“It is 11 p.m.! Stop playing and just go to sleep!” I’m not admitting I yelled this at my children, after all, I didn’t want to wake the baby, but I did use my scariest “mom voice.”
My dad was visiting and all three kids were sleeping in the boys’ room. It was the perfect size for the twin bed, Pack N’ Play and roll away to all fit with just enough room for clothing to be strewn on the floor, becoming effective tripping hazards.
Sitting straight up, giggling, Shannon stuck her head out the door. “He isn’t just my brother, we are best friends!” she dramatically exclaimed.
I think she was trying to blame the late night giggle-fest on the fact that she hadn’t seen her brother in close to two weeks but I knew the real reason- she was anxious for her 7th grade orientation at VHS the next morning.
“She’s not my best friend!” Mick responded. “She’s my mortal enemy.” There may have been a pirate impression.
I retreated to my bedroom where I ignored their hushed jokes and waited for them to collapse from exhaustion. I remember having the same type of nights with my sister when we were tthat age. They will grow up too fast so I considered my nagging enough for one night.
And, I knew my daughter was dealing with some heavy emotions. She needed that goofy time with her best friend/mortal enemy.
Thursday, bright and early, Jerry and I drove her to school- “Fake First Day” as we called it. Trying to get her excited we cranked up the volume as I made up new, exciting lyrics to hits from the 90’s.
The refrain of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls turned into “I wanna really, really, really wanna go to class with you.” I did not receive a standing ovation.
In fact, the kid wouldn’t even get out of the car once we found a parking spot.
With “No Diggity” by Blackstreet I rapped about loving going to school and hanging out with the parents.
I got a big ol’ look! She moved and put a few more feet of distance between us.
In a dramatic shift from the previous night where Shannon insisted on cuddling, as we approached the schoolyard she kept a cool kid “I-don’t-know-these-people” distance from us.
My baby is a tween- an inbetweener stuck somewhere between child and young woman. I offered to go to orientation and hold her hand but for some reason she said no. “But you are going to do my hair, right?”
I am trying to help Shannon prepare for junior high but I am having a hard time. Seventh and eighth grades were the worst years of my life. Changes were going on in my family, I moved, puberty- and somehow my female peers sensed my weakness. I became a target before we had words like “bullied” in rural North Dakota.
Like an injured animal in the safari, the queen lioness ordered her huntresses to heard me away from the pack before they pounced and devoured me alive.
I sat at the reject table.
I refused to talk to anyone in the bathroom for fear of how my words would be used against me- twisted and distorted turning me into a pariah.
Girls can be really mean.
Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. I don’t know if I could relive that time of my life.
In some, unclear form of irony, my old junior high has been turned into senior housing. I bet that bathroom has been removed and renovated into an en-suit, a luxuriant refuge. Gone is my den of despair.
But, her life isn’t mine. Her experience won’t be mine.
Will it be worse? How will I protect her? Oh, no- I can’t think like that. My daughter deserves more than living in a protected bubble for the next six years.
I want her to bloom and flourish in this new environment. I want to help build her confidence. She can do it- Yes, she can!
After talking to another mother of a 7th grade girl, I can see that we are approaching an uphill battle. Low self-confidence and body issues run rampant. There is overwhelming fear of social rejection piled on top of academics and extracurricular activities. Where my parents had to worry about teen smoking and drinking, we have to learn about vaping, drinking and drug use. Plus, there are all sorts of issues newly made accessible through cell phone use and the internet.
OK, I’m not that old. We had the internet...I don’t think we had it until high school, but we had it.
During the parent orientation, Jerry and I found a spot in the back of the choir room. Looking around, I realized that we were the youngest parents in the room.
“We can do this!” I told myself. “One day at a time.” Interesting how parenting a 7th grader is like working through a 12-step program.
Cheers to a new school year!
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference.”