My little girl started middle school two weeks ago. Go ahead—feel sorry for her, for Clark and me, and for anyone affected by the scourge that is middle school.
Except…she loves it. And she’s annoyed by all the books and movies and people telling her these are the worst years of her life. Yeah, she’s only 2 weeks in. A lot can happen in three years. But she’s determined that her middle school experience will be a good one, and she’s sick of being bombarded with the apparent futility of that.
I want to support her in this. I hope these three years are fantastic, and if there’s anyone who can take advantage of the amazing academic and extracurricular opportunities this school offers, anyone who can come out of this huge and vibrant school unscathed, it’s totally my daughter.
Except…middle school really was among the worst times in my life. The same is true for her dad. So we’re armed to comfort her and help her through the teasing and the betrayal of friends. We’re on the active lookout for signs she’s being bullied or is developing an eating disorder. I’ve taught middle school, in addition to living through it, and I read a lot of articles about “issues facing kids these days.” We know the many challenges she might face, as well as many she’ll probably never encounter. We fear on her behalf, while she strides in, bold and optimistic. I’m so proud of my girl, even if I can’t quite see the world the way she does.
She’s been walking home from school most days, but the friend she walks home with is on crutches, so today I went to pick up the girls. I was the only parent standing outside the main doorway as these waves of tweens surged out of the doors. I felt awkward and out of place, invisible and in danger of being run over. I felt like I was too fat and I was wearing the wrong clothes and maybe I should have brushed my hair or put in earrings or something. The noise was overwhelming and I wanted nothing more than to run away and curl up in fetal position under something big and solid. I felt like I was back in middle school.
Finally my daughter and her friend came out—laughing, happy, looking like they own the place. As I listened to their chatter, I pushed away the headache, shoved those lingering irrational emotions back into the battered shoebox I’ve apparently kept on some shadowed shelf in the closet of my memory.
I know I’m ready to comfort her and fight for her. I hope I’m also ready to let her experience middle school on her own terms, uncolored by my own preconceptions of what it should be like.