I don’t have very clear memories of elementary school. They are mostly blended images of teachers, faces, playgrounds and friends. I remember Susan, the girl who was seated next to me in the third grade. She and I were the handwriting champs of the class, and took calligraphy rather seriously. We created elaborate headings for our notebook paper with curly cues and superfluous information that took up a third of the page. I can still remember the teacher (what was her name?) telling us that we really didn’t need to go to such lengths. Writing our names and the date would suffice. But we were proud as only third graders can be, and toiled on. Our headings were the best.
Middle School, a.k.a. Junior High, is another story altogether. There’s that mysterious, uncontrollable, volatile something that happens to all of us in the middle school years, some earlier and some later, that just plain changes everything. My boys haven’t gotten to that precipice yet, but many of their classmates have. My eldest is probably on the cusp of puberty, though for the moment he is still a boy, albeit a big boy. The girls are another matter entirely. It seems to me they wake up one day and are women. I remember that very same thing happening to me. One day in the seventh grade, I went to school and all of the boys in my class looked suddenly just like that- boys. Little boys. Suddenly I was awash in desires for those feminine trappings which had seemed out of reach up to that point, and I reveled in trying out my mother’s high heels and makeup. Suddenly heads turned my way (usually those pesky construction workers!) and I was totally unprepared for dealing with it. I can remember my middle school years perfectly, every nuance and every emotion.
A couple days ago I went to my children’s middle school orientation. There were only a few families with their children, as these were only new arrivals to the county. Oh what a flashback! Some things really never do change! There they all were… the middle school characters from my past. There was the shy, stammering boy on the verge of hunkdom, who had no idea of what he was getting himself into. There was the awkward, slightly overweight, bespectacled, too tall, over eager girl who raised her hand impatiently to answer every single question… the same girl who would be a late bloomer, and just has to survive middle and high school as best she can, to go on to become an anchorwoman or astronaut. There was the prissy oh so blond future cheerleader with the little sparkly purse. Her prissy, oh so blond cheerleader mother only asked one question during the meeting- would her daughter’s mini skirt be OK in light of the dress code since she wore leggings under it? There was the slumping, disinterested jock, whose father wanted desperately to know if soccer practice would overlap with football practice, all while the teacher explained the school’s strict academic guidelines for remaining eligible for competing in sports activities. There was the long-haired cool dude, who in my Floridian past would have been the surfer, whose father asked about his son’s conflicting snowboarding schedule with the school’s ski team. There was the girl who I imagined akin to myself at that age, who didn’t ask a thing, but took copious notes. And then there were my two boys, the sixth grader impatient and twitching around, leaning his chair back on the two hind legs, so easily bored and in need of challenge every single minute. The kid who has such a full schedule with the soccer team (an Italian goal keeper… too good to be true), math club, student council and all the rest that you wonder why he is still so bored… the kid who will probably be a major pain to the girls and a cool friend to the boys. And my eighth grader, oh my, what a girl magnet! Just my type! Tall, dark dreamy eyes and unassuming ways. Studious and kind, and a bit preppy. The kid who easily blushes red when he stands in front of the class, who doesn’t tease the girls and actually treats them like people. The playmaker on the basketball team, who loves history and geography.
Then there was the mother of these last two, gritting her teeth a bit and holding back tears, the one who still dresses like a kid and remembers middle school enough to know that her boys’ childhood years are really coming to end, even though they still play hide and seek and cuddle up on the couch in the evenings next to her. They are setting forth into that oh so turbulent world of adolescence, whether they know it or not.
She can only hope they are ready. Let the drama begin.