This evening, before we have dinner, J and I have to go to our son’s prospective middle school for new parent orientation. I like that our boy is growing up. I really do. I’m not one of those moms who longs for the return of the baby days. I loved our Boy as a baby, obviously. He was a happy baby. An ‘easy’ baby. And even discounting my obvious Mommy Bias, he was pretty damn cute. And he was a precocious, curious, adorable preschooler. And as he finishes up elementary school, I’m extremely proud of the kind, thoughtful, conscientious young man he’s becoming. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s caring. I love him. But I don’t want to go backwards. I really don’t. That doesn’t mean I’m extremely excited about the start of middle school.
Like almost everything in life, I have a lot of mixed, complicated feelings about school. School could and can be the best thing that ever happened to a person. Learning and education can be awesomely powerful things that are a force for good in the universe. When we learn skills that make our own lives and the lives of others easier, when we learn how to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe, when we learn about each other and how we think and feel and why we think and feel that way, and how other people live in other places and within other cultures, and how to communicate with people positively and clearly, we progress as humanity and bridge gaps. I loved school as a kid. It was a sanity saver for me if not an actual life saver. I craved structure and interaction and I didn’t get that at home with my parents. Particularly in middle and high school, when my grandparents had passed, pretty much ALL of the structure and interaction in my life came from school (in addition to the learning and education I loved). But middle and high school were hard for me. I was ‘the new kid,’ which sucks often, even when you aren’t super introverted and socially anxious. That just makes it worse. I’m nerdy and dorky and quiet…that made it even harder to make friends. And I have pretty formidable boundaries that I got strongly defensive (sometimes volatile) about when they were breached (or even approached). J was the new kid a lot growing up too. And he was the smart, quiet kid too. The Boy doesn’t have to really be ‘the new kid’ at his middle school, but I see a lot of myself and J in him, so I worry.
I needed school as a kid, but as a parent and a self-aware adult, I recognize that there are downsides to education, at least as it exists in its current form in the place we currently live. Adults in education and peer groups have immense opportunity to influence children. I worry about what my son learns from the adults in his life that J and I didn’t specifically choose to expose him to. I worry about how he’s treated by, gets along with, and what he’s picking up from his peers when he’s away from us. I worry that he’ll conform to fit in, even when he feels like it’s ‘wrong,’ or it makes him feel bad. I worry he’ll be afraid to stand up to ‘wrongness’ when he sees it. I worry he’ll feel bad about himself if he IS constantly in the minority or standing alone on things. Middle school is different. That’s when school changed for me.
I looked forward to the first day of school like it was a celebratory holiday as a kid in elementary school. I couldn’t wait to have hours of structure and instruction and meaningful interaction with other people that I wasn’t getting at home. The first day of school changed to a nauseated bundle of nerves in middle and high school. I don’t want that for The Boy.
I abhor and dread the first day of school as a parent. I know I’m supposed to be happy about it like all those Back To School commercials tell me I should. But I miss my boy when he’s away and I worry about him ceaselessly.
The second part of this writing prompt (what do I think about school?) is what were my favorite subjects in school? I couldn’t get enough of school, and I had a curiosity that was hard to quench (which was probably at least partially fueled by a lack of social interaction except at school). I loved English (reading books! Writing things!), foreign language classes (I took Spanish, French, and German at various points from middle school through college), biology, and ALL social studies (history, psychology, sociology, civics). I didn’t like classes that required a lot of performance though…drama, speech, P.E…the stuff kids get pushed to participate in once they reach middle and high school in order for them to ‘be somebody.’ I hope that J and I have given The Boy everything he needs and all the support and love for him to know that he doesn’t have to perform to ‘be somebody.’ And I hope he still likes school next year.