I don’t really know why I just burst into tears.
It’s late at night and I’ve been sorting and filing paperwork in our home office for hours now (paperwork that’s been building up for two years of course. Please tell me I’m not alone?). I’m desperately trying to get organized before the new school year that is approaching way too quickly.
And as I was sorting through a couple of years worth of bills and photos and kid art, I came across a note that my daughter Abby left on her desk for us on “Back to School Night” at the beginning of the last school year, September 2015, when she was entering fifth grade.
Something about it just looked so innocent. Her imperfect little girl handwriting. The pictures she drew down at the bottom—hearts and tic tac toes.
“Daddy, be sure to look for the guitar in our classroom,” she wrote excitedly. She told us to check out all the books and the wall art and her self-portrait. “I hope you like my new classroom!!”
I think I cried because that’s all over. We will never again go to a “Back to School Night” at an elementary school, filled with the drawings and cuteness of tiny children.
Abby… is about to enter Middle School. Yep. Middle School. Capital M, capital S. At least in my mind.
Maybe I also cried because I remember all too well what my first day of Middle School was like. Technically, it was Junior High (capital J, capital H). When I grew up, we moved schools in seventh grade. And man was it tough.
I walked in that new big school wearing an outfit my mom had just bought me. I was so proud of it.
Now you need to know that it was 1981. I had on high-waisted, pleated purple pants, a white sweatshirt with purple stripes and purple polka dots on the folded down triangular flap at the neck, and – wait for it—matching purple booties on my feet.
I thought I looked cool. But one of my friends didn’t think so. The way I remember it, she made fun of me relentlessly on that first day. I was so upset I ran home to my mother in tears, insisting that I would “never wear that stupid outfit again!”
Years later I told my own kids that story to make a point about bullying. It’s one of their favorites and they often yell “tell the purple pants story mommy!” I now realize that maybe I shouldn’t have told it so zealously. Because now here we are. What if Abby has a purple pants moment?
Earlier in the summer Abby kept saying she was excited to move up to Middle School. And we all agreed and told her how wonderful it will be. I meant it. As much as I’m holding on to the past and worried about the future, I do understand that it’s time for Abby to grow up. It’s time for her to get a locker and move from classroom to classroom. It’s time for her to join clubs and go ice skating on Friday nights (I hear that’s what the big sixth graders do).
She’ll be mixed in with kids from three other elementary schools in our town. That’s four times as many kids for her to meet and mingle with. I’m sure she’ll have an entirely new social experience. Abby, by the way, is our social butterfly. She was the kid we moved to a new elementary school halfway through the third grade. Within weeks she was walking down the hallway and saying hello to nearly every student by name. “Hey Paul! What’s up Ruben? Catch ya later Susie.”
I know she’ll be fine. She’s smart and polite. She’s kind and thoughtful. Her grades have been stellar and she works hard.
Still, I keep thinking about the little toddler I used to have. She’s still my little girl. And I want to hug her and protect her—from everything.
Next week we’ll be over at the Middle School to walk the halls and check out Abby’s locker. She’s is a bit concerned about how to open a combination lock. I’ve told her she can practice as many times as it takes.
And on the day after Labor Day I think she’ll actually let me walk her to school. She said I could—at least for the first few days.
Like so many moms before me, I’ll wear my sunglasses.
That way maybe she won’t see the tears.
This piece is part of a week-long series with tips for how parents can help their kids survive middle school. Check out some of the other posts about middle schooler's developing brians, how to survive social drama, and navigating academics. More to come each day this week!