“Dear 5th grade parents …” says the latest letter. This has become a theme lately. “Dear 5th Grade Parents there will be a 5th Grade Graduation on …” “Dear 5th Grade Parents … there will be a farewell picnic on …” “Dear 5th Grade Parents there will be a middle school orientation on …” This might seem sweet – even thoughtful – on the outside. Do not be fooled. They send these to me, a “Dear 5th Grade Parent,” because they want to RIP MY HEART OUT AND TEAR IT INTO A MILLION LITTLE PIECES.
You see, despite my repeated attempts to make them listen to reason, our otherwise excellent school district suffers one fatal flaw: they think that 11-to-12 year olds belong in middle school. In my day, “middle school” (also quaintly known as “junior high”) didn’t begin until 7th grade. By then I was 13 years old and so deeply in the throes of puberty that they could have enrolled me in a Russian prison or Disneyworld interchangeably and I would have been none the wiser. At that age, I rarely noticed anything beyond my own navel-gazing obsession with myself.
By the time I entered the hallowed halls of middle school where PEOPLE OLDER THAN YOU ARE LYING IN WAIT TO BEAT YOU (AND YOUR SELF-ESTEEM) TO A NUB I was armed, at the very least, with a sense of self-preservation and some strawberry lip gloss. I also had a comb in my back-pocket that could easily have doubled as a weapon.
My son, however, knows nothing of the mean streets of middle school. In elementary everything is soft, fuzzy, and sweet. He has been led to expect that people should be kind and thoughtful. He has been taught that bullying and making others feel badly about themselves is not to be tolerated. He believes with his whole heart that to be different is to be celebrated.
In short, he’s been sold a load of goods.
Last night we parents all filed into the middle school auditorium to learn how our lives would change. Notice I said “our lives?” Sure, the kids are probably uncertain, unsure, and nervous about this brave new world, but really, isn’t what happens to my kids really all about me? How can I be the parent of a middle-school child? Why was I not given a vote on this academic super-sizing of my child from “little” to “middle?”
As we toured the middle school (which, curiously, shares a building with the high school) We were repeatedly assured that a variety of double doors and sentry staff would keep those ever-present high-school students at bay. After a time, I became more concerned – not less. I’m not entirely sure what those high school students are up to down the hall, but apparently, they bear carefully watching lest they escape and cause mayhem in the middle school.
I find the security ironic since in my day a high school student wouldn’t have gone within arms length of a middle school kid unless he or she was being paid to do so. And even then – just barely.
My son seems enthralled with the idea of finally having a locker and the ability to walk the halls between classes. Lunchtime (where for the first time ever they get to sit with anyone they wish rather than assigned seating) sounds enticing rather than terrifying. Then again, he’s always been far more confident than I was at his age. Lest you get the wrong idea, I attended a very safe public school system myself. Nonetheless, it was just habit to glance at those long-awaited lockers on the tour and instantly assess whether your average 11 year old (or mine) would fit in one.
It seems only yesterday my letters read “Dear Kindergarten parent …” and I fastened a plastic nametag to his shirt and sent him off into his future. The nametag was very important and clearly far more for my security than his. It said who he was (and who he belonged to); where he was going (which teacher would meet him); and what he would need to assist in his journey along the way (bus number, lunch number, class number). I don’t know about him, but I certainly felt safer having it there.
Now there is no nametag (because a middle schooler would die of shame). Yet, if he had one it would tell you who he is (my whole world); where he is going (wherever his dreams take him as long as we don’t break him first); and what he will need to assist in his journey (a lot of hope, a dash of dreams, and a boatload of guidance. See also: please don’t break).
I imagine in my head a letter I would like to send the school: “Dear 6th Grade … I beg of you, please handle with care.“