Giving myself a pep talk today…..,maybe you need one too.
Five 11-year-old girls. Every summer week for three years they gather in my familiar, if stained, living room, and soak in the safety and comfort of real friends. They laugh. They compete. They create. They fight. We talk scripture, bras, mean girls, love, icky brothers, and why brownies make better snacks than bananas. It is my joy and privilege that their families let me hang with their girls. And it is my prayer, that as long as they are willing, these friendships built in a safe, God-loving environment will blossom into a life-long perennial with deep roots.
In the beginning, only two of the girls went to the same school and my daughter, she used to be one of the pair. But now, there are three sweet girls, who are not my daughter, chatting about the change of middle school, the teachers they’ve heard of, the fears they hush away, and the excitement that probably kept them from sleeping Labor Day night.
Last school year, we pulled our girls out of public school to be homeschooled. The reasons are long and meandering but mostly they had to do with reclaiming our time as a family. I held my breath all year, waiting for the tears, the disappointment of missing out on field trips, friend time and recess. The newness of reading while snuggling a guinea pig or while high in the boughs of a tree eclipsed those longings and the regret never showed up.
For the last weeks, I’ve watched my giggly girl slink into the corners of her mind-into a spot I cannot reach. A kiss and hug won’t reach this spot. Normally active and upbeat, she sometimes sit, staring into space looking forlorn. Sharp pangs of missing out are clouding her eyes but she doesn’t want to share. She worries she will be forgotten. She stares at the floor when the girls bring up school. Glimpses of my Facebook page and her friends starting school silence her. She knows the cost of returning to school is to give up the time it takes to play soccer at this competitive level she loves more–for now.She doesn’t know about the loneliness of the middle school hall, or the hours of homework, or the way administrators always do what’s wrong in the eyes of a tween. All she knows is that she isn’t there and that means she is missing something.
Middle school, private school, home school. Loneliness is part of being 11 and 12 and 13 and motherhood. It’s an emotion women know well. And we all learn to cope in different ways. Still, as a momma, it is hard to watch, hard not to Polyanna her with the good things of life.
It doesn’t matter where your girl goes to school, if she is in middle school, loneliness, frustration at missing out, confusion, friend drama. It will all find her. Russell Baker says adolescence turns our kids from “dear, sweet children into the same ornery people you meet everyday as you go through life. ” The road ahead for us tween parents is going to be bumpy and waiting for her to emerge from the burden of the emotions will take a new kind of patience. If our memories aren’t buried, we can remember the endurance this stage requires. And so we watch with empathy as our sweet, dear one struggles, trying to figure out who she will be for this day, week, month.
We can do this, mom. We can survive the swing from elated to puddle. We are redeemed and therefore, we can show grace, kindness, patience, fortitude, and steadfastness as she goes through anger, frustration, isolation, tears, giggle fits, and exhaustion. We can’t control her friends, but we can make sure she is never forgotten. It isn’t about always saying the perfect thing, because you won’t. It’s about love, and modeling how to handle disappointment and pain, conviction and repentence. And if you need me, I will hold your hand when your sweet one turns into a pile of tears that you can’t stop or when she slams the door on your well-intentioned advice. Because that ornery person Baker mentioned? She will disappear some day, erased by the power of His love and your prayers.