I knew that my children would one day finish elementary school and move on to middle school. It makes logical sense. But I held out hope that somehow, some way, something magical would happen to prevent such an event from ever becoming reality. Two weeks ago, right on schedule, Annie, our oldest, started middle school.
Despite possessing adequate intellect and fully-functioning mental capacity, when you’re feeding Cheerios to your toddler, the idea of them ever actually attending middle school seems ludicrous. “Eventually” might as well mean “never” in the thick of the snacks, sippy-cups, and strollers. When Annie was little, middle school felt so distant and far away that I didn’t even bother trying to grasp it. But here I am, fully immersed in the reality that I have a daughter in middle school. My toddler turned into a sixth grader.
Think hard. Do you know anyone who would volunteer to go back and relive their middle school years? You couldn’t pay me enough dollars, grant me enough wishes, promise enough world peace for me to even consider walking back through middle school.
My middle school experience was awful. Aw.ful. I can’t even write about it without breaking into a sweat, feeling my stomach tighten up, and trying to nervously laugh the memories away. Don’t believe me? Let me see if I can paint a picture.
I wore glasses, thick ones with plastic frames. My blonde straight hair turned brown and very curly almost overnight, and my foolish solution for dealing with the drastic change was to cut it short. My family struggled financially, so my wardrobe consisted of a couple of ill-fitting outfits that I rotated through with little variation and even less style. My parents were the very strict, conservative, keep-the-world-out-to-protect-our-children types, so I had no social life, which turned out to be fine because I also had no friends. I had nowhere to sit at lunch. I got teased a lot and was picked on by the cool girls who thought it was fun to point out my flaws and inadequacies. And to top it all off, I played flute in the band.
Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag.
I admit, I was nervous for Annie. I also admit, 99% of my nervousness came in the form of projecting my awful memories onto her. I tried to hide it from her, slapping on a grown-up smile when we walked into the halls on the first day, nervously greeting everyone a little bit too loudly with a “Good Morning!” that was merely an overcompensating attempt to mask my dread.
I exuded fake confidence as we found her locker, dropped her off at first period math, then turned and walked against the current as waves of adolescents loudly made their way down the hall. I had to remind myself that the reason none of the other students were making eye contact with me or waving hello to me had more to do with the fact that I was a middle-aged stranger and less to do with whether or not I was cool enough.
When I picked up Annie on that first afternoon, my palms were sweaty. “How was it?” I half-shrieked at her. When she told me (while smiling from ear to ear) it "was soooooooo good," I wanted to believe her, but I had to ask some probing follow up questions to assuage my current bout of middle school post-traumatic stress disorder that was flaring up.
Did you get lost on your way to your classes? Did you have anyone to sit with at lunch? Did you remember your locker combination? Did you see anyone you know?
She sort of chuckled and gave me a funny why-are-you-so-crazy look, then answered my questions, convincing me that her day had indeed gone very well. She actually enjoyed her first day of middle school and couldn’t wait to go back.
And then, as we drove away, the relief washed over me.
Thankful to be alone in the front seat, my face out of her line of sight, my eyes covered with sunglasses, I began to cry. They were happy tears, little rivers of relief as I realized she was going to be fine. More than fine. She was going to be great. My white knuckle grip on the steering wheel loosened and I could breathe.
I felt excited for her and for me. Excited for her because she isn’t walking in my painful middle school shoes. She has her own life, her own story, and it doesn’t involve my brand of awful. And excited for me because never, ever, ever again will I have to return to that terrible phase of life where I felt alone, ugly, inadequate, and insecure with no idea how to make it stop. It’s thrilling to realize the past is actually the past. Sure, all those years of confusion and heartache formed me, shaped me, led me to the person I am today. But hallelujah, praise Him, thank you Jesus those days are over.
Today, I get to stand on this side of middle school with a daughter who I love, who has a daddy who tells her every day how beautiful and special she is, who is surrounded by examples of strong, smart, talented women, who has a home where it’s safe to fail, who has a family who celebrates her growth, who is continually reminded of her eternal worth, her real identity, and her true beauty. And that’s a middle school memory worth reliving.