I’m going to have to get a life, in order to let my kid live hers.
That was my big (tough) take away from the two emotionally fraught weeks leading up to her big middle school debut today.
Jane handles new situations with aplomb that I envy. For real, my sixth grade self is so jealous–because I was a hot mess in middle school. I didn’t know what to wear or how to be. Jane’s sense of self is pretty solid. And even so, in the lead-up to middle school, emotions bubbled up in weird glares aimed directly at me like tiny daggers or spontaneous (extended) hugs, and the occasional tears about … nothing.
Watching Jane gear up for an endeavor that she was both thrilled about and uncertain of had its highs and lows–both equally intense. We argued about a smattering of weird, nonsensical things. But I also got to hang out with her in Little 5 Points (my favorite place in Atlanta since forever), shopping for Doc Martens and jean jackets and big, dangly earrings that she’s finally been deemed old enough for. She’s growing into a human I love (of course) but also one that I’d choose to spend time with. And watching that happen is one of my most deeply held joys.
Part of this transition into middle school has been made easier by the fact that the kid just navigates social spaces well.
But even so.
Watching her hang back to test the water and get her footing was hard. Smart. But different from the exuberance with which she used to charge in. Also remarkably difficult: being in a large group of tweens and watching some of them get socially edged out in favor of other kids. Watching the beginning of the end of some friendships and the discovery of brand new connections. And seeing kids I’d known for years look lost in that big middle school pushed me right to the brink of tears.
But the very hardest part of it all (for me) is turning Jane loose into the tumult of middle school. It doesn’t really matter how well-grounded a kid is or how self-possessed they seem– middle school is chaos. And multiple educators of middle school kids have reminded me that parents tend to fare far worse than the kids in all this upheaval. Ugh.
Jane is going to behave differently, try on different personas, change. Change again. Love me. Hate me. Cling. Be annoyed.
It’s a rollercoaster that I’m getting on.
And I don’t love rollercoasters.
But I do love my kid. And she needs me to be a stable force, to show up and be grounded. Which means I cant’ take every emotional detour with her. I can’t make her friendship crises, her academic stress, her life… I can’t make it mine. And I have to let her change. Without panicking. I have to trust that she’s making her way toward who she needs to be. Even when I’m unsure of the path she’s chosen.
It’s separation. She’s separating from me. And I have to turn her loose.
She needs me in a completely different way than she used to. Maybe I can learn to think of this stage as more of an advisory role. She’s constantly telling me she doesn’t like to be micromanaged. Truth be told, she’s been managing her own self for years: getting herself up for school, making her own breakfast & lunch, keeping track of her afterschool schedule (and mine–because she seems to have a low-key distrust for my ability to adult, even though I’ve been better than mediocre at it her whole life).
I suppose what I realized in the days leading up to middle school is how easy it is to get sucked into the emotional vortex with this little piece of my heart (aka Jane). She’s my favorite person. I want to make her life easy. Pain-free. But that’s not how life goes. And, honestly, she’d probably be a pretty shitty adult if I managed to somehow, magically offer her a painless existence.
I also realized that my writing can no longer focus on Jane’s life. She’s not a little kid. She deserves the right to privacy (in this realm at least). It’s easy to write about parenting. I can see my mistakes and triumphs unfold in real time. And kid anecdotes are cute or at the very least highly relatable. But as she stretches and works to become the person she is going to be, I have to honor that and stretch as a writer–which means writing about some of the other things that occupy my headspace: antiracism, feminism, equity, queerness.
It’s time for me to lean in to some of the other aspects of my identity and to write accordingly.
Looks like change is going to be the only constant for us over here. At least for a little while.