Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Middle School Misery

We just chose a middle school for our son. The process was agonizing. He has been so safe and warm throughout elementary school, constantly under adult supervision, lovingly ferried from school to soccer to chess to play dates. The child has no freedom. And that's the way I like it.

Next year, Dale will often be at large. He'll join the unruly pack of preteens that rove through Upper Montclair, playing chicken on the train tracks and generally being stupid. We'll have to buy him a cellphone so we can find him, and he us.

In our town, there are three middle schools. I preferred the crunchy one that is half the size of our kids' elementary school. At this middle school, they believe in a long recess and outside time. Plus, I really liked the earnest language arts teacher I met. It seemed like the public middle school version of the private preschool our kids attended.

Dale, however, had other plans. He wanted to go to the school three blocks from our house. It has two big gyms and offers an architecture elective. It's the math and science magnet, and he excels in these subjects. And, he said, "All my friends are going there."

Long story short, all his friends are not going there. Their parents were able to talk them into the crunchy granola school, while I allowed Dale to make the first really big decision of his life.

And I've been so anxious about the change. I was totally fine about him starting preschool and kindergarten. Of course, at those times I was working full-time and distracted.

Yesterday, I realized why I'm so freaked out about my boy starting middle school. It's because sixth grade was pretty much the nadir of my life. As always, everything is ALL ABOUT ME.

So, anyway, back to me. We had just moved and I started the year at a new school. I walked onto the playground that first day, and a boy took one look at me and said, "That girl's so fat she looks like a Butterball Turkey!" The name stuck.

I don't think that will happen to Dale, and yet. There is a picture of him sitting in his classroom on the first day of Kindergarten. His lunchbox is on the desk, and he looks so small and scared. I can't stop thinking about that photo.


  1. Middle School was the worst! It's when kids were the cruelest. I don't have children but I think I would be as anxious as you are about them entering this stage of life. That being said, I bet he will do just fine and I think it's great that you let him make the decision about which school to attend.

  2. The best thing about middle school is that it's over in three years. No, really, middle school is great. Sure, your child will probably be made fun of at some point, and he might pick up some colorful language, but he will also begin to develop his own style, tastes, and opinions. He'll become friends with kids whose parents YOU HAVE NEVER MET.

    And walking to school is the BEST. He'll start going out to lunch on half-days and taking the public bus downtown after school to hang out. There are no pick-ups, no drop-offs, and YOU will be able to walk to Open House, PTO meetings, and concerts--so much less stressful.

    Don't listen to people who want to tell you horrible stories about teenagers--my kids are 15 and 17 and I'm telling you, this is the start of greatness.

  3. Stop thinking about the kindergarten photo! By letting him choose his school, you're helping him NOT be that small, scared guy! You've given him agency, and that's a huge gift.

  4. Watching your child grow up and become his own person--priceless. Helping him get there--invaluable.

  5. I love this post, Christina. Peter started middle school last fall and I was a freak of nerves. It's been a really positive experience for him so far, which is a concept I can hardly believe, given my own memories of that time in life. But he's a different kid than he was even a year ago, which has been a huge transition for our entire family. Puberty happens.

  6. My son is in 7th grade now, but when he started middle school (and walking home & hanging out alone until I got home), I was more nervous about it than he was. And it worked out - just fine.

  7. Livinia Redlips, that is an awesome name.