stuck in the middle with you

Unbelievably, my son is heading off to middle school next year.  He is but days away from going from elementary school to middle school -- from child to tween overnight.  From little kid to kid.  It happened in the blink of an eye - baby to toddler to preschool to kindergarten to fifth grade.  And now we are here - right in the middle.

I am certainly not the first parent to hit this watershed moment.  I'm not the first to clutch her child's wrists and say "ahhhh I am so excited for you!" with genuine love and real excitement, but with a sharp twinge of trepidation.  Sending my child to middle school is big time.  It's a palpable letting go, and on the mom scale, or at least my own personal mom scale, it's painful.  It's more painful than dropping off my infant at daycare; it's more painful than dropping my kindergartener at his first day; it's more painful than the first overnight apart; it's more painful than any of those moments because in all of those, I knew he needed me and I would be there.  Now, he still needs me, and I am still there, but this is a time for me to let go and for him to take a giant step forward on his own.  There's no going or looking back.  Onward we go.  Together, but with him taking the lead.


Middle school is a "wings" moment.  I once read that the most lasting bequests a parent can give her child is roots and wings.  I think of parenting, and so many of these important moments, in those terms.  To be sure, the move to middle school is a big wings moment.  It's time for him to spread his wings, and it is time for me to let him do it and for me to not only let go quite a bit, but also to trust that the roots I've helped him set down thus far are strong ones.  

I have seen the transformation this year, and it has been like watching erosion -- subtle, slow changes that hit me not at all in the moment in which they happened, but dramatically as I look back.  I have watched my then-10 year old 5th grader on his first day walk in to his elementary school with childlike excitement slowly grow into a nearly middle school kid with dreams of bigger and more ... bigger school, bigger kids, more challenges, more excitement, more freedom. He is ready.  I am the one who is anxious.  

I went to his middle school orientation the other night.  It all sounded amazing ... all the challenges and the curriculum and the activities and opportunities -- so many incredible things that are all there for the taking.  Every single administrator, teacher, counselor, and volunteer stressed what a fantastic experience the school would be.  And every single one touched on one common theme: it is time to let go a little.  It's scary, yes.  But it is time.  

And as I sat there and listened and took it all in, I realized how apropos that it is called "middle" school.  He is heading into that middle period of adolescence -- the middle, the muck, where you do the hard work and figure out who you are (and who you're not) and what you're made of (and what you're not) and what true mettle is.  It is a temporary, and yet an extraordinarily difficult and necessary, step in what makes someone who he or she is.  It reminds me of the training period for a big race: it isn't always fun, it isn't always pretty, it's long and sustained and hard and challenging and there are moments of progress but for the most part it is a lot of hard work and grind and put your head down and forge your way to a future that you aren't really sure of, all the while with lingering doubt in your head of whether you can do it, surely you can do it ... yes you can do it and you will do it, but man is this hard.  lather-rinse-repeat. round and round we go.  

I, of course, have the benefit, and perhaps the curse, of hindsight.  I vividly remember middle school, and while I work hard to separate my own experiences from those that my children have so that I do not project my own fears and past onto them, I still remember.  I remember that exhilaration of my first real brush with freedom. I remember actually feeling like a big kid.  I remember meeting the older kids when I was in 6th grade and on the third day of school, 7th grader Kathy Vazquez told me that I was pretty ... which was the first time in my life anyone not a family member had said that to me.  I remember devastation and heartache and challenges.  I remember that push/pull of simultaneously wanting to be big but wanting to be little, of wanting to be a teenager but secretly wanting to play and to be a child ... of being completely stuck in this seemingly permanent middle.

I hope in middle school my son takes advantage of every opportunity to grow.  I hope that the inevitable heartache and struggles that he will experience will also teach him empathy and fortitude.  I hope that he tries things he never dreamed possible.  I hope that when he makes mistakes that he says he is sorry and tries again.  I hope that he tries his very best.  I hope that when he fails, he picks up the pieces and tries again.  I hope that he holds true to the child who he is now - that he preserves the essence of him, of the same little sweet soul that stole my heart when he was born.  I hope he knows that his family - and especially his mommy - will always have his back.

 My kids told me that it is a tradition in their elementary school on the last day for the outgoing 5th graders to walk around the perimeter of the halls and for all of the teachers and current students to do a boisterous send-off with clapping and excitement and cheers and high-fives.  I love that (and honestly I burst into tears when my kids told me about it the first time).  As for me, my send-off will be far less boisterous, but equally heartfelt.  I'm stuck here in the middle with him.  I'll continue to be the mom that I am and love him and teach him right from wrong.  I'm not really ready right this second for middle school and all that comes with it, but ready or not here it comes.

Stuck in the middle with you,
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
Stuck in the middle with you, here I am stuck in the middle with you. ~
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