My oldest daughter is 14. She will be entering high school this fall. I’ve weathered many frightening things where my kids are concerned but this about takes the cake. Irony, doing what it does best, points out this occurs about two weeks after my 25th high school reunion.
Yep, I cried when she started kindergarten. I fretted when she had her adenoids removed and ear tubes put in. I white-knuckled it through swimming lessons. I cried again when I just could not communicate with her, unsure that I was being heard or that I was listening correctly.
She grew fast. During that final window of opportunity when I still could have picked her up and carried her, I was pregnant with her sister and I couldn’t. And now the only picking up I do is from school and from youth group on Sundays. Well, and the wet towels off the bedroom floor…
…and the pieces of broken heart when she can’t understand why people make fun of her or go from being her best friends one day and ignoring her the next.
Middle school isn’t school. It’s a proving ground. Somewhere amid the cliques and the bullying and the hormones, the kids have to learn math and science and emerge with their self-esteem intact.
My own middle school experiences sometimes came back in horrific living color, and I’d get angry. Every girl who had ever picked on me because I wore glasses and didn’t have the latest clothes, and every boy who ever ignored me or thought I was fat I could see in the students in my daughter’s school (and in their parents too). The faces were different. The names were different. The weapons were the same. Words and whispers. Pointing and eye rolling and giggling.
In spite of all this, she remained the same kind, deep-thinking soul she’s always been. She’s quiet, but hears everything. Since preschool, she’s been the peacemaker – breaking up fights and arguments, not causing them, even when she really wanted to punch someone in the mouth. She doesn’t see people by the color of their skins, or the jeans they wear. She is quick to say hello to the new kids and offer friendship. She is saddened by injustice and kids her age starving or worrying about bombs going off in their front yards. She looks forward to mission trips and helping in small ways wherever she can. She doesn’t always observe “personal space” well, and doesn’t always let go of a topic when it’s been beaten into the ground, but she’s learning.
Last spring, I sat in the gym bleachers of one of the local high schools, waiting for the open house to start, wondering why none of the other parents looked as shell-shocked as I felt. Later I realized most of them already had children in high school; they’ve been there and done that. I gazed at the high ceilings, the scoreboard, the banners proclaiming district and state championships in almost every sport that could be played. My daughter doesn’t play sports.
The school’s professional caliber jazz band performed while we waited. My daughter played clarinet in middle school for three years, but she made it clear to me that there would be no band for her in high school. She chose choir instead.
I felt panicky sitting there. My little girl was going to get lost. She’s not ready for this.
I’m not ready for this.
But I have to be. What’s going to make the difference here is parental support. Listening. Talking. Communicating. Trying not to fight. Trying not to “fix” everything. Allowing her to make some mistakes. Insisting that homework be done. Preparing her for college. Giving her a different kind of life support. Not breathing for her, but encouraging her to do it on her own. Showing her the way, but not doing all the work.
Talk about a leap of faith. It’s a leap of faith for both of us. And she has great faith and many teachers, not just in the classroom and in the family, but in her church family too. They’ve set the example for me, giving her room to question and grow and become her own person.
During a recent mission trip, as a way of expressing friendship for two group members who were moving out of state, she sang a song for them. I wish I’d been there. I heard it was lovely and moving for everyone. But then again, maybe if I’d been there, she wouldn’t have done it.
She is finding her voice. I need to give her space to do it. And I pray that a generous heart and kind spirit continue to count for something.