Never has the sentiment expressed in Coming Into Focus chimed with more truth than today as I bear witness to Princess Commando shedding the last traces of young girlhood. She entered middle school this year. I want to revert back to the coddling exclamations, "Wow, you're a big 5th grader now!" as we did when she was entering kindergarten or 1st grade. But, she would scowl at me- not just for the implication that we thought she was a baby needing a boost but for the fact that she is clearly not BIG at all. In fact, she is facing a new vexation as one of the youngest members of the Frederick Law Olmsted School at Kensington and also having the distinction of being one of the smallest in stature. She has fallen victim to relentless, but well- meaning head patting. "My head hurts. I am going to start to wear a jagged crown."
To be fair, for two years, our 5-12 program was split between two different buildings due to an extensive renovation in our permanent building. This is the first year we are all back under one roof (hallelujah for not having 3 kids in 3 different buildings!) The upperclassmen have not been in the presence of the "little kids" in quite some time. It is so tempting to squeeze unblemished doughy cheeks, pat little silken heads and squeal, "Aww, look at the little 5th graders. They are so cute!"
"I am not cute! I don't want to be cute!" Princess Commando asserts. I try to remind her that it is better than the alternative. But, if this is the most severe annoyance of 5th grade- I'll take it.
And then there are boys. They change in middle school, you know. She has always operated with such ease in the company of boys. She speaks their language. She has older brothers and all-boy cousins and a troupe of fantastically boyish, wonderfully inclusive neighborhood boys. She is not shy or awkward around them. And up until September 5th, her male classmates had regarded her with the same comfort and ease. But, now boys sit with boys in lunch. And girls sit with girls. By choice. But, not Princess Commando's choice. So lunch is filled with a longing for friendships that are fading before her eyes.
We had prepared her for this in a lecture titled, What to Expect When You are Expecting to Survive Middle School- which included, among other topics-Those are not mosquito bites, those are boobs; How to defend yourself in a knife fight (did I mention that our kids attend public school in an inner city school district?), and, of course, Boys are muttonheads (Before mothers of boys take offense, I have two teenage sons- I love them, but it's true- even of the best of them). We tell her that it is truly nothing personal, it's just the natural development of the social dynamic in middle school. I think she knows that this is true; but it doesn't make it any easier-especially when she attempts to engage one of her male friends in conversation and the rest of her classmates take turns taunting her for her breech in the social norm. "Haha, you like So and So."
There are times when I feel like I have it all figured out- motherhood, counseling. All the light bulbs turn on. Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving kicks into high gear. I am actively contributing to their growth, helping to steer their ships, offering up valuable wisdom. But lately, I am all a tangle- often forced into the role of spectator- holding my breath throughout the game- crossing my fingers, praying to the universe that they make the right play, that they rally, that they put their best foot forward, that they learn how to win and how to lose. I am split between standing at the top of the mountain- encouraging them upward and onward and anchoring myself at the bottom ready with the net in case they stumble. My wise mother tells me- to get used to it- it never changes even when our babies are 37 with babies of their own. With that in mind, I think I am due for some new mountain climbing shoes.