Eleven is a trip, man. A wild, topsy-turvy, twisty-turned, tear-soaked, fury-filled trip.
Eleven doesn’t know what it is. It isn’t a little kid anymore. That ended with 10. Ten is drawing pictures of animals and crying on the bench at baseball games and obsessions with fidget spinners. Ten is saying goodbye to the little kid years.
But 11 isn’t yet a big kid either. That waits for 12. Twelve is slammed doors and angst and extra hugs before bed because they’re “sad but don’t know why.” Twelve is beginning of adolescence even if it technically isn’t the teen years yet.
But 11? Eleven is stuck in the middle. Not little kid anymore, but not yet big kid either. Eleven is confusing and doesn’t know quite what it is.
Eleven means big changes. It is the start of middle school. And let’s face it – middle school is fucking hard. Even under the best of circumstances, “normal” middle school stuff can be brutal. There are raging hormones. Friends change schools. Longtime friendships fade away; new friendships are formed. Different teachers have different standards. Romantic relationships and crushes start. Everyone is awkward and scared. And I mean, everyone – whether they admit it or not.
Which means it’s batshit bonkers for us parents of 11-year-olds too. When your kid starts middle school, people often ask: “How’s middle school going?” with this weird trepidation. Most of the time, people answer with “It’s fine.” Kind of in that veiled way people talked about how much they loved being a new mom. I’ve said it. You’ve said it. We’ve all said it.
But you know what? IT’S NOT FINE. IT IS SO NOT FINE. We need a middle school support group and we need it now.
Eleven is braces and wearing deodorant. It is not knowing what the hell is going on with your body – why it’s changing or maybe even why it’s not changing and everyone else’s is.
Eleven is confusing and wild and…just plain old weird. I sometimes look at my 11-year-old and just think, huh? Like what is even happening right now. Is he a little kid or a big kid, a tween or a preteen?
But the answer is all of it and none of it. Eleven is the in-between, straddling that weird sliver of time of childhood when you can be all things and nothing at the same time. There are tantrums and brave faces and so many tears.
When I was 11, I remember thinking that I was so mature. As a slid into the middle school desks with the table to the side – so unlike the bulky desks that filled elementary classrooms in the ‘80s – I felt so independent and mature and ready for the world. And at the very same time, I was downright terrified of growing up. I wanted to stay little forever. I cried at the thought of getting my period and refused to wear a bra, because I didn’t want to grow up yet. Back in the ‘80s, eleven meant playing spin the bottle but hoping that it wouldn’t land on you because OMG, what would you do then? Eleven was a perpetual state of excitement and confusion and abject terror, all wrapped into one.
I suspect not much has changed for the newest crop of 11-year-olds.
It can be so easy to get exasperated with the demands and wild emotions of 11, but it helps to remember that it feels even wilder for the one living in it. They don’t know where they fit in either. They don’t know what’s going on. Their world is changing – fast – and they can’t quite make sense of it.
So yeah, 11 is a trip – an exhausting, adventurous trip. But on those days that it leaves your head spinning and your heart aching, take a deep breath and remember: this too shall pass.
For better — and for worse.