I’m feeling oddly nostalgic these days, although I’ve been busy enough to be able to tamp down those feelings for the most part. E’s middle school years came to an end last week, and now we have a high schooler in our midst. That feels big to me.
I don’t post as many things about the girls on the blog. They are getting older, and we share more than enough on Instagram with close friends and family. When I started this blog ten years ago, a good portion of it was devoted to E – every drawing she made, each book that she read, the funny and sweet things that she said and did. She seems so little when I look back to those early posts – just look at this first blog photo and then the photo below (upper left corner) taken last Friday!
It seems like ages ago, but here we are on the sidelines, watching her lead her team to victory with goal after goal after goal, all arms and legs and high fives and smiles.
I think she mastered middle school in a way that I never did. She managed high academic expectations, a busy schedule, clubs and sports and events, and the very real work of navigating these tricky years of early adolescence and group dynamics with a dimpled grin on her face and a heads down work ethic when it was required.
Now that we’re on the flip side of middle school (for the first kid), I’m wondering what I’d tell past-me – the mom of an upcoming sixth grader beyond “it will be fine”? It’s always easier to reflect on experiences once they’re finished, once the nerves are eased and the jitters subside. But I still think it’s a valuable exercise to do as I think about the coming changes over the next four years of high school.
I’d tell past-me to trust these guiding principles – they work. I’d tell her to lean into the new and the different. Look for opportunities that offer new perspectives at the fundamental level, not ones that reinforce the familiar. Sign her up for camps and classes in neighborhoods we rarely hang out in, with people that she’s never met. Drop her off at the door, don’t linger. Read and reread the mission statement of the organization, but ignore how the building looks from the outside (or even the inside). Seek out the scrappy – they are innovative in ways that ample budgets don’t always allow.
Expose her to experiences where she is not the presumed leader, where she might be the odd one out. She will walk quietly into new rooms and listen. She will find her voice and insert it when she wants to. She will become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and then she’ll seek that out on her own. She is the center of the universe in this family, a featherbed to collapse into, spent and spinning. But out there you want it to be different – you want her to assume nothing and test everything. At times this might be trying, but she will know herself to the core.
You have done this for her since the moment she took her first breath, so trust it. You exposed her to an ever-widening circle of people unlike you so that she would understand that love and respect and nurture comes in a million different packages, all vital and important to our collective soul. You wrote it in a letter penned before she broke the surface of the earth. You promised to love her first and fiercely, but to not hoard control of her raising. You swore you’d let her know the love of as many different people as you could, and you’re doing it. Keep doing it.
I cannot slow the days, I know this. That hits me in my core some days; I catch my breath on it. I revel in the time I took to collect these little snapshots of her year and I promise myself to collect more in the coming years. She’s ready for high school, her joy is catching.