Saturday, November 15, 2014

Redeeming Middle School

Not long ago I found myself doing something I never thought I'd do: I took out some of my old diaries from junior high and started reading them to Anna.

Anna is 10 1/2. She's technically in middle school now, even if it's in a very small Christian school where everyone has known everyone for years. This is new to us. We haven't parented a middle-schooler before. And in my case, it's bringing back some no-so-wonderful memories.

Here's the thing: entering the tween and teen years to me feels like barreling quickly down a road where there's a big Danger sign looming ahead. Or maybe that's being melodramatic. Maybe it's more like construction ahead, and the words are Use Caution. Okay, so this analogy is not working, but my point is that I know what's coming, and I don't want to scare her, but I also don't want her to be blindsided.

And so I took out some of my old raggedy journals and began reading. I'm not sure if Anna thought I was crazy or was insanely curious. I quickly learned a number of things:

I watched a LOT of TV when I was 12. While I may have had writing talent, it wasn't reflected on the pages. My diaries would never hold a candle to any sort of Anne Frank-esque masterpieces. How many times did I need to write about episodes of Growing Pains or Mr. Belevedere?

Also -- I was a very, very oversensitive and resentful person, who was often angry at everyone.

Reading through the pages, and later hearing Anna recount stories from school (so-in-so's mad at us so she sat with the boys; I couldn't find a partner for the field trip because so-in-so always wants to be with her new friend now) makes me wince and recoil. It's kind of like whenever I remember the time I sprained my ankle really badly after tripping over a huge hemlock tree root up in Maine. I kind of shudder. I can still feel it.

Anna entering her tween years is making me relive mine. And I'm wondering: what good can I squeeze from this?

All I have to do is stop for a second and in a wild rush, I remember.

I remember walking into a new school year and suddenly realizing everyone cared about how everyone looked now, and wanted to talk about who liked who.

I remember being excited when a boy I liked call me, only to find out he was just calling to find out if my friend liked him.

I remember the list that circulated in 8th grade in which the boys ranked the girls on a scale of 1 to 10 and how my friends and I scored solid 3's.

I remember walking into a store to buy a school uniform and the clerk saying we were going to need to find something in the "chubette" section.

I remember the girl in gym who used the words from this commercial always on at the time ("Move over bacon, here comes something much leaner") to taunt me, which lead to my secret crash-diet.

I remember the fake love note from the boy who knew I liked him, who very much did not like me but just wanted to get my hopes up.

I remember my nickname -- Plastic -- because I didn't know how to properly blend foundation on my face.

I remember the girl who stood up in Social Studies and announced she hated me and that I was so ugly.

I remember the night at the school dance in which no one asked me to dance and concluded with me fighting back tears at the bleachers while listening to Tiffany belt out "All This Time."

I think of all of these things, and I know these are the stories that could be told in countless other iterations from millions of others. I think of these things, and I don't hurt anymore because of what happened to me but because I desperately wish I could prevent that kind of hurt from happening to my daughter.

I can't wave a wand and have her skip straight to 16. The only way out of this is through.

So what can I do?

I can pray. I can listen. I can remind her of who she truly is, in God's eyes, and that she is unconditionally loved by her family.

I can tell her, even if she won't believe me, that she WILL get through this. I'll never forget my friend's older sister, who was about 20 at the time, telling both of us that someday we'd look back at everything we were going through and see how silly it is. That we WOULD make it to the other side. That those people who seemed to have everything were just like any of us. I had trouble believing her, but I did hold on to those words for years.

And I can share my stories. I MUST share them because she has to know that she's not alone. That others have been where she is and we made it. I have to share them because sharing makes everything that happened worthwhile.

This is what I am learning more and more, these past few years: everything that happens to us can be redeemed. And everything can be of use. Even the long-ago taunts of mean-spirited kids.

I can give her the gift of my ridiculously detailed memory. I can unwrap these things so that she knows that these feelings that are so big and so painful and so raw have been felt by others. She doesn't have to be a victim. She can run this race and win. She's just got to take it one little step at a time, until she can look back with a wry smile and laugh. And pass her stories on to benefit the next one, just starting the journey.

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