Monday, August 22, 2016

Lessons for the middle school mom

From Saturday's Briefing:

My baby begins middle school in two days, and so far I haven’t cried once. Not at the pep rally. Not at schedule pick-up and orientation. Not during the hour she practiced opening her locker and walking from room to room.
This is growth worth celebrating, people.
We’ve got Katie’s big brother to thank for my calm demeanor. He trained me to be a middle-school mom. What did he teach me? Oh, the list is long and includes:
Patience: Sixth grade often means a new musical instrument. A new musical instrument often means your home will be filled with out-of-tune, squeaky notes that don’t yet resemble a single song you’ve ever hummed. If the noise is just too irritating, try taking a walk or vacuuming on the other side of the house.
Above all else, be patient. You’ll eventually attend the winter concert, perched on the edge of your seat, scanning the crowd of musicians for your hard-working child. Your composure will be rewarded with a song or two that actually sound familiar, and you’ll marvel at the talents of middle school music directors, who wield superhuman powers of patience.
Grace: When Cooper started sixth grade, I thought a successful transition to middle school would take about six weeks. The first grading period came and went, and we were still in transition mode, with trials related to how to remember to bring home the correct materials each day, how to remember when assignments are due, how to meet so many teachers’ varying expectations. 
That’s when I adjusted my expectations and defined all of sixth grade as his transition time. That one shift in thinking reminded me of the importance of grace.
Value of making mistakes: Cooper left his clarinet at home one morning. After he’d walked off the bus and into school, he realized his mistake. I received his text as I was parking at my office, about 10 miles from campus. 
I left the minivan running and considered driving home to pick up the instrument and deliver it to school. I reasoned that my boss would understand, and I wanted to help my son avoid disappointment. 
It was a short-lived thought. I know better than to rescue unless necessary. I know better than to try to shield a child from disappointment. I know it’s my job to help that child cope with disappointment. 
So I turned off the ignition and texted him a quick reply, something like, “So sorry you forgot!” 
He was embarrassed during class. He received a 70 for a participation grade that day. He has never once forgotten his instrument since.
Power of taking risks: Middle school offers opportunities to try out new interests — maybe robotics or tennis or graphic design. There’s less pressure on students to excel at everything, with an emphasis instead on learning new skills.
Cooper showed up for cross country practice one day, kept coming back and improved a little each meet. He competed in the science fair one year and Future City the next. The stakes were low, but the rewards — working with a team, practicing the scientific method — were high. He starts his sophomore year in high school Monday, a member of the marching band and cross country team and a second-year engineering student.
I don’t know what kinds of mistakes Katie will make or what kinds of risks she’ll take. I don’t know how often I’ll need to rely on patience and grace. That element of the unknown is what makes the whole adventure slightly terrifying but mostly exciting. 
The new school year is worth celebrating. And if you see me crying Monday morning, I expect they’ll be tears of joy for my baby, the girl whose hand I love to hold and whose hand I know I must gradually let go. 
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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