Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Middle School

There is nothing more sweetly awkward than a bunch of eighth grade boys in dress shirts and ties. Yesterday, at my son's middle school graduation, I watched a hundred or so parade across the stage to receive their diplomas, their heads at a constant 45-degree angle in order to see past the swath of hair that is their protection from the world. I had to swallow a Chihuahua-sized bundle of bittersweet at the sight of them, especially when my son came across the stage and flashed that slightly uncertain smile.

No more middle school angst. Now we can dive headlong into full-blown adolescent neuroses. The chunk of each day spent with my husband discussing whether we're dealing with issues that portend an ankle monitor in our future, or simply the typical teen struggle with good, evil, and self-esteem, is about to get larger. Or, if we’re lucky, the hard-won lessons of the past year have bought us some peace for the next four.

This was the year our son decided to stop doing homework and discovered the correlation between work and compensation (grades). This is the year he decided to exercise his right to protest by creating a petition to get his science teacher fired. (In his defense, it was well written, but he gets no points for that.) This is the year we freaked out because we found a suspicious plastic tab in his room that turned out to be an errant piece of a 3M tape dispenser. This is the year he decided he was going to be a rock star and didn’t need school. This is the year we bought the guitar amp that contributed to that decision, took it away, and gave it back again. This is the year we had to decide between becoming the parents who crush their child’s dream in order to assure a stable future, or the ones who find a way to help him balance hope, aspiration, and reality. This is the year we all had to grow up, just a little.

While he celebrated his graduation with his classmates in the gym, hair-posing and high-fiving, we went out to dinner with the parents of one of his friends, splurged on a bottle of great wine, and reflected on the challenges of the year. Our kids will get their report cards next week. But we won’t know what grades we’ve earned until years from now.

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