Growing up

I So Wasn’t Prepared For This One Big Middle School Adjustment

I got used to elementary school... then it all changed.

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My oldest child transitioned into middle school this year, and I was worried about a lot of things: anticipation he might get lost in a large, unfamiliar place, be exposed to non-age-appropriate things by kids in older grades, or feel ill-equipped to manage a schedule that required moving from classroom to classroom in bustling hallways on his own. All my worries were about him and his ability to succeed in this big, new, much-more-independent environment. What I never worried about was how my role would change. And of course, that’s been the hardest part.

The problem is that once your kid walks into that middle school building, you’re not just less involved in the classroom — they tell you way, way, less too. And the change came at me hard and fast. As a member of the PTO who became friendly with some staff members of the elementary school, I was used to over-communication on all fronts. I never needed to wait for conferences or report cards to get a detailed report on my little student’s progress. Instead, I had a fairly consistent email or text thread going, covering stuff like ADHD med changes, struggles at home, in-school distractions, math progress, and social skills. Of course, some (my mother) would say I kept myself a little too in-the-loop, but it worked for me and my kid.

So when the bandaid was ripped off so suddenly and without any warning, I was shook. I spent the first couple of weeks of school gearing up for a personalized check-in email that (shocker!) never came. So naturally, I reached out myself. I crafted a friendly and informative email about all of my son’s potential academic issues and asked upwards of 20 questions about how the transition was going for him in all the major areas — social, emotional, academic. And to my complete surprise I was met with a very professional and polite email back, basically telling me that things are going fine and that I will hear from them if any issues arise. No fluff, no cute details, no emojis, no sarcastic jokes. Straight to the point, with a whiff of “back off.” I gasped.

And since then, it’s been a lot of the same. The end-of-fall report card brought basic information about his performance and some pretty generic statements about his in-school behavior. We get weekly team emails about things the “team” is working on and some questions to ask your children to promote at-home engagement about school happenings. But as you can imagine, my 10-year-old is less than interested in providing a full debrief every day. Even if he did start dishing out some info, I am positive he could never achieve the level of detail my heart desires.

But maybe this just what I need. Maybe my firstborn, whom I have hovered over for the last 10 years of his life, needs a bit of independence to figure things out on his own. So what if he misses and assignment or forgets his locker combination? Life is about learning the skills necessary to navigate those difficult moments on your own. And under the guidance of caring and equipped staff and teachers in a safe place, I think he is probably okay without me. No, I know he’s okay.

So I will trust the middle school process. And I will lean into the elementary school system that my other three kids are still in, peppering their teachers for info and assigning myself a front row seat to their education experience. Thank God I’ll be there for a while.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.