I am way ahead of the sun this morning. I woke up even earlier than usual. My heart is full. I have to write. Not writing this morning would be like waking up with a terrible thirst, and not taking a drink. Unnatural.
Yesterday was Olivia’s 8th grade promotion. I had a pretty decent headache yesterday evening. I think my head hurt, because my heart couldn’t hold all my feelings. Some of my feelings landed in my head. Yesterday was a great day. A wonderful day. A tearful day.
I didn’t shed tears because Olivia is going to high school. I shed tears because of Olivia’s friend, Emily. Emily and Olivia have been very good friends since 4th grade. Emily is funny. She has a quiet voice. When you listen closely, you hear Emily’s witty remarks. Emily loves her dogs. She loves her family, and Emily REALLY loves sports. I’ve tried talking to Emily during a football game. That’s a one way deal. Emily didn’t hear me. She was completely engrossed in the game. Emily is a loyal friend. Emily has Noonan Syndrome.
Emily is in 8th grade. Over the years, Emily has had many serious surgeries. Last year, Emily had heart surgery. This year, Emily was experiencing almost constant pain. The Doctors told Emily that they could help eliminate some of her pain by fusing two parts of her spine. That’s what they did.
Emily’s surgery was the day before 8th grade promotion. Olivia and I were feeling some grief about Emily missing this milestone. I do not know what it’s like to have a daughter with Noonan Syndrome. I can’t. I do know how it feels to be a parent watching your child’s friends enjoy life, passing through joyous milestones, and feeling like your child is forgotten and left behind.
Eddie spent about 80 percent of his elementary and middle school years at home. While his friends were on field trips and playing baseball, Eddie was probably at another doctor’s appointment, or curled in the fetal position, waiting for a break from his pain. I’m not feeling sad about this now. We have had so much sympathy from kind people over the years. Really. More sympathy than anyone deserves. I know you’re a big softy, but please don’t be tempted to feel sorry for us now. Eddie is feeling GREAT.
I’m just recalling this memory, because our experiences have made our family unable to NOT share the grief of another family walking through something similar. Our own story is why every time I felt love and happiness for all the sweet 8th grade kids promoting to 9th grade yesterday, I simultaneously fought back tears for Emily. While all those precious soon-to-be-ninth graders were celebrating their success, Emily was attempting to raise her head 60 percent, and successfully dangle her feet off the side of the hospital bed. Accomplishing this was going to be Emily’s reason to celebrate.
Emily’s Mom, Traci, Olivia and I wanted Emily to participate in 8th grade promotion. We came up with a good idea:
Traci told us Emily wasn’t up to watching the video yet, but Traci said watching it brought joy to Traci’s heart. Oh man, now I’m being a big baby, and crying again. I’m feeling grateful God gave me exactly what I asked him for this time.
After graduation, I was taking Olivia and some of her friends somewhere. The girls were laughing and being funny. I liked listening to them talk. Some of the girls said they cried when they hugged their teachers goodbye. They were sad to say goodbye to these teacher-friends, and to all their happy memories. I was feeling soft and gushy about Emily, and now this. My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude. My daughter actually loved middle school. I know middle school can go so wrong, and that’s why I’m humbled with the emotion of it all.
When my kids were in grade school, I heard some terrifying stories about middle school. Those stories had me seriously contemplate home school. I remember one woman telling me about her middle school aged granddaughter who was cornered in the hallway by some girls. The girls smeared katsup all over this woman’s granddaughter, because the girls were mad at her. This woman also told me that another mean bully took a scissors, and cut a chunk of her granddaughter’s hair. See? I wasn’t lying. These stories are actually nightmares happening in real life.
Our boys got to middle school, and things were fine for them. I would usually drop the boys off first in the morning, and then take Olivia to the elementary school. I remember Olivia taking a look at the “big” middle schoolers milling around the front door in the morning, and she said, “I don’t EVER want to be in middle school. Those kids look scary.”
I worried for Olivia.
Eventually, there was no changing it. It was Olivia’s turn for middle school. The whole thing just went down great. Really, I’m overcome with it. I was trying to break it all down in my mind. I want to know what made the middle school experience such a happy one for Olivia. If I could do that, then maybe I could share that information with some other young ones approaching the middle school gauntlet; they also might survive with great memories and no scars. I want that for everyone.
Here is an incomplete list of how to love middle school, based on the opinions of a mom blogger. Take these tips for what they’re worth:
1. Shun popularity. When Olivia was in grade school, I remember talking with a mom of one of Olivia’s friends. The Mom innocently talked about the “popular girls” in Olivia’s class. I so rarely find a reason to disagree with anyone. So rarely, that I remember the times it has happened. I (hope) kindly told this mom that I didn’t think using the word “popular” with kids was super healthy. I told her that I thought even one moment invested in evaluating who was popular and who wasn’t, was one moment too many.
Lucky for me, Olivia feared “popularity”. What she saw of it on Disney and in her own world looked exhausting to her. She wasn’t at all interested in managing it.
2. Participate. Try everything that interests you. Olivia tried, band, choir, student council, track, cross country, basketball, volleyball, dance and piano. She would have liked to try more, but a girls gotta sleep.
3. Embrace Disappointment. This is the thing. This is the thing that makes me want to hug my daughter tightly, and tell her how much I like her. Olivia ran to be an officer for Student Council. She didn’t make it. Olivia didn’t make the “A” team in volleyball or basketball in 6th grade, 7th grade or 8th grade. Olivia tried out for every solo in every choir concert, for 3 years. She never got one. Olivia made it as an “alternate” for one concert. She memorized the song, and practiced it many times. Just in case.
Olivia made it into the talent show in 6th and 8th grade, but she didn’t make it in 7th grade. That year, her teacher told her she could be a narrator for the talent show instead. Olivia said yes to that. Olivia spent many hours learning her narrator part. We thought she rocked it.
Olivia never won a race in track. Olivia stayed organized, studied and did her homework. Olivia never got straight “A’s”.
I think Olivia is a talented and smart young girl. I think perseverance and optimism are two of her finest attributes. A few middle school kids are going to excel at almost everything they try. Those kind of kids amaze me. Most of us aren’t like that.
Middle school kids should walk into middle school understanding that it is the trying that is the point. It is the trying that makes us stronger, smarter, more resilient and better for the next time. Not being the best should NEVER be a reason to not try again.I don’t ever remember telling Olivia this before middle school. Some how she learned it on her own. Then she taught me.
4. Be a good friend. Friendship is key. Really. Not just in middle school. The best way to attract high quality friends, is to be a high quality friend. High quality friends are good listeners. They root for you, and build you up. High quality friends admit when they’re wrong. They aren’t afraid to apologize, and they’re quick to forgive. High quality friends make you feel comfortable and accepted. Olivia had high quality friends.
5. Like who you are. You are precious. Be excited about who you are and what interests you. You’re not an accident. You’re here for a purpose, and to make a difference. Finding your purpose can be your own fun adventure.
6. Faith helps. Olivia went to youth group, and attended many fun youth group activies. At youth group Olivia connected with other kids and adults who were excited about their faith. These faith-filled people built into Olivia’s life, and encouraged her to embrace her own relationship with Faith. Olivia chose to believe God loves her, and He cares about what’s happening in her day. Faith helps middle schoolers.
I have more tips in me, but I’ve already kept you too long. Plus, my attention span is shorter than a middle schooler’s. I stopped listening to myself after the video.
I don’t know if these tips will help. I know sometimes the best laid plans can’t overcome a down trodden school system, mean spirited bullies or addiction. But we can keep trying, right? Because sometimes trying IS the point.