Friday, June 13, 2008

Middle School Picnic

I was allowed- and yes, I do mean allowed- to go to Ben's middle school picnic today for his "team" at school. The 6th grade is divided into three teams- Yellow, Orange and Red.

Ben is on Orange and today was a day at a park very close to our house for a BBQ and hanging out in the sun. Parents were asked to volunteer to bring some of the extras- sodas, chips, desserts- and come by if they wanted.

I signed up for sodas and stopping by. Ben looked at the slip and said, NO WAY.

Oh, come on, I won't talk to any of your friends.


ONLY if you bring soda and PROMISE not to talk to me at all.



I know. Got it. I'll chat with the teachers.

He was a bundle of nerves last night but managed to not get in too serious of trouble. This morning, the soda list was given to me along with the reminder not to talk to him.

Got it.

After witnessing what felt like genetic-pituitary madness, I decided Middle School is the single most awkward time of your life. There was one boy who was over 6 feet tall and several of the girls who were barely over 4 feet tall. Boys who were all bones and limbs, and girls who were so filled out I wasn't sure if they were students or classroom aides.

Until they started to talk and then I knew the familiar lilt of sassy-knowitall- obnoxiousness that only comes from a 12 year old.

Not a single one of the 80 kids were even remotely comfortable with their bodies. They moved as if they were only half under control of the steaming pit of hormones inside them.

There were the quiet girls who brought books to read- they broke my heart. I remember being painfully shy. There were the table of mean girls- you knew they were tearing everyone apart, laughing at people and completely full of themselves. Tough boys, a few terribly shy boys who didn't even bring books to read but wandered around the edges watching.

The one new twist from when I was in middle school was the sports playing. It was completely co-ed, girls and boys playing basketball, baseball. In my day, I was almost always the only girl who played ball. It was great to see.

I helped set up the table for food. I chatted with teachers and other parents. Ben was not to be seen.

After lunch, he came up to me. Mom, bring Beanie.


Bring Beanie over.

How would you ask that?

Please... please bring Beanie over.


I was amazed he spoke to me so I went to get the dog. I did a few things around the house- dishes put away, folded a load of laundry- and Ben called me.

Mom... where are you?

On my way.

Recently, it's been clear that having parents- especially gay parents- is mortifying for Ben. He's uncomfortable with it and I'm guessing most of his new friends do not know. It's why he didn't want me to go in the first place.

It was nice to have him call and want me there.

Okay, he wanted the dog there, not me.

Beanie and I arrived. Ben ran over to get her leash and immediately became the center of attention. The shy girls put their books down and came and pet her. The awkward boys ran over to pet her. Ask her name. What kind of dog is she...

Mom... what kind of dog is she again?

He spoke to me in front of his friends. Whoa.

Golden mixed. She's a little of everything.

I was called into action when she did her business on the field- picking up poop seems to be one of my callings in life. Other than that, I went and sat on a shady bench.

Eventually, Ben tired of parading Beanie around and brought her over to me. The kids, however, didn't tire of petting the dog and asking questions. She is so demure and gentle even the most timid kids made it over at least once.

Watching those kids today gave me a new sense of empathy for Ben. The girl he used to "date" hounded him relentlessly around the yard. His buddy he's known forever- a goofy boy whose body is being completely driven by sugar and impulse with no volume control- danced around him suggesting a million different things to do.

He kept it all together, remaining cool, aloof and annoyed by everything and everyone. I know his fears about being different, not fitting in, desperately wishing he was like everyone else. A storm of uncertainly brews inside him and he is only just beginning to learn how do deal with it.

On the outside, today? He pulled it off masterfully.

And if you're ever feeling old, fat, insecure, unsure, or generally pathetic? Go to a Middle School at the end of the day and watch the kids file out.

If nothing else, it'll give you a little perspective.

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Blogger Bob said...

My son Robert was just reading a letter Hunter S. Thompson wrote to Ralph Steadman about Steadman's teenage son.

I have a dear friend who lives in Coolabine, Queensland, Australia. She'd adore Ben, and before you knew it, she'd whisk him off to a sheep station where he could learn a useful trade.

He's getting into the age group I loved best when I worked at a Y. 12s are really funny, and while 10 year olds are sort of people, 12s are definitely people, and much of the time they find the whole growing up thing amusing.

13s are somewhat tragic. They've come to a full realization that they were as cute as they'll ever be a year or two ago. 14s aren't even human beings. but 15s -- there you were, looking at this strang alien, and it's been replaced by a *person*. Mind you, a tragical person, but they're mindful that this is their year of suffering.

And somewhere along in there, they start to treasure their friends' foibles and things that are unexpected and out of the ordinary -- not their *own* foibles. They have a better than even chance of that when they reach full adulthood at 40.

Once that whole process has spun out, you only have 2 more to go through the whole thing again.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Seda said...

Wow. Thank god you outgrow that stage. I see the kids around here, but clustered like that... Kudos to Ben for keeping it together - and talking to you!

8:22 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

My oldest just turned 14, and clearly was the basis for Bob's classifications! 12 was interesting, 13 was painful, 14 is shaping up to be an interesting and trying year. I guess having lived through (survived?) it myself, I can hope that we'll manage to somehow not kill each other over the next couple of years :)

9:56 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

@marc: The key is is warmth (no matter how much they hate it) and acceptance of the strange creature who's come to live with your family. I understand about your oldest. When cute suddenly vanishes from the cards on the table, as it did last year, they're bound to be be pissed off. Now that cosmic dealer has also removed human, times can be troubling. But this is the time when quirks and the things that make us interesting as individuals appear in something like their fully expressed form and definitely can be appreciated. It's the time when, e.g., a kid who plays an instrument becomes a musician.

Sara, have I told you what's about to happen to your 8yo? Short version: 6s are pretty much lumps of dough. 7s are quite a bit sharper, but sometimes there's nobody at home. 8s have finally got the being a kid business mastered. 9s, in a cruel trick of fate, lose the knack. The 9yo's favorite hobby is worrying. 10s and 11s get the knack of being a kid back again. This is absolutely the best time to work on real mastery of using their bodies: the more different kinds of things, the better: swimming, basketball, volleyball, archery, you name it. But 12s and up can still learn new physical things. Helping younger kids might be a doorway into further growth there. Lots of 12-14s either get pushed into or choose for themselves to specialize in 1 or 2 sports or activities, but imho that's too few.

And absolutely watch for strain. I saw dads asking if they could take their kids into the sauna and steam room to cut weight for wrestling; I wanted to lock those dads in the sauna for a few days and turn he heat up to 11 to see how they liked it. Swim team kids need to mix some fartlek and stroke work in with their interval training. Hint: coaches do not always have the kids' best interests in mind! I'd look with grave suspicion on a trumpet teacher who wants kids playing a high G before they're 16 or 17. Kids taking voice need to be reminded, sempre cantabile. You wouldn't think so, but you'd be amazed at how many kids and even adults force too much and don't sing cantabile. Private voice lessons are worth the money for that reason alone. Just because you *csn* sing and pla highy loud doesn't mean you have to do it all the time. I vividly remember at that age stretching my hands so I could hit a 10th on the piano. It took me ages to recover the touch I lost with that idiotic exercise.

Kids with no judgment stretching and straining? What could possibly go wrong?

But don't neglect the sheep station in Australia.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

If australi doesn't work out, there's always Spain:

6:39 AM  
Blogger Sue J said...

As a former middle school teacher, can I ask everyone who has kids that age a favor? If your child has a really good teacher -- one who teaches well, but who also seems to "get" kids that age, please thank them. Send them a note in the mail, drop a note off at the office, just mention it casually when you go to parent/teacher night. Better yet, mention it to their principal.

Students that age are the most challenging to teach, especially if they also have issues of poverty or addiction at home. Balancing the rigors of getting students ready for the statewide testing with empathy for the enormous social issues present in middle school is a talent. Some teachers do it well, some not so much. They all get the same feedback from the administration. As long as the kids are passing and you can manage the discipline in your classroom, you're good.

Everyone here knows it takes much more than that. Please wish your middle school teachers a restful summer off! They earned it!

7:38 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

@sue j: Middle school teachers who share with their kids the joy of learning and their own joy in those kids are pearls of great price. Thanks to you.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Lula de Montes said...

This post gave me a stomach ache. This awaits us in 10 years from now. May we be strong enough to deal with it all. We've already said to one another that as the years go on our presence at school will have to diminish progressively, to non-existent during the teen years.
I think you handled that admirably.
And thanks for the glimpse into the future.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Suzy said...

Middle school is evil. I am on the last one going through it and I wish there was some way they could skip over it. Its painful and heart crushing to watch.
But they all "survive" it and move on to other issues in high school or, tear tear sniff sniff, college.

And sue I email her teachers weekly and thank them for making middle school at least bareable. She loves both of her main class teachers and will miss having them next year.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

oh, lulu, of course you will be ready! well, what I should say is of course you won't be ready but you'll do it just like you brought that baby home the first day without an instruction manual.

and did fine.

bob, I find you descriptions as frightening as lulu finds mine. I like the sheep station idea a lot. but I think I want to go to the station.

especially the part about the warmth and kindness. if nothing else, it drives Ben nuts.

I did spend the day, sue, talking to the teachers.

I was allowed to speak to them.

the one ben hates the most- his english teacher- is actually a very interesting woman. I didn't grill her about ben- wanted to so badly- but just talked to her about her, her experiences.

9:06 AM  
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9:26 PM  

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