“How’s school going?” I ask my 7th grader almost every morning and always get the same response.
“Fine?” I question. “Fine? So your friends are all good? No problems with any classes? I hear so and so has a girlfriend, yes?”
He looks at me not with amazement like I’ve grown another head, but with apathy, like I am just so unbelievably clueless and old.
“Mom, just stop it.” He rolls his eyes.
“What?” I ask with mild offense camouflaged by a smile. “I just want to know what’s going on. How middle school is going.”
“And I told you,” he huffs, day in and day out, “It’s fine.”
As much as I would like to believe him, I remember middle school.
The blue eye shadow, the weight gain, the girls who shoved me while walking down the hall; the boys who ignored me at best and called me names like “dogface” at worst. The most fascinating for a shy girl with few friends and little confidence were the couples: the boyfriends and girlfriends tenderly holding hands and gazing at each other and the ones making out ugly against grey lockers.
Seventh grade. It’s the middle of the middle. Not quite a kid, but not a solid teen either. It’s a time when everything about yourself and your life is changing–your body, your friends, your entire perspective, and understanding of the world.
No biggie. It’s just everything. Really, what’s there to worry about?
I try not to think about my own middle school experience–Screw you, Debbie T–and remember that my son is not me, and it’s not the eighties when bullies were in fashion, or at the very least, tolerated.
Thankfully, it seems my son is experiencing a kinder, gentler middle school, but it’s still daunting. Half these kids are 12 going on 20, while the other half still act like 10-year-olds. My son is pushing 13 and is very content playing his sports and video games, seemingly oblivious to the social tornado swirling around him.
Although I’m sure he’s more aware than he lets on, he’s both unready and unwilling to take that leap away from the comforting world of childhood. I’m happy for his general innocence, thrilled really. I’m in no hurry for my first born to grow hair and snark, but I am worried that his more socially savvy friends will leave him behind. I’m equally worried about him becoming that socially mature teen. And about the girls.
Seventh grade is the year of the bar/bat mitzvah–and there’s nothing more unsettling than walking into a party and seeing a pretty young thing that used to sit at your kitchen table in braids and a chocolate smeared smile now shuffling around on heels higher than yours and a fitted dress that falls frighteningly above thigh level.
As much as I’d like to judge (especially as the mom of three boys), I can’t. I understand peer pressure and how appealing it is to try on a new persona to go along with your budding new body. Even my misguided, tragically uncool self wore more makeup in 7th grade that I’ve probably worn in my entire life.
While it can be hard living with a moody prepubescent/pubescent teen, it’s definitely harder being that teen. They want more responsibility one second but can’t pour their own cereal bowl the next. They scream “Leave me alone!” but then come to cuddle in our laps. They give everyone the cold shoulder but burst in tears when a younger sibling teases them. Our job as parents is to do the best we can to ease them through this difficult and awkward stage, but it’s almost impossible not to worry. It’s something we Jewish mothers are really good at.
Occasionally, at bedtime when he is relaxed and his brain is winding down, my son lets some information slip out. No matter if he’s talking about what happened in English class or how he felt his baseball game went, I always sit at the edge of his bed quietly, holding my nonchalant game face and nodding agreeably but not too enthusiastically, while secretly licking up every crumb.
Of course many days, “fine” is all I get from the sweet face of my growing boy who is no longer a baby. So I do everything I can to stay involved. I ask questions, I listen closely, and I hope he’s telling the truth.