Friday, October 18, 2013

It's a delight to watch Cooper's world grow

My son is almost halfway finished with middle school, and there are still moments I lament the good ol’ elementary school days.
I miss receiving a class roster with a tidy list of 22 or 23 students, most of whom we already knew from the neighborhood or previous grades.
I miss knowing most of the parents, too — even if some conversations took place only at pickup, assemblies and classroom parties.
I miss less exhausting homework loads.
Middle school requires giving up a lot of control. It requires trust in your child’s ability to make decisions, to choose friends, to implement a whole list of life lessons you’ve been doling out for more than a decade.
Cooper was ready for the transition just in time, even if I was dragging my feet.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to let go of wishing it were different — a task made easier with Cooper fully embracing the experience.
Sometimes, though not as often as in elementary school, I get glimpses of middle- school Cooper in his environment. Last week I helped chaperone the annual costume party sponsored by our middle school’s music department.
It’s a busy season for middle school band students. They perform at some football games and pep rallies. They meet before or after school for sectional practice. They are prepping for contests.
The day of the costume party, Cooper didn’t come home from school, instead staying after to practice for all-region tryouts. I arrived in the band hall minutes before my volunteer shift, to hand off his costume.
The cavernous rooms hosted a gaggle of laughing adolescents. They were milling about, shelving instruments, gobbling pizza.
The joy was palpable. Contagious.
I couldn’t spy Cooper at first, so I asked a similarly lanky fellow, who pointed me in the right direction.
There was my son, smiling, joking, chatting with fellow clarinetists.
He looked like he belonged.
I left him and his scarecrow costume with his people and reported to my assigned station: the Monster Walk. For the next two hours, I helped run the game, like a traditional cakewalk but with trinkets instead of pastry.
I recognized some students under their makeup and masks — kids from elementary school, our neighborhood or previous band events. Most, though, were strangers. Polite, but strangers nonetheless.
I’d occasionally see Cooper walking by with a clump of friends, some of them also unknown to me. He’d smile and wave and keep moving.
I was an outsider, an observer, a foreigner. And yet I felt completely at ease.
No, I don’t know the name of every student in seventh grade or even every student in Cooper’s classes. But I know my son well enough to know that he gravitates toward peers who are kind, responsible and respectful (at least as consistently as seventh-graders can manage).
I find comfort in the middle school band, his chosen school family. It’s a group of kids who, in general, are studious, quick-witted and fun without being outrageous. They are learning how to work as a team as well as improve individual skills in a healthy, competitive environment.
It’s a group of friends found through common interest and values — much like my adult friends.
My son is more than halfway to adulthood himself. It’s no doubt time for him to create relationships outside the safe cocoon of our home and neighborhood. It’s developmentally appropriate for him to form friendships independent of the family, to rely upon those friends for emotional support (and sometimes for help with homework).
The days of rosters and me knowing every peer by name are long gone, swallowed up by my son’s growing world. It’s a world I’m delighted to be a part of — even when I’m on the periphery.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Cooper and Katie after his first band performance at a football game

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