A little over one year ago, I wrote about The Bridge between childhood and adolescence. Back then, I found myself somewhere in the middle of that bridge, longingly looking back towards the childhood side, yet hopeful as I moved apprehensively towards the adolescence side.
Well, it appears my bridge was an express bridge.
Here I am, on the other side.
You know what’s here? Cell phones, mustaches, Adam’s apples, deep booming voices, attitudes, challenges to limits, and boys who suddenly stand at eye-level to me.
You know what else is here?
Meaningful conversations, random tight hugs, trust, and young men who are mostly kind and learn from their mistakes. Surprisingly, it’s sort of nice over here, albeit a bit smelly and messy. On this side of the bridge, I am the parent of a young man, not a young boy, and I get to start taking a step back to let him take some risks on his own.
One of the first big events on this side of the bridge happened today: the first day of middle school. Or, as my son’s new principal told the parents last week, Day 1 of the 540 school days of his middle school career.
In some areas of our lives, 540 seems like a lot.
540 squats: a lot.
540 crunches: a lot.
540 dollars: a lot.
But when we are talking about time in middle school, 540 days is nothing. It’s half the length of time he spent from kindergarten through 5th grade (1,080 school days for math dorks like myself). That period of time went by in the blink of an eye. Surely these next 540 days are going to fly by even quicker!
So, how do we, as new middle school parents, survive these next 540 days?
Well, I know how I spent the days leading up to Day 1 — letting the middle school version of me find her way to the surface. I color-coded binders, folders and schedules, circled rooms on maps, plotted out the best way to organize a backpack, role-played some scenarios, and had a nightmare that I was my son and I couldn’t find my math class on Day 1. I just wanted his middle school experience to not be awful like my own.
But, then I stopped myself. (Because, seriously, a nightmare??)
Adolescence is messy and painful. It’s supposed to be awkward. It’s supposed to be emotional. It’s supposed to be challenging. Some days are supposed to feel awful. And, aren’t middle school and adolescence synonymous?
Like most challenging, uncomfortable, and unpleasant things in life, when we look back on them later, we can see the good they brought to our lives. They are the catalytic events and change agents that shape our lives. Although I would never want to relive my own 540 days, I do see how they helped to shape me into who I am today. I see how some of the people I still care deeply for today are friends I made during those 540 days. I can see that in those 540 days were where many of my interests were born. My 540 days were certainly not filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies, but maybe I should be thankful that they weren’t.
As my middle schooler hugged me goodbye today, I tried to tell the middle school version of myself to settle down. I know many of his 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons and uncomfortable moments. I know there will be lots of times where he feels just as I did during my 540 days. His 540 days will not be filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies.
So, how am I going to navigate my own 540 day journey as a parent? I am going to realize that in many ways the parental journey of 540 days mirrors the student’s journey. These 540 days will be challenging for me as a parent. If adolescence is awkward and painful, so to is parenting an adolescent. For parents, many of our 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons and uncomfortable moments too.
It has been suggested that the most influential people in a teen’s life are not his teachers, coaches, parents, or professional athletes. It turns out that for many teens, their peers are the most influential presence. Middle schoolers need each other. I suspect that this holds true for middle school parents as well. Parents need other parents.
My plan for surviving the next 540 school days is simple: lean on my peers, be kind when mistakes are made, learn lessons where they can be learned. and remember that this time is going to fly by. While I am not in any rush, I look forward to seeing who we all are on Day 540.
Only 539 more days to go…