Repeating 7th Grade

First, my son did extremely well, academically and mental health-wise, this year in virtual school in the weirdest and most stressful year I hope he ever experiences. He does not have to repeat the 7th grade. I want to make that very clear.

But being home with him all year, there have been many, many times I felt like *I* was repeating the 7th grade. And honestly? Middle school, and 7th grade in particular, were not my favorite times in life. Until I became an adult and had to deal with a lost pregnancy and a mortgage and regular death and grief and watching several of my family members and high school classmates and former coworkers seemingly transform and mutate before my eyes into hateful, fascist science-deniers, I’d have said middle school was the worst time in my life/hardest part of my life hands down. And when I was in middle school, there was no social media or an internet record of the dumb shit we did or how recklessly and ruthlessly we treated each other. I don’t envy these kids. I’m grateful and proud of all of them who survived this year, even the ones who do have to repeat a grade now.

Anyway, now that we’re (finally) in the last week of school, some of the tension I’ve been carrying all year has eased up a bit, and I can see how it’s affected my writing.

I’m never really alone now. My son’s been with me practically every waking minute since early March in 2020. I love my son. But it’s hard to shut out his influence (video game playing on Zoom; wrestling with the puppy; taking virtual school meetings) and be inspired to write budding adult love stories when he’s RIGHT THERE, *all the time.* I’m focused on my son when he’s home, particularly when he’s stressed (in the past, that’s been the occasional test or social issue or illness…but this year it’s been real weird for obvious reasons). As an introvert, getting NO alone time is pretty rough. And for me, personally, it’s made writing a nearly insurmountable challenge this past year.

And memories of middle school have almost involuntarily surrounded me and overwhelmed me for the majority of the year. I had a sense of foreboding before my son’s middle school life began, pre-pandemic, because of my own experiences in those years, but even in my wildest imagination, I never dreamed we’d be living the way we are now and have been for the past year and change. My mind has turned several times to how I would have made it through this if I were my son. I had a baby brother I was largely (arguably unfairly) responsible for, and I was the new kid in a new school, and I had two parents working outside the home (one at night and the other a bona fide workaholic) who never attempted to help me with school work. Oh, and of course, no internet to make a distanced connection. I’d have for sure approached if not actually reached a mental breakdown from all my layers of anxiety. And of course I go back to the bad things I really did feel when I was 11-13; about myself, about my place in the world, about the state of the world. And I was way more sheltered and naive about the last two things when I was The Boy’s age. He knows the reality of racism and sexism and homophobia and climate change and has had very real, concrete evidence show him how selfish and careless a lot of humanity can be toward one another.

But you know, after all that thinking, now that covid cases are dropping (I hope things stay on the ‘it’s going away now’ path), and we’ve been okayed with vaccination to have a bit more social freedom and the school year is rapidly winding down, maybe some of my optimistic nature is rallying. Because today, I’ve been thinking about how my longest lasting friendships in life came from middle school. The Boy has two friends that he texts and has virtual meets with almost daily for the past year. Like his parents, he’s obviously not going to win any popularity contests and he’s no social butterfly. But that’s alright, because he does have two real friends; one dependable and kind BEST friend for sure, and maybe when he’s in his forties, he’ll be texting that kid still and hoping to plan some kind of opportunity to get together and see each other in person soon, just like I’ve done with D over the past couple of weeks.

Clearly, if someone prior to 2020 would have asked me if I’d ever want to repeat the 7th grade, I may have said something nasty and dramatic like not for all of everybody’s money or maybe even that I’d rather die first. But now that I have sort of repeated the 7th grade…it wasn’t so bad. I got to see how amazingly strong and resilient and mostly happy my kid is; more proof that he’s a fine young man and will hopefully continue (on a hopefully much easier path) growing into a fine man. And I got to remember what a gift I have in my best friend, whom I met in the wretched 7th grade. It wasn’t my favorite time in life, but other than J and my son, he still is my favorite person. And it’s probably at least partly due to being there with me, crawling through the mire that is middle school, and we’re still standing now…30 years later.

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