“Do you care if I / don’t know what to say? / Will you sleep tonight? / Will you think of me? / Will I shake this off… / pretend it’s all OK / that there’s someone out there / who feels just like me? There is.”
Someone I know and love is about to begin a very rough process, one which will indelibly mar his future for the next several years and perhaps even his life. It is a time of massive shifts, friends and enemies, and really, truly terrible haircuts.
Yes, that’s right. My son is about to start middle school and I’m losing my cookies.
I’m not freaking out because he’s growing up, wearing deodorant, making new friends, and learning to live without me. No, amen (“Praise the lawd!”) to all of that. I’m freaking out because this was by far the worst period of my life. I’ve often mused that if ever offered extra life–no matter the length–but I had to re-live middle school, I would never do it. It was That Bad. (In case you don’t know how bad middle school can be, just read the next few rhetorical questions. If you already know, skip past indented commentary.)
Have you ever had someone you don’t know say you’re gay (let’s pepper it with “faggot,” “les-bo,” and “lady lover” just for full effect) just because you have a close friend? Never mind that she may be the only friend you have, let’s just assume they’re lurid thirteen year old lovers.
Have you ever had all of your friends–literally ALL–suddenly find new friends and you’re by yourself?
Have you ever simply wanted to not live for a few months until it’s all over and summer starts again?*
Have you ever had anxiety? That’s really what I’m getting at.
I’m terrified he’ll also have anxiety. I’m scared he won’t know what to say to people who are mean, even when they may not be intentionally mean. I’m nervous he won’t know how to be himself, because DAMN he’s fascinating.
I’ve been pretty good at “backwards parenting,” a strategy I picked up in college and have refortified years afterward. In college, we were taught to think about the end goal: Where do we want students to end up? After we had an answer, we would design instruction accordingly. I’ve done the same based on some of Stephen Covey’s principles… “Begin with the end in mind” and I often think about what I want to do before I’m gone (dead, to be frank). As for parenting, I try to think about who I want my son to be as an adult and plan accordingly. It won’t work all the time, I know, but it’s a nice attempt on my part… at least I think.
I wanted him to have a basic foundation in sports knowledge for high school and athletic acumen; as such, he played soccer, baseball, basketball, and football. I always regretted not being more musically inclined, so I wanted him to have the opportunity; he played piano for three years, and now for two years he’s played guitar. I want him to feel comfortable talking with me about anything (because that day will come when he has to disappoint me), so I sit as if I’m not dying inside and talk about family, cuss words, divorce, marriage, and the seedy underbelly of humanity (in small doses… I’m not satan).
But anxiety. How do I talk to him about this? “Don’t worry sweetie, your brain only SEEMS like it’s trying to kill you. Those voices aren’t reality. You’ll be fine, I promise.” That seems like a trite condensation, don’t you think?
At the end of the day, I think I’m going to need to invest in some wine, a healthy dose of deep breaths, and just say: “I don’t know what to say. Just know there are people out there who feel just like you. They’re me.”
The hardest part of middle school is feeling as if there aren’t people who get you and that you’re the weirdest, most awkward, creepiest mother lover on the face of the earth. The truth is, we’re all truly weird-os; some are just better at hiding it than others. This knowledge is crucial.
Or I can always settle for: “Someday it will be legal for you to buy vices. Be patient. But in the mean time, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
*I turned out OK. I even somehow was Homecoming Queen. Life is weird.