Tag Archives: middle school

The Graduate

A few weeks before Lizzie left for summer camp, she graduated from middle school. At graduation, the kids received handshakes or hugs from a much-loved teacher as well as a personalized certificate. Hers says “Congratulations, Lizzie. You survived middle school!”

I lied. It doesn’t actually say that, although maybe it should. After all, how many adults look back to their days in junior high, sigh dreamily, and say, “Those were the best days of my life!” I suspect very few.

For me, middle school felt more like a life sentence. I was that weird kid, the one who didn’t wear the right clothes or listen to popular music. A week or so before I started seventh grade, our family moved from Jakarta, Indonesia, which I’d loved, to a small town in southern Louisiana, where I felt like a freak. I was the freak.

This was back before the homogenizing effects of television or the internet, so I went from dancing around our Jakarta living room to bootleg Disney cassettes of the Aristocats to listening to American Top 40 radio, which left our whole family slightly baffled. (I can see us in our white Dodge Aspen station wagon, my dad whispering in a slightly scandalized voice to my mom, “What are they saying?” when “Play that Funky Music” came on the the AM radio.) I still shudder when I think about outfit that I wore the first day of seventh grade — a batik wraparound skirt, a red “Property of the Macadamia Nut Factory” shirt and white patent leather sandals. All the other girls were dressed in Chic jeans, gold belts, and blue eyeshadow. The first day of middle school did not go well.

One thing I’ve found about having a child in middle school is that if you hated it, watching your child go through rough patches is a bit like having flashbacks. Seeing Lizzie on the receiving end of some mean girl stuff when she was in seventh grade transformed me into a 13-year old again, all hormones and emotion. I found it difficult to take a step back, a deep breath and remind myself that Lizzie handles things differently than I did. Even though I know I’ve got to keep my stuff far away from Lizzie’s, it’s hard.

I suspect high school will bring similar challenges. But I’m glad middle school is over. For LIzzie and, for the second time, for me.

So at Lizzie’s graduation:

“Mom, be sure to take photos of graduation,” said the daughter who can actually take phone photos that aren’t blurry to the mother who apparently cannot.

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Blue Fingernails

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The other day I checked the website of the sleep-away camp my daughter, Lizzie, is attending. I hoped to catch a glimpse of whatever it is my fourteen year old is spending her days doing there. At Lizzie’s camp, cell phones and email aren’t allowed — there’s no modern technology. Actually, there’s not much older technology, either — the cabins don’t have electricity. We communicate the old fashioned way: by letters. Which means we haven’t heard much from Lizzie. We’ve received one postcard, its note to us as brief as a text.

The camp occasionally posts candid shots so parents can see that their kids are having too much fun to spend time writing long letters home. These pictures are our only snapshots into Lizzie’s days there. But scrolling through them feels a little odd, a bit like I’m a Peeping Mom, peering through a virtual window into Lizzie’s life.

The first picture I saw was of Lizzie building a bonfire with a few other girls in a field. I recognized the shirt and jeans she was wearing, but as she tossed twigs into the pile of logs, I saw something she hadn’t had when she left home: electric blue fingernails.

I studied the photo. She didn’t notice the camera as she was so involved with the bonfire. It struck me that her blue fingernails are more than just polish — they stand for a life apart from her dad and me. She’s building bonfires with children we’ve never met and living a life that’s unknown to us. Those blue fingernails are signs — bright ones — of her further independence. As I enlarged the photo on my computer’s screen, I was filled with mom-pride that Lizzie’s growing into an independent young woman, but, at the same time, a sadness she’s growing up. In four short years she’ll be away for longer than just a summer — she’ll be in college, living her own life. Which is what we want. But still, it’s hard seeing the kid I nursed and comforted over skinned knees not so many years ago, pulling away. To me, her blue fingernails are bittersweet.

This summer is also Lizzie’s last at the camp she’s attended for five years. She’s aging out of it. That first summer years ago, as I helped her zip her overstuffed duffle shut, making sure Stripey the stuffed tiger was in the bag, I realized that most of the nervousness and apprehension about Lizzie going away was coming from me.

Summer camp is about so much more than Lizzie heading off into the countryside and living with other children for a few weeks or a few months. It’s also about relaxing our parental grip and letting go — each year a little bit more than the previous year. And Lizzie’s blue fingernails are a snapshot into her more independent life. They’re a pretty great electric blue.

Seeing this photo reminded me of a time not that long ago. When Lizzie was little and people told me that you blink and your five-year old is a teenager, I used to roll my eyes (not unlike my daughter does now). But it’s true. It seemed like just a few weeks ago that Lizzie was in kindergarten playing “spa.” My husband or I sat at the kitchen table as she painted our nails and, occasionally, our fingers, with pink sparkles or green polish. Here’s a picture from back then. About half an hour after it was taken, we made an emergency trip to the drugstore for nail polish remover.

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Welcome to the first post on my sparkling new blog. I’ll post things here that I hope parents of preteens and young teens find interesting. If you’ve got anything you want to talk about, send me a note — sandersue(at)gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.