealthy, successful, happy people. (Except for those who were so damaged by bullying that they became serial killers and are now re-living their high school torments in prison).

Something to remember when our kids come home in tears because they’ve suffered at the hands of some school-aged social star.


25 responses to “No Peaking

  1. Neat post. I’ve known quite a few “Barbaras” in my time too, but was never one of them in school. But that suited me fine, since as you mentioned, their lives aren’t usually all that great after high school. Looks can only get you so far in life.

  2. Great post and so true in many cases. I’m going to get egotistical and assume some of that post was for Gutsy and me. I’m sure it wasn’t, but don’t tell me. Let’s just pretend. Shhh.

    I’ve blogged many times about what a loser I was in school. I only really came into my own in a small way – not popular, but not unpopular – around grade 10. I then went straight into baby making and here I still am with my youngest being 2, a career I can’t even call fledgling but rather still in egg form.

    My late grandmother said to me ‘Maven, you’re going to be incredible at around 35: stunning and successful.’ I was 24 when she told me that. I’m 32 now. So I highly expect to have a booming career and be absolutely gorgeous and fit by the time I’m 35. Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease…

  3. what an interesting post xup! i remember it was a shock going to university, getting attention of the opposite sex….i am still insecure from my ugly duckling days, from being teased and tormented by bullies. it’s really hard to shake nasty things said 20 years ago.
    even though my girls are gorgeous (natch) i always try to emphasize their other amazing qualities. one does not get through life on looks alone.

  4. I didn’t come into my own until my 30s.

    Of course it was agonizing in high school, college and my 20s when it seemed to be the most important thing in the world. In retrospect, I much prefer it this way.

  5. Hannah – Were you that wise as a child, too? It’s very difficult for kids to comprehend that life won’t always be like this with them at the top or bottom of the social ladder.

    The Maven – Yes, your post did have something to do with this post, but what really set it off was connecting with some high school people on Facebook over the weekend was amazed at how their lives have unfolded.

    Meanie – I’m very surprised to hear you say you were ever an ugly duckling. Looking at you, I would have assumed you were the Barbara in your elementary school and the cheerleader in the popular clique in highschool. I guess that just proves the theory that adult swans weren’t necessarily swans as children.

    Jazz – Absolutely. I mean, it’s terrible that children and teens have to suffer for years because of some arbitrary social echelon. Some of them suffer so much that it defines the rest of their lives or even ends their lives. If only they could step into the future, just once and understand that things WILL get better.

  6. Still hoping to peak!

    My Barbara is a Deborah. I ended up working with her recently. A very bizarre experience. She married the school hardman/cool guy who now a five foot nothing, bald geezer with zero social skills.

  7. I better not have peaked yet!

    Plus, I think we should always try to feel like our peak is ahead of us. It keeps us hungry and striving and forward-moving and hopeful.

    Hope is a big thing around these here U.S. parts these days. 😉

    “No Peaking” – heehee

  8. Oh those Barbaras of the world! an old middle school chum of mine recently found me on facebook and it appears that she plateaued! Or is just stuck? Her facebook status updates are very reminiscent of her social discourse in middle school. She sighs and groans about topics I gave up on or stopped noticing years and years ago.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not all Foucault, Gaza, and Deridas over here, I just moved on to other interests and banter.

    Meanwhile, I do not know when I peaked. Maybe I haven’t yet?

  9. In terms of the whole combination of self-confidence, social life, career satisfaction, health and money, I peaked in 1991…just before my PhD started.

    It’s slid downward for a while. I reached bottom and now it’s starting to climb.

    I’m beginning to think that was a first peak…I feel I haven’t reached the 2nd one yet…and it will be higher than the first.

  10. Thanks Xup – kind of you say that. I did have horrible acne that only Accutane could cure and some snaggly teeth that only orthodontics could cure. A really shy personality didn’t help matters much.

  11. MisssyM – These are heartwarming stories, they really are. I hope you blog about it when you do finally peak!

    Lesley – I think you were born peaked and have just been soaring to every higher pinnacles ever since. It’s dizzying, it really is. But you’re right we should keep thinking our peak is just ahead to keep us hungry and hopeful. I’m hungry right now and it’s only been 3 hours since lunch.

    Missy – “I am not all Foucault, Gaza, and Deridas over here” – har har – I reckon you sure wouldn’t be HERE if you were! If you don’t know whether or not you’ve peaked then you still have peaking ahead of you.

    Friar – Are we allowed more than one peak? And do the peaks increase or decrease as we go on? Personally, I think peaks (with their sharp pointy edges and breath-taking heights) are maybe for younger folks. As we get older we maybe do rolling hills instead. Still high and spectacular, but softer, calmer, less frenetic. But Wooo-hoo on your upcoming peak. Will you throw a party?

    Meanie – Well you sure have bloomed since in all respects.

  12. High school was a bit of a peak for me: I loved it, but never saw myself as popular or one of the cool kids. I was a good student, busy and very involved in sports, though. At my 10-year reunion, however, so many guys approached me and told me how much they had wanted to date me! Yet I only had about 3 dates in 5 years there! My next peak I think was in my late thirties-early forties when I did that whole re-evaluation of life thing that many women do. I upgraded my teaching credentials, went back to full-time work, had more money, became way more social and had way more fun, split up with my depressed then-husband, travelled more, enjoyed my daughter and other family members more, fell in love with Porsche Guy – and I still feel like I’m at the top of my game ten years later! (um … how many peaks are we allowed? And how long are they allowed to last?)

  13. Bandobras – Well, at least you’re still hanging in there. That’s something in and of itself.

    TTP – Hey Guillermo! Welcome back. I’ll be interested to see your new English blog & will add it to my blogroll asap

    Pinklea -I think you can have lots of peaks – maybe only one summit, but life is all about peaks and valleys, isn’t it? And if you’ve been on a peak long enough, it’s called a plateau. A plateau is the opposite of a rut or a slump, I think and there’s no reason why you can’t stay there forever. But I don’t make the rules, I’m just guessing.

  14. Just one question: Which one of those strata were you in? Geek, weird, sporty, stoner/artsy or popular crowd?

    I love what Meanie says about emphasizing her girls’ other qualities. If parents do that enough from an early age, I think their kids are well equipped to handle all that type of pressure.

  15. Bob – I was kind of a floater. Sometimes I hung out with one group, sometimes another. And Meanie can emphasize her girl’s other qualities all she wants, they’re still going to get bombarded by pressure to look a certain way from all directions — from the Disney cartoons they enjoy now, to peers, movies, magazines, books, TV, etc.. Sad, but true.

  16. I haven’t peaked yet. I was awkward as a child, geeky and uncomfortable with it in my teens, lost and searching in my 20’s, and slowly finding myself as I finish off my 30’s.

    I feel as if I’m getting better and better every year, and I don’t sense a peak or plateau any time soon. My possibilities excite me.

  17. UP – Well, now that you’re getting all fit and trim it will be an easier climb!

    Susan – Slow and steady wins the race. Right?

  18. Nice post as always XUP… as someone who is likely older than you – and most of the great folks who have commented on your post – please allow me the audacity to humbly suggest one little thing.
    There-is-not-a-single-peak. there are many.
    Really. Honest. And Truly.
    I’m getting ever so (ugh) closer to 50 and I have had at least 3 peaks thus far and I think the one with the most hang time is yet to come.
    High school was a peak (yes, I so rocked – hung with eveyone and anyone… never liked the clique thing. Funny thing is that my 16 year old daughter seems to follow me on this path) – but so was grad school in my early 30’s… then again in my late 30’s – yet another peak (!).
    It continues to evolve.
    And it is still freakin’ exciting.

  19. Trashee – We’re probably around the same age; and you’re right, of course. Life has many peaks AND valleys – that’s what keeps us going. I’ve been up and I’ve been down. I hope there are still some dizzying peaks ahead. Right now I’m in a bit of a slumpy plateau, but I know it can’t last, because I won’t let it. I don’t have the patience to wallow on a plane for long.

  20. my mom always said these things to me, the popular kids tend to burn out and fade away. (that’s from a def leppard song) and i’ve tried to impart that to my kids. trying to explain that being the most popular is sometimes a death sentence.

    like you, i had a mixture of friends from all social levels and really, i still do.

    i grew up in a competitive home, being the youngest i never stood a chance against my two older sisters and our mom so i spent a lot of time opting out of the competitions. and i think i’m happier this way.

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