No souls are so brave and hardy as those who take up the charge of educating middle schoolers, especially seventh grade middle schoolers. Ask any teacher which students are the most smelly, emotionally labile and least logical, and you’ll get seventh graders. Hands down. The refrain is a constant: they’re a tangle of hormones which leads to a series of inexplicable body changes which lead to a series of poor decision-making. They assert a fierce need to exert independence. They need you more than ever while at the same time hate needing you, so, and let me say this loudly enough for those of you in the back: I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP, MOM. *roll eyes, skulk off, maybe huff petulantly*
In seven days, I will be a mother to a seventh grader. I haven’t written about my big kid much this summer, since camp anyway. It’s not that I’m any less worried or engaged in his life than I’ve been at any other time. I think I’m avoiding reality, and not the I’m getting older because I realize my kid’s getting older reality. I’ve come to learn and accept that my child has long known he was different. I’ve written that here before, but there are moments when that truth speaks more clearly than at other times. Right now? That truth is screaming in my ear. He has never been one of social giftedness, and clearly, he’s not gifted with athletics or agility, so he’s found a comfortable spot on the bench orbiting, but not being in the center of the action. He’s always been just a spin on the outside of the action, always known he’s a satellite.
My children attend a K-8 school, which means that they more or less have the same classmates from K4 through eighth grade. I’ve been thrilled that my son has had the same nice group of friends most of his life. While he’s never been “in there” with the guys with physical play nor with video games, mostly that’s been OK, and he’s been content to watch from the sidelines. See, the outliers know they’re outliers. He knew he wasn’t skilled at those things back when we thought he was merely clumsy and/or lazy. His friends included him, even though he has never been quite in there with them, and I’d always been grateful. From about first grade on though, I’d always feared that status would change. Fortunately that change has been slow in coming, but it’s coming, of that I am sure. And that shift in the social world of seventh grade? For my boy, for right now, I fear this more palpably than the fear of his muscular dystrophy gaining on him (possible overstatement, I do that). I fear for him the social world more than homework, physical declination, and his class trip all wrapped up in one. But I’m not kidding anyone, myself especially, as everything about this year is wrapped up into one, and each affects the success (or lack thereof) of the other.
Think back: were you the seventh grade cool kid? If you were, you know you were. Were you the nerdy, geeky kid, the one who scored good grades, but hid that from the cool kids because you so badly wanted to be like and liked by them? You know if you were. Were you the pariah, the kid who suffered dreadful acne or had but two pairs of pants and maybe, if you were lucky, had two clean shirts? You know if you were. Were you the always a beat behind kid, the one who never got the jokes, but laughed a little too long and loudly anyway? You know if you were. With the grace of time, our seventh grade selves forget being whichever outlier we felt we were. Or do we simply move forward? We painfully, awkwardly trudge into adulthood and find ourselves (and for some of us–can’t be just me–the trudge is ongoing, and continues throughout adulthood). We find our place in the world eventually though, and thrive. Maybe we just survive, but we don’t remain the exposed hormonal/neuronal mess we are in middle school. But we also don’t completely forget that time either, do we? No, we don’t.
One of my son’s friends told him that he finds him annoying. My child is annoying, I mean, hello? He’s a seventh grader, so I understand why this friend finds him so, but it hurt both my boy and me. I’d say mostly him, but the fallout from the exclusion was shared, and no one hurts more than the mom whose child’s heart aches. Another kid made fun of him for not being able to keep up as they were messing around, kinda running and tearing around. No one rolls eyes better than a seventh grader SO DONE with another seventh grader (except probably my seventh grader’s mom–it’s a gift/curse that has gotten poker face me into more trouble than I’d like to admit), so when Other Kid sighed at him in annoyance, I heard a tone in my big kid that voiced a lifetime of frustration: “I HAVE MD, Other Kid’s Name here, GOD!” And then shortly thereafter after he recovered, “Mom, I’m ready to go now. Can we go?”
Yeah, we can go. But where do you go? You still go to school, you still must learn to navigate the social labyrinth that is adolescence, so you can’t hide behind the keyboard the rest of your life, my boy. You also can’t play the MD card when things get uncomfortable, kid. It’s real, and it’s not taking a break from wrecking your muscles, so you better play nicely with this jerk disease in the sandbox together. Ugh. My annoying, sweet, not-so-gifted socially, but decent, honest child. Where will you go? I knew this day would come–no parent gets a pass–so why all of the sudden is this stealing my sleep? I don’t have a moral of the story or anything, but I think, which means I hope, you can be a satellite and still plow right through the middle (school). I sure hope so.
The bell is ringing–time to get to class!