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There's no parenting manual that comes with a child, though I'm pretty sure my gynecologist checked thoroughly for it while he was helping me deliver my son. I assume that's what he was looking for, he was down there for so long. I switched to a female doctor the second time around, thinking she'd be more familiar with the parts and could maybe unearth the coveted instructions. Nope, still no manual when my daughter was born either.
We do the best we can as parents, making educated guesses most of the time or doing some serious wishful thinking at 3am. You'd think that sparkly, pointy, fairy wand I stepped on would work as something other than a weapon on my bare foot. And we won't mention those blasted Legos. Some days we're just trying to make it till bedtime, where we can crash exhausted into the bed so we can start all over again the next day.
Then you work your way out of the toddler years, past potty training (woo-hoo!), and into school. And just when you think it's starting to all come together, it's time for Middle School.
It should really come with warnings. It's gonna catch you off guard. You think you're ready, and you're just not. There's no preparing you for what's about to happen, though it's all gonna feel familiar in a weird sort of way...you can feel your anger swelling at the injustices abounding in the social circles, the untruths circulating through the gossip gang, and the downright indecency of curfews and chores.
But now you're on the other side of the experience. You're supposed to know what to do with the child staring at you after a long day of Middle School, sullen and in desperate need of a cookie, but not wanting to talk, claiming "nothing's wrong". Or they're in full-on panic mode, spouting furiously about their day without giving you quite all the information you need to understand what they're talking about.
No manual. Dammit.
I can see by the look in their eyes that words were exchanged with friends and everyone went home not knowing where they stood, as friend or foe. Or that they made a mistake and are embarrassed or ashamed. Or they're tired and cranky for no apparent reason other than being a Middle Schooler. And if I can figure out the magic way to crack them open a bit, I might be able to help. Probably not. I wouldn't understand.
Middle School is that oh-so-awkward time when kids are just cruel to one another for no other reason than everyone is scared of being themselves for fear of what everyone else thinks. So.much.drama.
As I've watched pain and confusion reflected in the eyes of my kids at times due to changing friendships, changing bodies, and not being sure where to stand or who to trust, it wasn't bad enough that I wasn't sure how to help or if to intervene at all right now.
All my own rough experiences came rushing back on me. I could feel my chest tighten and my eyes start to fill. I felt every bit of the burden they held quiet and didn't want to speak of. I knew why they didn't want to talk about it. I understood, and all my own perceived inadequacies felt all-too-familiar.
If only, I thought. If only someone had told me in Middle School that what everyone else thought about me was not about me at all, I might have come away with fewer scars and a little more self-esteem. If only I had understood that we were each making judgments about one another based on our own fears and individual perceptions, I might have had a little more courage to be myself. If only I had believed my parents when they told me I was beautiful and smart and capable of doing anything instead of believing my peers who told me I was fat and ugly and I should stop being a "teacher's pet", answering questions in class and helping out.
I didn't realize that when my kids hit Middle School, I would have to face my own ghosts. I didn't expect it, and I was afraid, for I certainly didn't want my kids to come out of it the way I did...tentative, doubtful, and scared to be myself. I had taken the hurtful words of those years to heart and it took a long, long time to release them and finally forgive.
I also didn't want to react to their pain with my own - I wanted my kids to have their own experience. The lessons I learned from my Middle School days and the healing journey I undertook to reach forgiveness helped me to become compassionate, understanding, and loving to the young beings in front of me and for every miserable, confused Middle Schooler just trying to hold it together.
I can't change the past, but as a 45 year-old mom who is slightly more self-assured and wizened from the journey that softened my sharp edges, I sure can help shape the future. My past had its murky depths and sticky mud, yet had nourished something beautiful. Which part did I want to reflect?
I told my daughter that what other people think of her has nothing to do with her at all and everything to do with their perceptions, and she paused. We went on to discuss that our experiences and beliefs shape us and how we view the world, and every person has a unique perspective because no one else can stand inside us to see how we see and feel how we feel. Those who hurl hurtful words feel hurt themselves. It is our job to love ourselves and one another; the hardest people to love need it the most. I think she heard me.
And my son, who survived Middle School a few years ago to discover a whole new world in high school, is fully engaged in his AP Psychology class, probably applying what he's learning to the rest of the family. Right now his class is studying abnormal behaviors. Nope, nothing abnormal here. Just parents running amok without a manual. Absolutely, imperfectly, normal.
As we move into the future, I'm sure I won't be prepared for what's up next. May the lessons be gentle and may there be plenty of cookies.
Love & Light,Sue