Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Middle school mania

I remember the day I got braces. I was excited to embrace my new life as a metal-mouth. That night, I lay awake in agony with a pain so deep I was sure I was dying. I took ibuprofin and ate soft foods for days.  Monkeymoo had exactly the same experience with her braces - from the excitement to the shocking pain to the middle-of-the-night weeping.

And it hurt me so much more when she did it. There's no way to explain to someone in the middle of such pain that it is transient. Telling them that they will survive and even be better off in the long run is empty when they are a ball of pain and tears. It's even worse when that pain isn't physical - but deeply emotional. There's no over-the-counter anti-emotional-inflammatory medication.

Which brings us to this: Monkeymoo has entered Middle School.

I've long thought that the middle school years were hard for me because I moved in October of my 6th grade year from a small town and a K-6 school to a big city and a 6-8 middle school. I figured most friendships had been long-established and girls had years to learn the proper clothing choices and I was just having a hard time adjusting. I remember being laughed at for reading the newspaper. I remember long quiet hours in the middle school library. I remember girls being awful. I remember making one friend as we complained over 6th grade math. I remember it being hard and confusing and I remember coming home from school, having navigated these complex mean-girl social relationships, and playing with Barbies behind the closed door of my room because I was lonely and sad and I very much wanted to live in the world I lived in before all of this.
It might be true. Maybe. 
So this summer, while Monkeymoo chattered with her best friend about how very excited they were for middle school, I cringed. I didn't want to project or stifle her excitement, but I didn't imagine there was much at all to be excited for in Middle School.

We are now at the Christmas Break of her 6th grade year and I can honestly say it sucks. 

The academics are great. I have no complaints. Her teachers are awesome and responsive and great. The social stuff is. . . not. 

There must be some weird switch that flips in girls between the ages of 11 and 14 that tells them to learn to navigate complex social relationships, but often goes into hyper-drive Mean Girls bullshit. I'm sure if I reviewed the literature, there would be plenty of meaningful explanations that helped me understand why long-time companions chose to end friendships. I'm absolutely positive if I did so, I would also understand why 11 year-olds, probably even my own, fail to do it with grace and their awkwardness is painful. I might even understand how and why social bullying occurs and how children I love and respect engage in deliberate social rejection. 

Or maybe not, because as I learned long ago - my belief that if I just read more I might uncover the weirdly complex nuances of social relationships is exactly what made me a middle school reject. And, of course, none of that reading can make the pain or confusion caused by those events go away, which is why I haven't suggested it to Monkeymoo. I'm completely at a loss to explain any of her experiences to her. 

Without going into details, my girl's experienced a wide gamut of friendship politics since school started. Alliances made, broken, reforged, whatever.  Monkeymoo remains confused by the whole thing. There have been wild mood swings (ah, the sweet intersection of social bullshit and hormones) and chronic stomach and head aches. There have been tears.  Of course girls get to socialize with whomever they choose and middle school appears to be the time they figure this out, but nobody appears to have much grace while doing it. 

And that hurts not only Monkeymoo. That hurts me. 

In one particularly harrowing moment, Monkeymoo screamed at me that she'd lost all of her friends and now she had nobody. I told her I knew how that felt, but in the end she had her family. She had us. We weren't going anywhere. 

And that's true. 

But in the face of Middle School, it doesn't feel like much.

Note: This post has been edited from its original format. It was not my intent to point the finger at individual girls - this is about all of them, including my own, and, even moreso, about myself and how I can help my daughter navigate these times in the best way possible. 

Turns out a quick review of the lit reveals ONE important tactic for helping girls through these weird years: Mentors.
Because I am the reader I am, here is some other interesting reading, if you're dealing with the wild middle school girl years yourself:
From Sugar and Spice to the Mean and Nasties, Barbara Meltz
When little girls start growing up , Barbara Meltz
Understanding Middle School Friendships, PBS
And this book looks good:  BFFs, Frenemies, and Mean Girls: The Drama Years (Whitney Joiner and Haley Kilpatrick)

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