The Oldest is smack dab in the middle of middle school and his sister will be joining him next year.
He adores it and she is eager with anticipation, long past ready to escape the world of elementary school.
I hated every single thing about middle school. Being technical, we had junior high back in the time of the dinosaurs where I grew up, not middle school. Here, middle school is 6th-8th grade. For us, it was 7th-9th.
All that adolescence in one place.
All the awkwardness and gawkiness and puberty. The drama and the fighting and the conflict. The bullies and the two faced friends and the haves and the have nots.
I had horrible acne. I was fat. I had glasses. You know the ones, taken right off the discount rack at the optometrist where your parents swore that they looked nice, but they resulted in you being referred to as a "witch bitch" for several years thereafter? Yeah, those ones.
Most of my clothes came from Sears, so that should tell you a lot about my place in the social strata of tween life.
To add insult to injury, I went to an elementary school outside the feeder network for the junior high, so I started the worst possible part of my school life not knowing anyone.
I hated middle school. High school wasn't much better.
I tried, oh how I tried to fit in somewhere. Anywhere.
But I was awkward and weird and smart and bitchy. I was dealing with all kinds of conflict at home and it spilled over into every other human interaction I had. My mom wanted to be best friends with my friends, which usually left me without one in short order. It was rough.
I finally found a group of people that I got along with and things were good, though a little bit too chaotic, for a while, until I screwed that up too.
I spent so much time trying to be whoever I thought other people wanted me to be and I failed almost all the time. I ended up pathetically alone for huge chunks of my adolescence.
When my oldest son started to approach this time in his life, I was nervous for him. My husband's years in junior high weren't much better than mine were. We both knew of people who didn't hate every second of it, but they were the beautiful people, you know, the ones who never endured the goofy as hell stage of puberty but magically skipped right over it. The kids whose parents had enough money to buy them whatever it took to fit in. The kids who had the same circle of friends since they were in the womb and circled the wagons every time an outsider tried to get in. The kids who were super talented or amazingly gifted at something, whether that something was sports or art or music. Those kids.
And then there were all the rest of us.
And now we have kids this age.
In my typical nervous anticipation of this stage, I want to believe that I have done the best I can to prepare my kids for the often ugly realities of sharing a building with hundreds of other hormonal teenagers. So far it seems to be working.
At least, he doesn't hate life. I'm going to count that as a win.
Here's what we have done, none of it accidental.
- From the time the kids were tiny, we have encouraged them to both try new things and love what they love, regardless of what anyone says about it.
- If their friends pick on them for something, it means two things. One, that those friends aren't being very good friends, and two, that other people in the world will share their interests and that is okay, better even than people you're just friends with because you've always been friends...particularly if they are the ones picking on you.
- We tell them to be weird. Really. Embrace it. Figuring out who you are is hard enough without trying to be someone you aren't. (God, I wish I had learned this lesson back then.)
- We tell them not just to embrace their weird, but LOVE it. Whatever makes you unique and different also makes you awesome. Someone else will also love you for it. Many someones. Promise.
- We tell them that everyone is great at something. Figure out what it is.
- We also tell them that everyone is terrible at a lot of things. That's okay. It's part of life. We can't all kick ass at everything.
- We encourage them to make fun of themselves. Laugh when you fall down. Shake it off when something goes wrong. If you can laugh at yourself, no one else will be able to hurt you when they do it. (This is huge and also something I wish I had learned a lot sooner than I did.)
- We tell them to listen to the voice in their head before anything else. If it tells you something is wrong, it probably is, no matter what other people are telling you.
- We don't intrude on their relationships. We monitor, from a distance, but don't intervene.
- We don't interfere with what teachers are doing. When there are problems with grades or assignments, we don't call or email anyone on their behalf. We don't ask for extensions or re-grades. We force them to figure it out, fix it. If they need help, they have to ask. If grades fall below certain cutoffs, privileges are lost. Then we stick to it.
- We let them pick out their clothes for the most part, within the budget constraints we have to deal with. We let them do whatever they want to their hair (as long as it gets washed). The Oldest wears a fedora everywhere he goes. It's just part of his head these days.
- We cheer their successes. We console their failures. We help them back up and tell them to try again. We don't put our expectations of what they should be good at or love to do onto them. We let them figure that out on their own.
- We show up. 99% of success in life is just showing up. Parenting is the same way.
So far, it seems to be working.
The kid loves middle school.
I wonder in my head all the time what the hell must be wrong with him...doesn't he know he's supposed to hate this time???
Then I remember that he doesn't have to hate something just because I did.
He doesn't have to do anything just because I did.