Even without the East coast’s natural disasters of the last week, which punctuated our return to routine with two days of school cancellations, this year brings a big, exciting, but nerve-wrecking adjustment for my older daughter (and thus, the rest of the family), who just started middle school. This fall is a culmination of angst that hovered over us spring and summer, as we sorted and analyzed and discussed the none-ideal options for which school to attend, finally choosing an arts magnet program she got into at a large, urban, public middle school.
At the orientation on the day before school started one of my daughter’s teachers pointed out that her grade school education is half over! With this realization I felt a colliding of emotions: nostalgia for that tiny pre-school hand in mine, when we spent so much time together (the days go slowly, but the years go so fast!); this mixed with pride (she’s excited for “more responsibility” - her words! - and she suddenly does seem able to cope with new levels of expectation) and worry (including oh no, do we have a good enough plan for affording college? the years go so fast!) Now with a week of school under her belt, she has, by herself (I only accompanied her to the brief orientation), successfully navigated new buildings, new teachers, new expectations, the art of taking a school bus (only missed it once), her locker (at least she’s located it - but still hasn’t managed to get it open), switching classes. She’s exhausted upon coming home but (thankfully!) in reasonably good spirits, and as things go on, it will be less draining (I think?) So far she says she likes lunch best – which I take as a good sign, because I remember lunch being extremely stressful when I was in junior high. It helps that several friends from elementary school are there with her.
What does she need from us now that she’s in middle school? This transition brings a new learning curve for all of us to climb, and a lot of stuff to figure out. Our parenting and rules and interactions will evolve in a messy, trial-and-error prone way, I’m sure, as we try to make her development to adulthood as happy and successful as possible (while also balancing the desires of a somehow much faster maturing younger sister!) I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (a good read!) in which he analyzes how people achieve success. He makes a convincing argument, with a lot of interesting examples, that the most accomplished people in the world do not achieve their success solely because they possess innate smarts or ability. Instead, (1) their success is dependent on commitment to intense, dedicated, long term practice of their field (required: more than 10,000 hours of practice! Bill Gates, for example, started his career with obsessive computer programming in middle school), and (2) many people with whom they are associated and circumstances-whether or not they realize it - affect their world and contribute to a person’s education, opportunities, and success. My take: we, as parents and family, need to be there to encourage hard work on any passions my daughter develops, and to do whatever we can to support and broaden her experience. At the same time, the path she chooses will certainly be a wiggly one, defined in unforeseeable ways, sometimes by circumstances outside her and our control, and ugly bumps along the way can lead to new, often delightful directions. It’s an interesting road to be starting down … remind me of this when we’re in the throws of it!