Middle School: A Time of Firsts

This is the follow-up to the post Firsts. Also, a disclaimer: This post is not intended to state that private schools are better. While my experience at my private school was sheltered, many kids there were caught doing “naughty” things. I was just not privy to them at the time.

Sixth grade. Public school. First time riding the bus. First time waiting at the bus stop, walking up those steps and down the aisle searching for a seat, hoping the person who sat with me would be nice. Then hoping anyone sat with me, just not the weird kid.

I’d just finished six years at a religious private school. What I would soon find out was that I was fresh meat. Innocent. Raw. Defenseless. It would take me three years to toughen up, to learn the way of the land, to stop pretending and ease into my own.

One of the first things I learned was that I lived a sheltered life in private school. The kids I played with and learned with didn’t come in a rainbow of colors. On the outside we all looked happy and had decent clothes. I never saw two people punch each other or pull hair and become a blurred mass of fury knocking down books and desks and making teachers and kids scramble.

The worst word I ever heard was sex and it was whispered and giggled about. During middle school I learned to laugh when the other kids did because I didn’t know what an orgasm was or a “BJ,” but they still knew I was clueless. I quickly put things together. I rolled my eyes and said no when boys joked about doing any of those things with me. I wasn’t always sure they were joking.

The first time I put myself out there and admitted to liking a boy, he didn’t like me back. Then I realized the girl I told to ask him, the boy, and probably his friends all knew I had liked him. Crushing.

A mysterious note consoled me. Once opened it read, “I like you. Do you like me? Check one: Yes or No. Sit beside me on the bus and tell me then.” Ugh. I knew who it was. And check, the answer was no. I didn’t sit with him on the bus.

The first time I was offered drugs was on the bus riding through my neighborhood. Some of the long-haired boys who always wore flannel shirts and never carried any schoolbooks asked if I wanted to come smoke a bowl with them. I had an image of a giant cooking bowl filled with something smoldering and the boys sniffing the smoke. It didn’t seem like a good time and I didn’t ever want to be in their company.

One of the first friends I made smoked cigarettes in the bathroom. I didn’t even like to talk during class because I was afraid I’d get in trouble. She talked back to the teacher. When another friend and I spent the night at her house the first time, she stole two warm beers from her parents and offered me some. I declined and watched as the girls all drank and started acting silly.

It would be another year before I tried alcohol. Tequila from a new friend’s liquor cabinet. It was disgusting. But the crème de menthe wasn’t so bad.

I remember my three years of middle school in great detail, despite trying to push the trauma back all these years. My son starts middle school next year. I know what’s coming. I fear it. Part of me wants to run screaming for the hills. The other part of me says we’ll get through this. He will get through this. I am better for having survived middle school. I faced my problems. I made mostly good decisions. Those may have been the first times I faced those things, but they certainly weren’t the last.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Middle School: A Time of Firsts

  1. It’s difficult to send our babies out into the world. Every fiber of our body yearns to protect them. I’m finding being a parent of two teens interesting. One has to find that balance between letting them gain their independence and figure stuff out on their own, while still being involved enough in their life to know what’s going on and help guide them. People often suggest that caring for infants and toddlers is challenging. Certainly it is, but to me, parenting becomes no less challenging as kids get older. It just gets different.

    Best of luck to you and your new middle schooler!

  2. It seems that your middle school years were a coming of age of sorts. It may not be quite the same for your son but it is a tumultuous times when hormones come raging into the picture.
    I’m w/the part of you that says, “we’ll get through this.”

  3. my oldest started middle school last week and while our school has done a great job transitioning and all that, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s giant and filled with pre and post pubescent children. it is a big hot mess in there and it scares the crap out me for my innocent puppy baby boy who has none of the snark and savvy of most of his friends.
    i put my own horrific middle school experience in the far far closet of my brain. i don’t go there. i can’t.

    • And then you read my postIt’s really interesting to see the transition from this side. As a kid, you really don’t know what the hell is going on. You are certain that none of this is happening to anyone but you.

      It was neat to write this post and realize, hey, that was a scary time and place but I did make good choices. My values were set by middle school. It doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes ever, but I certainly knew immediately when things felt wrong.

      • it is!! i think it is such an overwhelming experience. they still seem like such babies but there’s this burst of independence that comes with all this new responsibility. it’s huge. for both of us.
        we’re taking it one day at a time.

  4. My son is in the eighth grade and my daughter just started middle school. Ugh. Can’t believe it’s already come to this. It’s a little scary, as a parent, to just send your kids into the “big kids” school, knowing all that the big kids do and say. I try not to let my mind wander about what could happen and just focus on whatever we’re dealing with in the present. It helps me stay sane.
    ~FringeGirl

  5. You sounded a lot like me, LOL! I went to Catholic school all the way through high school (even though I had yearned for my parents to send me to public school) and even in that sheltered universe I was a big goody two-shoes. I do wonder now if my kids, regardless of whether at public or private, will be exposed to drugs and sex much earlier in this day and age of Google and Youtube. I can’t tell you how many things they’ve already stumbled on. I doubt they’ll ever be as naive as I was.

    Well good luck to your boys and mostly to you! I have a few years to go…

    • My son has definitely learned some things earlier than I did already, but it’s allowed us time for discussion. He’s at an age where if he isn’t quite sure about something, he comes to us in some way. I kind of feel like boys learn things a little more quickly than girls do. That’s how it’s been in my house anyway. Parenting definitely provides an interesting perspective.

  6. Middle school (or junior high as we called it) – uggh. It’s amazing that most of us make it out alive. For all the talk of bullying and peer pressure nowadays, I think it must have ALWAYS been that way. You’ll do fine helping your son with this mine field….that is if he’s still talking to you once he gets to 6th grade.

  7. I hated middle school. Loathed it. And I have nightmares about when I get there the second time around. But I do believe we’ll get through it. You’ll get through it. Your son will get through it. I agree with the first commenter who said that teenagers are no less challenging than toddlers. I can see this. My toddlers are physically exhausting, but now that my daughter is at an age where she’s starting to form opinions and beliefs and be influenced by friends, she’s the more emotionally and intellectually exhausting one (already questioning and challenging everything we say). People always remark about how difficult it must be to have twin toddlers and I often say that they’re the easy ones. It’s the 6 year old who keeps me on my toes. First grade today, middle school tomorrow. Ugh.

    • I agree that mental exhaustion is worse. It’s hard to be tired and yearn for sleep and have to do everything for your kids, but I think it’s harder when your brain cannot even wrap itself around the concept presented in front of you and you HAVE to deal with it and you are the voice of reason. I feel like I’m in way over my head a lot of the time and when the situation is over, I very well want to collapse in a heap on the floor! My gray hairs are multiplying at a rapid pace now. 😉

  8. Middle School – UGH, I have one son there now, and one who has already been through it. I too was that “sheltered” kid who was a total rule follower! I felt like I was reading something that I went through myself! I had no idea what the other kids were talking about but I laughed along with them anyway. Such an awkward age. Thanks for sharing!!

    • I really dread being the parent. I’m afraid I’m going to feel clueless all over again! And yes, it was a terribly awkward age. I think my mom must have burned all my photos.

  9. I’m impressed by all the good choices you made. I was so naive and eager to fit in somewhere, I felt like I blew with the wind during middle school. A chameleon. Thankfully, I didn’t fall in with a scary crowd, but those years were painful. Here’s hoping those years are less awkward for our kids! A beautiful portrait of your middle school years!

    • I certainly didn’t always make good choices, but as I wrote this, it was frightening to realize some of these choices are only a year away for one of my children. I hope I’ve done my job right as a parent!

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