In our school district, middle school begins in fifth grade. I never quite agreed with this strategy because I believed fifth graders still belonged in elementary school. These babies…or perhaps that was just my way of denying the fact that my oldest was growing…still required more coddling. But I think everyone would admit wholeheartedly that there is a distinct difference between a 10 year old and a 14 year old. Not only is the physical difference enormous but their maturity, interests, and capabilities. So mixing those age groups on a bus was a concern of mine at the outset of the year.
Fast forward from September to June.
Briggs performed better than expected. He transitioned into the middle school environment with ease. We had no major behavioral issues to deal with. He seemed to make good friends. While I suspect he is a bit goofy…aren’t most 10-11 year old boys?
So when I was looking through the final papers Briggs brought home from school, I found the list below. I guess he is growing up and needs less coddling than I can cling to.
I vividly recall a conversation Tim and I had before we had children. It was during a road trip where we had time to conjure up names for our list. We talked about issues we might face (we had no clue!). The inevitable question arose, “What if our kids is the last to get picked in gym class?”
It’s weird…but isn’t easy to remember what that feeling was like in when you were a kid? I hated picking teams in gym class. It was like the most obvious sign of being popular or NOT. I most certainly had that feeling of being a ‘LOSER!’
I was in fifth grade. My parents had just gotten divorced. My mother moved across town which required my brother and I to transfer to a new school. I spent more time in the nurse’s office that year than I probably did in class. I was not welcomed into the student body with a great deal of warmth.
Polo (aka Ralph Lauren) shirts were the rage. Preppy was in. And, money was tight! Luckily, Marshall’s, a discount store, had just opened up nearby which stocked out-of-season or slightly irregular Polo attire. I was thrilled…well, at least until I went to school.
I walked into my fifth grade class feeling very cool with my bright pink shirtdress with citrus green Polo. I figured I might just fit in. I put down my folder when from behind came a classmate (she will remain unnamed) pulled the back of the collar down to see that horrid and obvious sign that this Polo dress was, in fact, from Marshall’s. For some reason, all of the Ralph Lauren attire sold had a cut down the center of the tag. She knew instantly that it wasn’t a ‘real’ Polo shirt, and exclaimed such absurdity quite loudly. My hope of fitting in instantly diminished. Off to the nurse’s office…I was starting to feel sick again. Fifth grade was a retched year.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. Briggs and I were at the kitchen table studying for a math test. I gave him some sample problems to complete. <Sidenote: My level of math is coming to a quick close. It is shocking what he is already learning. He is about to figure out that his mother is numerically-challenged!>
He instantly became agitated. Pushed the paper away and proceeded to his room in a fury that I was giving him ‘extra work.’ But as he was ascending the stairs he blurted out, “AND I DIDN’T EVEN GET PICKED TO BE ON A DODGEBALL TEAM!”
Clearly math was not the underlying cause for his anger and frustration.
I let him stay in his room for about twenty minutes without addressing the issue. I do have three other obnoxious kids and a traveling husband. Besides that, I suddenly had flashbacks to the aforementioned road trip and fifth grade horror.
It probably isn’t a big secret that I am not the most soft-hearted or sympathetic mother.
Once I played twenty-questions with Briggs, I got out this much. There is a dodgeball tournament coming up at the middle school. He did NOT get picked for a team. All of his friends were already on teams. NO ONE else was left in the ENTIRE student body that was not already on a team. In fact, he was the ONLY one not playing in the tournament. And, NO WAY was he going to be playing on a team with ALL GIRLS!
I told him in two years he will probably wished he picked the team with all girls. He didn’t think I was very funny.
My heart hurt for him though. My brain was certainly trying to figure out a way I could fix it for him but…my fifth grade loser experience contributed significantly to me being who I am today. I hate to say it…but I think everyone needs to feel like a loser in their life.
Being faced with this dodgeball challenge can only enhance his resiliency, independence and confidence knowing that Briggs has a cheerleader behind him that loves him unconditionally. And, to be honest, my kids lead a life of luxury. We live in a beautiful area. They have clean beds and clean clothes. They have plenty to eat. They are enriched with activities and sports. I often worry what it is that is going to build their characters.
So my hard and pointed advice to Briggs was this…
“Well you can certainly lie in your bed and feel sorry for yourself that you don’t have a dodgeball team. That is pretty easy. Or you can take some initiative, walk into school tomorrow, find some other kids that haven’t found a team, and build your own. Be a leader. Build a team with girls and boys. You know…girls can be pretty good at dodgeball. Or how about this…you can talk to your friends currently on a team and tell them you want to play. Explain to them that you are willing to be a substitute. Make something happen for yourself because no one else is going to. I want to know what you did about it after school tomorrow. I love you. Good night!”
He came home with the parental consent to be in the dodgeball tournament. Just like they say in the Dodgeball movie (which is hilarious, by the way), IF YOU CAN DODGE A WRENCH YOU CAN DODGE A BALL. I think Briggs dodged a wrench. He should be ready to dodge a ball with ease.
There have been a few moments in my adulthood where there were glaring realizations that I have inherited distinct characteristics of my parents. It became all too evident last week when after I tirade of anger over homework Tim said to me, “Hey David, how ya’ doing.”
I lived with my father, David, in high school. There wasn’t a week that went by that I wasn’t in tears at the kitchen table rewriting homework to his satisfaction. Often times we were up past midnight in a battle of the wills. It was brutal. Topic sentences, clear ideas, enhanced vocabulary, proper grammar, accurate punctuation!
So, the ‘Braveheart-like’, in-your-face teachings have trickled down a generation.
I had decided afterschool that day we needed to get Briggs’ room organized. When he was done, he was allowed to play with his buddies outside.
Unfortunately it wasn’t until 8pm that I realized Briggs had forgotten a homework assignment. The directions were to write nine complete sentences about the librarians based on some research he quickly needed to do on the middle school home page. Pretty straight forward. He sat right down and went to work. Once complete, he handed me his paper for review.
The sentences were incomplete and went something like this…”Got bachelors degree from Indiana University.”
I was calm and asked him to reread the directions. He looked at me and said, “They’re good enough.”
I am not sure if it was the attitude that unnerved me so much or the thought of my son doing a half-ass job. But with my husband finally home from a three-week trip to India, I took Briggs by the collar, nearly dragged him down the stairs to the kitchen, and told him to repeat the directions aloud along with his examples. With alligators tears streaming down his face he did so. I them proceeded to rip up his work and exclaimed start again!
We have a Partner Desk. The kind that you sit across from. I could feel Briggs evil eyes glance at me now and again as he wrote solidly.
Afterwards, once he had nine well-constructed sentences complete (and this is where the mom characteristics kick in), Briggs asked for not only a hand massage but back massage.
I figured we both needed it. He needed me to be “loving mom” and I needed the time to apologize for my temper but drive home my objective from earlier.
When we snuggled up in bed (aka Spa Briggs), I said, “I am sorry for losing my temper with you earlier.”
Quick as a fox, he replied, “That’s okay, David.”
We all be become our parents.
It is up for wide debate when to tell kids the straight up facts about sex. I listened to two things…1) my pediatrician and 2) my gut.
I was shocked when at eight Briggs’ pediatrician told me, “If you don’t tell him now someone else will!” But I had to sit on it awhile. I wanted to carefully consider how to address these early discoveries. I figured I would know when he was hearing ‘stuff’ anyway. I certainly wanted to error or the side of too early vs. too late.
It wasn’t long after that I decided I was going to be utterly and completely frank. When the time was right, I would tell him everything. See it isn’t about the ‘birds and the bees’ to me. What the heck is that anyway? Who came up with that meaningless, confusing phrase? It isn’t romantic. It is scientific.
Along with the help of a very interesting book from the library that depicted every shape of body (and size of body part) possible in a cartoon format, I laid it all out there. Briggs was embarrassed at first. But I realized that if I showed no shyness or hesitation on the subject then the fluidity of the conversation would be more effective. By the end, he asked me everything and more. I didn’t even need to lead the conversation. He, along with the book, guided the direction of the conversation. It was clear by the end that he had a lot of questions waiting to be answered. The flood gates just needed to be opened.
FAST FORWARD ALMOST TWO YEARS…AND NOW IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.
As Briggs was getting out of the shower, he said, “Mom…you said you would completely honest. I heard the penis gets hard when IT thinks about sex.”
I replied with a little hesitation, ”Well…um…that is certainly one of the times it could be hard. But, as you know, it also happens when you wake up in the morning or it can even happen if you are excited about a football game or going to a birthday party or seeing the ice cream truck come down the street. It can get hard from just getting excited about anything.”
But likely the best explanation of a penis came from his response, “So…does it have its own little brain?”
SIGHT WORDS | GAGE
So…with kindergarten we have begun the process of working on sight words. Today, among others, I was reviewing ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ with Gage. When we came to the word girl, I attempted to give him a hint.
I said, “Campbell is a ….. ”
Gage immediately replied, “Desperate!”
I think he is missing the point of starting with the basics but it gave me the only belly laugh I have had for the day.
MUSTACHE | BRIGGS
Apparently, the notion of puberty is hot on Briggs’ mind after being in middle school for two weeks. He yelled down the hall while I was doing laundry, “Mom! I think I am getting a mustache.”
I asked him to come into the stronger light of the laundry room to investigate his upper lip.
I sneered, “You mean the blond fuzz on top of your lip?”
Almost at the same time Briggs exclaimed, “Come to think about it…Mom…you have a mustache too!”
My favorite exchange between the Briggs and Gage came after the Middle School Open House.
Briggs has had a crush on one girl, in particular, for a few years. **For the sake of anonymity, her name has been changed below.** As we passed Arielle in the hall, I gave her a happy hello. Briggs was unable to utter a word.
He proceeded to tell me how embarassing I was at which point I explained he likely had the coolest mom in the entire fifth grade! That was when I tripped…not only embarassing him more but realizing I may just think I am cool.
**Skip forward several hours.**
Briggs tends to divulge a lot of his feelings, and ask important questions at bedtime. Like a computer, he is in his ‘shutdown’ process.
Here was the exchange.
So, Mom…how do I tell Arielle I like her?
Well, until you learn how to say ‘Hi’ to her, I wouldn’t worry about telling her you like her. How about just starting off with something simple, such as “How was your summer?” or “Who is your homeroom teacher?” or “Are you playing soccer this Fall?”
I am not sure what I would say.
You are in fifth grade. Why not just stick to being friends?
Gage <interjects with teasing>:
Briggs can’t tell Arielle he likes her!
Briggs <in the funniest comeback tone I have witnessed>:
Seriously, Gage. You have an imaginary girlfriend named TreeTop. I don’t think you should be teasing me.
And so it begins. Middle School. Girls. Attitude.
Briggs did everything I would have hoped when we dropped him off for his first week of summer camp. Yet, I let a few tears drop as he walked away.
He was oozing with excitement and confidence upon arrival…especially as he met up with his buddy, Carson.
He didn’t ask us a single question. He introduced himself to the counselors. He didn’t look back. Heck, he hardly even cared to say goodbye to any of us.
He and Carson have been waiting for this camp experience with great anticipation.
I could not be more excited for him. Even as I sit here to write this I imagine him grinning at the stories being swapped around the campfire. I imagine him swinging like Tarzan from the rope swing. I can visualize him stealing a few glances across the lake at a cute girl.
This camp exceeded my expectations 100 percent. He will likely have the best week he can recall ever having in his first decade.
But I cannot believe my son is old enough to spend a week on his own in the woods. There have been many signs of his growing age and maturity this summer, this being the pinnacle.
As a parent, I want independence and freedom for him. And, I want him to feel confident enough to leave us without hesitation. But as a mommy, I still want to hold him in my lap and need me.
I am perplexed.
I appreciate having a job that allows flexibility. I like being home as Briggs walks off of the school bus. In fact, I have heard from other mothers that it is even more important as they grow older.
So, toward the end of the school year, Briggs entered the front door looking extremely upset. His comment, “I had the worst day EVER!” started a series of machine-gun questions from me. Were you teased? Did you get a bad grade? Are you sick?
Soon I learned that a friend of Briggs had brought an ‘inappropriate magazine’ on the bus. Our dearest bus driver, Janet, who probably has cyborg eyes quickly figured it out and delivered a swift disciplinary action. Briggs promised he hadn’t looked at the magazine. Yeah, right!
Well, my curiosity started to grow. I know this young boy’s parents quite well. I am having visions of nasty magazines with gnarly names.
My next question to Briggs was, “What was the magazine called?”
His response nearly made me swallow my tongue in laughter. I had to stay composed after he said, “Mom, it was an inappropriate girls magazine. It was called Victoria’s Secret.”
When Tim returned home from work that evening we repeated the happenings.
His response isn’t all that surprising. ”Hey…those women are beautiful. In fact, they’re hot! And if you want to look at the magazine your mom gets it in the mail. But you got to play by the rules of the school. You cannot take that kind of stuff on the bus.”
I guess it is beginning. Our oldest son is growing up.
I have often wondered once I had sons what connection or activity we were going to have. I will play swords and wrestle but that will only last for so long. I think and hope I found my connection with Briggs.
Briggs has become quite interested in running (although the kid still has a major lazy streak). So, I am pushing him to continue to run outside of his participation in Running Club. He ran the distance of a marathon over several weeks in his Club.
He and I ran our first official race together. I definitely had more fun than he did but it gives me great hope that we can continue to do this together.
He was actually quite surprised though after he challenged me to a race along a city block on Mother’s Day. I didn’t hold back. I kicked his scrawny butt.
BTW – Don’t look closely at my crow’s feet or roots! Ugh…aging is a bitch.
The most thought provoking question I have been asked in a long time was by my son, Gage. “Mom, does everyone have a conscience?”
Of course, my first reaction was everyone has a conscience. Whether they decide to use it is entirely another matter.
But the question stayed with me for several days.
Shortly before Gage asked his question, Briggs came home with a short essay about right and wrong (see below). I have kept in on my beside table for several weeks. Anything personal he brings home, I treasure. But this essay rang so true.
We have such an enormous responsibility as parents. Unlike many other traits, I don’t believe we are born with a conscience. It is one of those traits that is molded and created for us by our parents at a young age. I feel so honored to be a parent raising children to make the right choices. Now…you certainly know from MANY of my previous posts that they don’t. But I mean the real choices they will make someday that have real consequences.
Briggs gives me great hope that we are making some strides in the right direction. May the rest follow.