Towards the end of summer, my middle kid, MJ, expressed some big plans, in her usual way: quietly but with conviction.
Now that school is in full swing, she has shown me that these So-Called Plans are very much in the works.
When your child enters 6th grade, it raises no red flags of potential mother daughter disconnect–at least it didn’t for me. This is the age they’re still trying to figure out what is going on and how to fit in–without looking like they’re trying too hard. To them, you still pretty much know everything and are their greatest advocate. But 7th grade is a different story. They have crafted their own road map now, and it looks nothing like the one you gave them. They have it completely dialed, know the rough terrain and are willing to plow through it and all we can do is act like the back seat driver from here on out.
But I wondered how quickly MJ would develop this 7th grade mentality–for survival if anything else, because she was new to this middle school, neighborhood, city and state. Just add hormones and sudden self-awareness and I’ve got a whole new kid. And her summertime promises of I’m going to be popular and I’m going to make my own path had me eating out of her hand like a squirrel: Yes! Chomp chomp chomp! You got this! Chomp chomp!
However, she is quiet and a little quirky and until last week, kind of oblivious to her looks. And so, the intersection of popularity and making your own path tend to, well, never ever intersect. Until she got out her new road map and made some real adjustments and is in the process of figuring out how to navigate on her own.
The upside is that she has the entire school to herself this year. There are no siblings to relay unwanted stories up the food chain and she can try out new versions of herself without anyone reporting it to home base. She has complete authority to shape shift into whomever she wants, free from any of our judgement, which is great. I mean, it’s one thing to be the quiet middle child in a blended family with seven kids—it’s another thing to be the only one in your family with a new school as the center of your universe.
I have been checking out parenting books from the library like mad lately. I tend to flock to this information haven whenever I feel a developmental crisis coming on. I check out books with titles like “Are my kids on track?” and “Mothering with Courage” and really anything that has the word teenager in it. Like, my check out status has my librarian believing I’ve never done this before. These library binges for me are much like shopping when you’re hungry: Everything looks good. But, I’m not gonna lie, I’m awful at soaking up this information. Most of the time it doesn’t stick because it doesn’t apply. There are too many variables to consider (like having a big family), so I just use it as material to help me fall asleep at night and hope the rest of the words soak into my brain while I’m in La La Land. Well that and I just try to stay on the same road she’s on, even though she’s clearly signaled she’s in the passing lane.
Let me just say that sometimes, lessons from the middle child can be the most pleasant—even though we’re talking about another one of my tweens, transforming into a teen and dodging my childhood development desire for a pat on the back. But there’s still time to get this right! Even though I’m prepared to use my husband as a meat shield while another one of our kids turns 13, I’m working on indulging her perspective mid-metamorphosis.
The jump from tween to teen is a big one. It means leaving awkwardness behind and becoming mindful of making a place for yourself in the world. It also means suddenly caring about how you might look to others. This is a complex stage because I always want my kids to just be themselves, to not feel as though they need to conform. This is how we make the world a different and more forgiving place. But I’m just now learning that it’s just as important for them to try out other versions of themselves, knowing that this is who they are. I’m just happy to still play a part, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.
So Called Mom