Friday, September 13, 2013

Middle School Heart

She stands nervously in front of the mirror, my newly minted middle schooler, and fiddles with her

Today is Spirit Day at school - the kids are encouraged to wear the school colors - blue and yellow - in a show of school solidarity.

My girl has taken it one step further, and applied temporary hair color, adorning her dark brown locks with streaks of yellow and blue.

"Is it too much?" she asks.

"No, it looks great!" I reply, trying to strike that balance between supportive and overly-chirpy.

"It's not enough, is it?"

This goes on all morning.  She pops into the bathroom repeatedly to double check the too-much-not-enough-ness.

She is stepping outside her comfort zone.  These little sprays of hair color are so much more than that. This is a girl who doesn't like any form of attention, preferring to blend as much as possible into the sidelines.

As she waits for the bus in the driveway, I sit in my designated spot on the porch, hidden by a bush.  She wants me there, but doesn't want anyone on the bus to see that she wants me there.


As the bus rumbles just up the road, she spins around one last time, "Are you sure it looks okay?" she yells, her eyes wide.

I yell, "It looks great!"

"SHHHHHHH!" she replies.

It's a tug of war, change.  That fine line between uncomfortable and familiar feels like a tightrope. One misstep and you fall, and then everybody sees.

I think most of us are hard-wired to think people are looking at us, don't you?  When we're slipping our toe just a click over the comfort line, it feels like we're wearing a flashing light on our head.

In reality, nobody is really looking. They are too busy wondering if their own light is flashing.

The other night we spent an hour discussing the plan for changing before gym. This is new, and mandatory.  Everyone must change into gym clothes before class, and back into school clothes after.

She squirms with discomfort. "Will there be changing rooms?  What if they're all full? What if I can't get changed in time?"

I can only nod with understanding, remembering vividly the anxiety of the locker room change.  I tell her that I would sometimes duck into a bathroom stall or shower to avoid detection.

She asks me if it gets any easier, and I think for a moment.

"Not really," I reply.  "Even grown-ups worry about standing out."

She smiles.  "So it's not just me?"

That's the crux of it, isn't it?  We all want reassurance that it's not just us

Last night at her middle school orientation the parents all crammed into the smallish desks, fidgeting.  We glanced nervously at the white board for our list of instructions, not wanting to get it wrong. There are forms to read, a letter to write to our kid.  As we scribbled away, the teacher roamed around the room, talking about his teaching style, while he bounced an over-sized ball. He went to toss the ball to the woman sitting across from me, and she cringed and shied away.

"See?" said the teacher.  "Nobody wants to stand out. Your kids feel the same way.  I'm here to help them step out of their comfort zones a little."

We giggled nervously, and then the loudspeaker pinged with an announcement, and everyone paused to listen.  "Will the driver of a Blue Jeep Commander, license plate blabbity-blah, please report to the office?"

"Oh," said the woman next to me, "how embarrassing for that person".

That person was me. I had parked on the side of the road like many others, but for some reason my car was being singled out.

I didn't want to put up my hand. I wanted to shrink below the desk and turn invisible.

"That would be me," I joked, and everyone swung their head to look at me.

As I gathered my things and slunked out of the classroom, I thought about how some things never change.  How that tug-of-war between "look at me" and "go away" never really goes away.

I scurried out of the school, ran down the school driveway and up the road, and saw a police car with flashing lights and an irate woman standing right next to my car.

She didn't like that I parked in front of her house, and called the cops, threatening to tow my car.

I apologized as reasonably as I could muster, swallowing the not-so-graceful response that was at the tip of my tongue.  I couldn't face walking back into that classroom, so I sheepishly drove home instead.

I struggle with it, too, that tug of war. I want to wave the flag and support the things I feel strongly about. I want to crow about recovery from the rooftops, how amazing it is, how the discomfort is totally worth it.

But when all the heads swing in my direction, I shrink up, try to make myself smaller.  Ninety-nine people cheer me on, but I focus on the one dissenter.  I give more credence to their criticism than I do to everyone else's praise.

It's human nature. Go-away-come-here-look-at-me-stop-staring.

Watching my daughter wrestle with her bravery this morning, I felt my middle-school heart beating in my chest.  I may have grown up, but my heart is still looking for the bathroom stall to hide.

I remind myself that I already know what the inside of a bathroom stall looks like.  My life would be so small if I stayed there.

I'd rather step bravely into the world with blue-and-yellow streaked hair.

 If she can do it, I can do it, too.


  1. I'm sheepishly grinning here. I've been squirming in discomfort outside that "zone" lately too. (Love that go-away-come-here-look-at-me-stop-staring quote!)

    Thank you for sharing this in your own unique and disarming way. I guess that's why we share our experience. We give each other strength ... and hope ... when we do.

  2. Your piece makes me smile. My 13-year old granddaughrer is in the throes of this, and your observations are so spot-on. It's a tough age, and you've captured it. Thanks for sharing.