Just a few short years ago, I found myself somewhere in the middle of a long bridge between childhood and adolescence. I was longingly looking back towards the childhood side yet hopeful as I moved apprehensively towards the adolescence side.
Well, it appears my bridge was an express bridge.
Here I am; on the other side.
You know what’s here? Cell phones, mustaches, adam’s apples, deep booming voices, attitudes, challenges to limits, and boys who suddenly stand at eye level to me.
You know what else is here?
Meaningful conversations, random tight hugs, trust, and young men who are mostly kind and learn from their mistakes. Surprisingly, it’s sort of nice over here; albeit a bit smelly and messy. On this side of the bridge, I am the parent of a young man, not a young boy, and I get to start taking a step back to let him take some risks on his own.
One of the first big events on this side of the bridge has happened over the past few months without me really being able to comprehend it’s weight. My son is already heading towards the end of his first year of middle school and lately the words of his new principal echo in my head – there are only 540 days of middle school.
In some areas of our life, 540 seems like a lot.
But, when we are talking about time in middle school, 540 days is nothing. It’s half the length of time he spent from Kindergarten through 5th grade (1080 school days for math dorks like myself). That period of time went by in the blink of an eye. Surely this chunk of 540 days are going to fly by even quicker!
So, how do we, as new middle school parents, survive these 540 days?
Well, I know how I spent the days leading up to Day 1 — letting the middle school version of me find her way to the surface. I color coded binders, folders and schedules, circled rooms on maps, plotted out the best way to organize a backpack, role played some scenarios, and had a nightmare that I was him and I couldn’t find my math class on Day 1. I just wanted his middle school experience to not be awful like my own.
But, then I stopped myself. (Because, seriously, a nightmare??)
Adolescence is messy and painful. It’s supposed to be awkward. It’s supposed to be emotional. It’s supposed to be challenging. Some days are supposed to feel awful. And, aren’t middle school and adolescence synonymous?
Like most challenging, uncomfortable, and unpleasant things in life, when we look back on them later, we can see the good they brought to our lives. They are the catalytic events and change agents that shape our lives. Although I would never want to relive my own 540 days, I do see how they helped to shape me into who I am today. I see how some of the people I still care deeply for today are friends I made during those 540 days. I can see that in those 540 days were where many of my interests were born. My 540 days were certainly not filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies, but maybe I should be thankful that they weren’t.
When my middle schooler faces the typical struggles of middle school, I have to tell the middle school version of myself to settle down. I know many of his 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments. I know there will be lots of times where he feels just as I did during my 540 days. His 540 days will not be filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies.
So, how am I going to navigate my own 540 day journey as a parent? I am going to realize that in many ways the parental journey of 540 days mirrors the student’s journey. These 540 days will be challenging for me as a parent. If adolescence is awkward and painful, so too is parenting an adolescent. For parents, many of our 540 days will also be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments.
It has been suggested that the most influential people in a teen’s life are not his teachers, coaches, parents, or professional athletes. It turns out that for many teens, their peers are the most influential presence. Middle schoolers need each other. I suspect that this holds true for middle school parents as well.
Parents need other parents.
My plan for surviving these 540 school days is simple: lean on my peers, be kind when mistakes are made, learn lessons where they can be learned and remember that this time is going to fly by. While I am not in any rush, I look forward to seeing who we all are on Day 540.
On Christmas Eve a 15 year tradition came to an end. It was the first Christmas Eve without an official believer in our house.
But, we still did all the typical Christmas things.
We still hid away all the presents.
We still talked about Santa coming to bring gifts.
We still made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, referred to as “Santa’s cookies” even if we make them in July.
We still waited until Christmas Eve to take the gifts from their hiding spaces and place them beneath the tree.
Much of this year was the same - but it was also very different. My youngest asked if he could watch us to see how we do it all.
He sat, wide eyed on the couch, as my husband and I worked like the amazing team we are - having done this for 15 years now.
Soon the questions started:
“How much did this all cost?”
“How long did it take you to wrap everything?”
“You really wrap everything in the stockings???”
“Is it hard to do all this?”
“How are you able to do this so fast?”
Then he helped me as I put out cookies and milk for Santa and, for the first time ever, our youngest got to enjoy the treats.
My heart ached through it all though. I miss those tiny versions of my boys as they would run outside to sprinkle reindeer food in the lawn, their voices squealing with delight.
I miss those days and there is a profound sadness in realizing that chapter of our family’s journey has ended.
But, this new chapter is truly special too.
This new Christmas is different. But, this new Christmas is still filled with joy, wonder, and love.
It’s still magical.
It’s still Christmas.
The first parent-teacher conferences of the year happened this week and man did I get schooled.
As a mother of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I’ve been to more parent-teacher conferences than I can easily count.
But, as each one approaches, the part of myself that I consider a recovering perfectionist starts to creep to the surface.
Originally published on Filter Free Parents. Click HERE for full article.
This morning I was struck with a deep sense of gratitude. As I meandered my way down the hallway in the early morning hours to wake my high schooler for the day, I smiled at the calmness that now fills my home.
In a normal year, our mornings would be a complete frenzy of activity. Total chaos would rule our day from the moment the 5:00AM alarm on my phone rang until we all finally crawled into our beds at the end of the day. It would be a race against the clock as we scurried around the house each morning trying to get everything done in time for us to leave for the day.
Originally published on Grown and Flown. Click HERE to read full article.
Yesterday I got to relearn slopes and angles so I could effectively support my 9th grader in geometry. Then I got to develop a tracking system that would work for my 6th grader to help him better manage the sometimes too subtle details of his class assignments. Later I got to help with a story map and reviewing point of view vs. perspective.
It is a luxury, for sure, to be able to spend this time with my children without having to worry about working at the exact same moment. In my younger days, I actually taught 6th grade math and study skills for middle schoolers. I loved my time as a teacher so this should be my jam. It’s not.
I love being their mom but I hate being their teacher.
Originally published on Her View From Home. Click HERE to read full article.
Dear Mamas, You’ve Got This
It’s that time of year again — the time when summer days begin to shorten, summer nights require a sweater, and back to school sales fill the stores.
But, this year, everything feels completely different.
This year, mothers everywhere are facing the beginning of the school year with a growing sense of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.
I know I am.
Each day I wake up still uncertain about the back to school plan. Each day finds me second guessing my family’s decision to allow our sons to return to school in a hybrid model versus a fully remote option. Each day finds the dread and sadness building in me. Each day finds the lightness of summer fading.
This is not how this was supposed to go.
Right now, my head is filled with a million racing thoughts:
- How can I help my children learn remotely this year?
- What is the best physical space for them?
- How are they going to stay engaged all day?
- How can I make sure they learn something?
- How are they going to feel emotionally with this new school plan?
- How can I balance their schooling and all of the other things I have to do?
- How can I possibly do everything that is required of me.
- What if I fail at this?
- What if I can’t do this?
- Are they going to be ok?
- Am I going to be ok?
What is being asked of us as mothers right now is almost impossible to understand and has created one of the most pressure-filled moments of motherhood I can remember.
I am overwhelmed and sad that this is our reality.
But, I am trying desperately to hold two key thoughts close to my heart. These thoughts have become mantras for me lately and are what I say to myself when the anxiety gets too loud:
This is not forever. This is not our new long-term normal. This will not define our children and it will not define us as mothers.
We are not in this alone. There are lots of other mothers out there facing similar struggles.
We need to lean on each other. We need to commit to calling, texting, and FaceTiming each other regularly to give each other space to vent, complain, and cry and to build each other up.
This will be hard. There is no doubt about it. There will be days when we cry, days when we scream into pillows, and days when we just can’t get motivated.
There will also be days where it feels not quite as impossible. There will be days where the smiles outnumber the frustrated sighs.
It will be ok.
We will get to the other side of this challenging time.
This time in our lives will serve to remind us that there are so many things outside of our control, that the uncomfortable and hard times are always temporary, and that we are not alone.
Right now, mamas, we need to breathe in and breathe out, taking this challenge before us one single day at a time while cutting ourselves an amazing sense of grace.
You’ve got this, Mama, and we’ve all got each other.
Recently my family drove north to stay at a hotel for one last getaway before summer ends.
Life on the other side of our shared hotel room wall was very different than life on our side.
The family on the other side of the wall was the same as my family - just a version of us from 12 years ago.
On the other side of the wall were high pitched squeaky voices that shouted “mommy look!” over and over again.
On our side of the wall were tall manly teenage boys with deep and sometimes moody voices.
On the other side of the wall were toy train whistles and giggles.
On our side of the wall were xboxes and conversations about politics.
On the other side of the wall they were silent by 8pm and awake by 6am.
On our side of the wall we stayed up past midnight and slept in late.
On the other side of the wall the parents were the last to fall asleep.
On our side of the wall I was the first to fall asleep.
On the other side of the wall were bedtime stories, sweet lap cuddles, raspy early morning voices, and sippy cups of milk.
On our side of the wall were requests for coffee, sarcastic quips, and eye rolls.
Both sides of the wall were filled with love and families just trying to find joy with each other as summer comes to a close.
No matter which side of the wall you are on right now, enjoy your time there.
There is peace and magic and beauty on both sides of the wall.
I’ve been here before.
This space between elementary school and middle school is familiar to me for I have walked this road before with my oldest son. This road is a place where childhood really starts to feel finite and the pull of adolescence finds its way into our lives. It’s a short road but one that feels endless at times and is often uncomfortable and scary.
Originally published on Her View From Home. Click HERE to view full article.
The elementary school drop off line is quite possibly Hell on Earth. It is here that we see the worst of our society. In this line, rules don’t matter. It is every mom or dad for themselves. Every morning in the drop off line is like a trip to a casino; except this casino doesn’t come with a fancy hotel room, free cocktails, or lavish shows. Nevertheless, just like at a casino, I get to try my luck at being a winner and I never know what I’m going to get. As I pull down the school street each morning, I brace myself for the unknown. What will the other parents do this morning?
Will I get lucky and sail to the front of the line where my well trained 10 year old can tuck and roll out of the car, shouting “I love you!” over his shoulder as he maneuvers himself masterfully out of my almost still moving car?
Will I get stuck backed up onto the main street where I silently (and sometimes not so silently) curse the parents in front of me who choose to blatantly ignore every rule that has ever existed in the drop off line?
Will the parents in the cars in front of me actually pay attention to the school and police staff members waving them forward and pull all the way up to the front of the line?
Will they pull their car up to the middle of the line, get out and start walking into the school, ignoring the directions shouted to them by the teachers and police officer to get back into their vehicle and park in the parking lot? (By the way, I feel pity for those poor teachers and police officers each morning. What a dreadful way to start their day.)
Will they instruct their child to unbuckle their seat belt and gather their belongings while their car glides to a stop at the front of the line, making for an almost imperceptible stop of their vehicle?
Will they pull their car into the line, put it into park, and slowly get out of the driver’s seat, meandering around to the passenger’s side to help their cherubs out of the car? And will those little angels move with the slow oozing pace of a young child who has to “do it myself!!”?
Will they respectfully and without any deviation follow all of the drop off line rules that have been repeatedly posted on social media, sent home with children and plastered in front of the school building?
Will they pull up to the curb and then take 5 minutes reviewing homework slips, giving big hugs and kisses to their child, and getting engrossed at the open passenger side door in a lengthy conversation about after-school plans?
Will they complete the early morning drop off of their child without any incident?
Will they stop their car self-righteously in front of the main entrance, blocking the crosswalk from the parking lot and cause traffic to back out onto the main road, inevitably making many of us late for work?
The madness of the carpool drop off line is enough to drive any parent crazy, especially if you are like me and have a carefully choreographed morning that allows you to pull into work *just* in time after dropping your child off at school. But what happens when we allow this maddening free-for-all to dictate our morning? Does it mean that we then find ourselves short tempered for the rest of the morning? Do we carry that stress with us into our work or into the rest of our day with our children? How can we take away the power that damn line has over us?
I found myself pondering these very questions the other day when the mom in front of me stopped right in front of the main entrance and then opened every single door of the car to help children climb out — front seat, both back seats AND the rear hatch. Each child got an individual hug and kiss, a check of their backpack and lunchboxes, and time for some exchange of words that made each child smile. The eye rolls from the other parents stuck behind them were almost audible and the mom could not have cared less about the directions being yelled at her by the school staff.
While this display only held me up by about 3 minutes, I felt it physically in my body. My face turned red, my hands clenched the steering wheel tighter, and I began adding up all the extra time that was now being tacked on to my commute to work. It set off that familiar anxious chatter in my brain of all the things that could now go wrong. Now I would be stuck behind the school bus picking up kids in the next town and then I would be stuck for at least 3 light cycles at that big intersection near my work. I would not have much time to get myself prepared for my first patient and would have to wait to send that important email to my students.
When I of course got stuck behind that school bus, I started to realize how silly it was to let that one mom’s goodbye to her children ruin my day. My day had only just begun. I still had hours and hours ahead of me. So what if I was a few minutes late for work? The world wouldn’t end and, truthfully, if my schedule is really that tight then I should make sure I leave the house early enough to be the first parent in that line.
As I followed the bus down the main road, stopping every few houses to let on another child, I wondered if there was a way to re-frame the way I experience the drop off line. Rather than allowing myself to feel anger and frustration towards the parents who are breaking the rules, would it be possible to try to find a way to feel empathy for them? Perhaps something in their lives is so stressful, so painful, so exhausting that they simply don’t have the mental or physical energy to follow the drop off line rules. Maybe it’s all they can do to get themselves and their kids out the door on time. Maybe that mom really needed all that extra time with her kids that morning.
Maybe in the grand scheme of life it doesn’t really matter that much. These days where we get to roll the dice every morning with the drop off line are going to be over soon. Soon our kids will be choosing to walk with their friends, ride their bike, or take the bus to school instead of sitting with us in that drop off line. Eventually, some day sooner than we’d like to admit, they will be driving themselves. Not too soon after that, they won’t even be living in our house anymore. Maybe these extra few minutes with them each morning are really a gift. Maybe we are winning after all.
One of the best things that happened to me in my early educational career was that I only had to go to Middle School (or Jr. High as it was known back then) for two years - not the typical three years. I spent a hellish 6th and 7th grade at the Middle School in my home town and then our 8th grade class became the first class to start the 8th grade year in the High School. Woo hoo!
If you were anything like the Middle School version of me, then 6th and 7th grade probably were awful for you too. You couldn't pay me enough money to relive those years: the constant physical, mental, social and emotional changes; teasing, bullying and general drama; boyfriend/girlfriend issues; and overall awkwardness. I'm fairly certain that 8th grade me flipped my Middle School the bird and yelled "Peace Out!" on my last day in that nightmarish period of my life. When they knocked the building down a few years ago, I felt no sadness. None at all.
Thank God we don't have to ever relive those years.
I have come to realize over the past few months that we never really do leave Middle School for good. For those of us that become parents and get to experience the super awesomeness of parenting tweens and teens, it's like going straight back to Middle School. It's like a time machine that sends you back to the worst period of your life. Totally cool.
Middle School is no different the second time around. Actually, I think it might be worse the second time around. Instead of ME being the target and the one going through all of the changes, drama and awkwardness, it's my child going through it and I feel it all. All of it. When he gets made fun of, I feel it. When he struggles with complex emotions and difficult decisions, I'm there with him. When his heart gets broken, so too does mine. (The psychotherapist in me wonders if maybe this means I'm too connected to him. Probably. But, I'm still standing on The Bridge. I need a little more time.)
So, aside from diving head first into a nice bottle of red and some Netflix bingeing, here are some tips to help you survive your second go round with Middle School:
1. Monitor screen time
Today's tweens and teens are growing up in a society where there is instant gratification and complete interconnectedness. While these technological advancements can be exciting and certainly quite useful, they also make it a bit of a challenge for social skill development. Monitor your children's use of social media. Read their texts, tweets and posts. Tweens and teens have become very skilled at bullying over social media and their parents often have no idea that it is happening. Spend some time researching secret apps that teens are using now. In this instance, Google is your friend.
2. Create space for honesty
It's fairly unlikely that your 12 year old is going to come home from school everyday and pour his heart out to you. But, you can consistently send your children the message that you are there for them. You want to hear them. You want to support them. Sometimes the end of the day/bedtime is a good place for these conversations to take place organically. Sometimes, though, it's places like the car where tweens and teens open up with their parents. Something about staring straight ahead at the road and not into their parent's eyes seems to make them more comfortable. So, make some time to just drive around and see what comes up in conversation.
3. Model appropriate behavior
Full disclosure here. Adults acting like Middle School students is one of my pet peeves. It's hard to explain how wrong bullying and teasing is to our children when so many adults in their lives have themselves become skilled at bullying others on social media. Think twice before posting that passive aggressive meme about a peer. Would you condone your child posting such a meme about his peer right now? How would you feel if someone posted it about your child? Watch how you talk about other parents and peers in front of your children. They pick up on way more than you think.
4. Think twice before getting involved
There are many times when I want to march myself into my children's school, bus or sports teams and give one of their peers a piece of my mind or sit them down and mediate a discussion for them. In the vast majority of those situations, getting involved would only be about me and wouldn't do anything to help my children or their peers learn how to successfully and responsibly handle conflict. Take a step back and let your tween and teen figure it out. Role play scenarios and conversations with them and support their efforts to problem solve on their own. And, of course, advocate when needed and consult with other parents when able to do so.
When all else fails and you find yourself cursing these Middle School experiences, take a deep breath and remember that this is temporary. Before we know it, they'll be out of Middle School (and we'll be out of Middle School again too!) and they'll be young women and men. Just as quickly as they went from being helpless babies and toddlers to tweens and teens with their own personalities and lives, they'll be out of our house. So, even though it just plain stinks at times (literally and figuratively if you have boys), lean into the discomfort of these times and be grateful that they let us come along for the ride.
P.S. In case you were wondering, we get to experience Middle School one more time in life - when we become residents in nursing homes and long term care settings. Oh boy. It's Middle School all over again. But, that's a whole other Oprah...
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