After I wrote about my oldest son’s less-than-awesome first day of middle school a while back, I had people asking me for a follow-up for weeks. The first day was a jarring slap of reality, but in the weeks since, we have all adjusted — some of us better than others. Namely, my son is just fine and rebounded almost immediately, but I am still struggling a bit.
On Tuesday mornings, my toddler and I drive our neighborhood carpool of four middle schoolers to school. I don’t mind the drive to the somewhat distant magnet school because it’s a chance to spend some time with the kids (even if they spend the whole time absorbed in their devices). It’s a pretty drive and there’s a girl in the carpool, which means that I actually find out things like oh yeah, there’s a quiz in English tomorrow I never heard about, or by the way, school T shirts are sold in the school store. Moms of boys rarely hear about such details, so I eagerly chat her up on my carpool days and hope to glean as much information as I can from her in the short time I have access to someone who actually pays attention and can report such tidbits.
After I drop the kids off at school, where hulking eighth graders look out of place next to my kid, who can barely hold up his overstuffed backpack, I drive the toddler to her Waddlers class at My Gym — the same class, in the same room, where I once took my oldest son when he was her age. I literally go straight from jaded ‘tweens with braces and budding acne to chunky toddler thighs and bright-eyed, eager new mommies hesitant to let go of their toddlers’ hands. It’s enough to give me mental whiplash.
So, although middle school is going relatively well — my son has great teachers, he’s learning, he has friends to sit with at lunch, and he can now very confidently give a presentation using PowerPoint — I find myself still a bit not okay. Recently, I asked him if he was happy at middle school. “Mom, I have always been okay middle school,” he said pointedly, his eyes narrowing. “It’s you that has the problem.”
He’s not wrong. I look at those new mommies in our My Gym class, sporting cute, seasonally-appropriate socks with jack-o-lanterns on them while they push their kids in red plastic swings and flip them awkwardly upside-down to show them how to do headstands, and I think, Enjoy this while you can. I’m actually jealous of moms who are sweating it out with small children, who are fazed by the fact that their kids don’t want to participate in circle time, whose biggest fear is the transition to Kindergarten in the far-off future. For no reason I can put my finger on, middle school is bumming me out. Maybe it’s because it feels like the “best” parts of childhood are over? Maybe it’s because my sixth grader has picked up a wickedly huge attitude in the past month? Or maybe it’s because, as my first grader pointed out the other day, it’s just a little sad that at middle school, there is no playground. Somehow, that seems symbolic of some larger truth: monkey bars and swings are out of place in my oldest child’s school day, probably until he has children of his own.
This morning, I drove carpool as usual. As we were starting off, my son asked if I would turn on the van’s DVD player so he could watch The Jetsons, which we own on disc. A miracle happened: one by one, the ‘tweens put down their respective devices, and they watched The Jetsons. Raptly. They giggled at some of the corny jokes, and they noted a few of the “futuristic” details that somehow seem so quaint now in the age of the iPhone 5. In my rearview mirror, I saw their eyes, pointed up, instead of the backs of their iPods. I thought to myself, They are still kids. They might not have playgrounds at their school, but they are still, for a bit longer, those same kids that once tumbled around a padded gym floor and loved the ball pit. It’s not all over yet. I just have to remember that, and I have to make the rest of these years count. I won’t traumatize the mommies at My Gym and tell them so, because I remember being them all too well. But I wish that there was some way to show them just how fast the time goes between worrying about potty training and worrying about puberty. (But potty training still sucks, just for the record. Big time.)
I’ll get over this funk. It will become my new normal, slowly, and as I see that my child is still my boy underneath his new middle school veneer and sneer. I already appreciate the chance to form a different kind of rapport with an older child who demands much less physical energy, if maybe a bit more of my emotional and mental reserves. But I am giving myself a little bit of leash to feel sad and mourn whatever it is — the lack of chunky thighs, the lack of a playground, or the abundance of homework and musky-smelling shower gel he seems to literally bathe in nightly. I’ve loved these days, with all their chaos, and these days are dwindling. The seasons change, the children grow, and I will let myself feel all of it — the good and the bad, the My Gym moments and the middle school angst. It’s all part of the ride.