When I dropped off my daughter at school this morning I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. Today is her last day of Middle School. I feel like I should bake her a “you survived middle school” cake. My daughter had a very mixed middle school experience which (like many others) included mean kids who said mean things sprinkled with an abundance of early teen drama. But when I look at the kid who entered seventh grade compared to the one who is today finishing eighth I can tell you, she’s come a long way.
Even though I’m frustrated about some of the more negative aspects of her middle school experience, today, I primarily find myself feeling grateful. Education happens as much out of the classroom as it happens inside of it. Part of the benefit of having forty minutes twice a day in the car with my daughter is that we have had a lot of time to talk.
Here are some of the important lessons my daughter has learned in middle school.
When you set a goal of learning how to “deal with difficult people” (as my daughter did this year) the universe sends you a lot of “difficult” people to practice on. She is still practicing. However, she is learning that sometimes it is important to call people out on their words and behaviors and other times it makes more sense to let it go and walk away. She has learned that sometimes people are “difficult” because they are hurting and others are just mean. She has learned that her choices go beyond making friends or enemies. It is okay to have neutral relationships.
She has learned that sometimes when you tell the truth people will try to quiet you. Tell the truth anyway. My daughter was criticized quite a bit in middle school for her “radical honesty.” When I pressed the administration for more information they said that she wasn’t being mean or saying anything that was untrue but expressing honest thoughts that were making other people feel uncomfortable. One example of her radical honesty turned out to be telling visiting students the truth about her experience at the small private school which meant she had perhaps become a bit of a marketing problem. My daughter has learned that she has no obligation to make herself smaller or to lie to make others feel more comfortable. She has some pretty important things to say. Good luck trying to stop her.
Finally, she has learned, when you have a group of loyal friends who have your back, you can survive almost anything that middle school will throw at you. I am so grateful that my daughter found a group of friends who have really stood by her. They have shut down gossip about her on days she was absent and they have stood up for each other, particularly when some of the boys have made mean or inappropriate comments.
My favorite story she has come home with is this one:
One of the boys in my daughter’s class told her friend that her bra strap was showing and it was “distracting” him. The four girls, in unison, said, “So, don’t look.” So, the boy tried to explain: this girl was more attractive, more developed than the other girls in the class and so he felt it was beyond his control to not look and therefore he was “distracted.” My daughter, in all of her radically honesty, called the boy out. “Is it more or less distracting” she asked, “then when you and the other boys stick your hands down your pants during class to shift your private parts?” (Drops mic, walks away.)
I used to worry about my daughter. I mean, she’s my daughter so I’ll always worry about her to some extent. But I don’t worry about her the way I used to. She is gaining self-confidence, finding her voice, and figuring out how to put herself out in the world in a way that is authentic to her. She has learned that she can endure but that she can also set her own boundaries. She is learning that she has the same right to exist as everybody else and she won’t apologize for taking up her space on this planet.
If you ask my daughter about her middle school experience, she will probably focus on some of the more negative experiences she has had. I am writing this so when she looks back later I can remind her of how much she grew as a person during these tumultuous two years and because I have never been so proud of all she has accomplished.