She’s going to middle school. MIDDLE SCHOOL!
In just FOUR months, she’ll be a middle schooler and the anxious dreams have already started. That’s actually what signaled to my conscious brain that the anxiety had set in—the dreams. Of course I knew that 6th grade comes after 5th. And in this part of the country, 6th grade means middle school—no more elementary school.
But it’s not just a transition to the next grade like it was from first to second, or second to third. This one is HUGE. She’s going from recess and reading buddies to tween drama and pimples and periods and crushes. She’s going from I’m not sure my parents know what’s best to my parents are completely clueless and my friends are my only hope.
I remember my own transition from fifth grade to sixth grade. It was worse than it might otherwise have been because it was the summer in which we moved from small-town middle America to the booming silicon valley of Northern California. One day my friends and I were making up skits on the playground, and the next I was being shoved up against the bathroom wall by another middle schooler demanding to know my gang affiliation. My eighth-grade sister had it bad too: her bathroom episode involved a girl using a lighter and can of Aquanet as a blow-torch over her bathroom stall. Sixth grade was the year in which I had my first #metoo on the school bus, was referred to only as “schoolgirl” instead of by my name, had my first kiss, and learned how important the numbers on the scale were. I also learned how to cuss, hate my parents, and combine the two for colorful effect.
It’s likely clear now why I’m so anxious about my own daughter entering middle school in just a few short months. I want so badly to protect her from the awful experiences I had and dumb choices I made. Even though we’ve never been big into child-proofing our house, I think that’s essentially what my instincts tell me to do in this situation–barricade and protect! I’m nervous about the performing arts magnet school she’s been accepted into because the boundaries seem a little too loose. I imagine all of the trouble that 6th graders might get into with relaxed boundaries and a school that goes up to 12th grade, and have to talk myself down from a near-panic attack. My instincts say: protect! Set up boundaries, barriers, rules! Talk to the principal and make sure the students won’t be roaming empty auditoriums (as they were on her shadow day—much to my dismay). To some extent, these instincts are well-intentioned and good. But there’s something more. Something harder.
I’m realizing that even more important than making sure there are rules and boundaries and all the things—is having regular conversations with my child about healthy choices and doing hard things and becoming the person you’re created to be. I have to do the intentional work of helping to shape my child’s ethics and character so that she will make good choices whether the rules are strict or lax.
One day, she’ll leave.
Kindergarten, day one: I had the gut-wrenching feeling of my heart walking around out there – outside of my body, exposed to all of the elements and outside of my watchful protection.
Middle School, day one: I fully expect it to be worse…if I continue course. But hopefully as Dave and I have the hard conversations and continue to shape this beautiful child, the difficulty of that day will be diminished. And our trust and confidence in our child will grow. And as she makes the little hard choices each day, she’ll keep growing in her ability to make the big hard choices that matter the most.
But also, please God, not a first kiss. I’m not ready.
What advice do you have for parents launching their kids to a next level like this?!