Last week was a very slow one for this blog as I was prioritizing my novel-in-progress. For several weeks before that—most of the month of February, inspired by the anniversary of my father’s death—my posts revolved around his memory and my parents’ marriage.
This month—because of my daughter’s upcoming birthday and the fact that March is Middle School Tour Month around here—I am going to be thinking a lot about my identity as the mother of a daughter just a few short years away from being a teen.
This week my daughter Zoe and I, along with all the other fifth graders and caregivers in our town, will be touring the district’s three middle schools in preparation for next year.
Can it be that time already? Middle School? My daughter turns eleven this month which means— according to the books—she’s got just one more year of tween-hood and then we’re in adolescence. I always make note of these transitions. I remember when she turned six weeks old. I thought: she’s no longer a newborn! I cheered for all her new phases: “older” baby, toddler, preschooler. When she went to kindergarten I was so proud, so thrilled with her independence and the way she owned her membership in the classroom. I didn’t cry during these separations; I knew she would thrive and gather adventures to share with me. (Disclosure: my son is two and a half years younger; having him around has made Zoe’s momentum through the years easier to take.)
But Zoe is my first child, my girl, the one I watch go through the things I went through—in her special way. I remember my girlhood well and can’t help viewing Zoe’s though the lens of my past. For each of her milestones I have a host of memories and cannot help drawing comparisons. I remember friends and mean kids and gym class and how hard it sometimes was to act normal around boys. I remember jealousies and left-out moments and learning to stand up for myself.
Zoe’s school life is different from mine in many ways. I was in an urban private school; she’s in a suburban public one. I loved creative writing, shied away from math challenges; she’s exactly the opposite. I dressed in subdued shades, unfashionable hand-me-downs from family friends, though I didn’t care. Zoe is a trend-setter; she gravitates toward the loud and striped and sequined. She is a gifted visual artist—skilled with paint, markers and pencils—putting together each outfit is an extension of her talent. By her age, as noted in a previous post, I was already obsessed with my weight; she’s obsessed with fabric colors and textures and how they go together.
In some ways, though, Zoe is similar to the way I was in school: enthusiastic but disorganized, way more interested in social interaction with peers than with what the teacher is trying to get across. Luckily, most adults like Zoe; they see the best in her and draw her out, even if they have to wait for her to stop chatting with her neighbor.
But now the whole game is changing. She’s moving on to middle school where the teachers don’t know her; where the bigger kids set the trends. She will be meeting kids whose parents I don’t know, have experiences I can’t begin to predict.
I am anxious about what the future holds, afraid that new influences will come along and strip my daughter of that glorious zest for life, the thrill she seems to get just from going about the business of being Zoe. I am also excited for what is coming, all the new things and people and classes—all the opportunities for her to practice being new versions of herself.
As we preview middle schools this week, I will be taking notes, monitoring my thoughts and feelings, checking in with Zoe on how she’s experiencing it all, and then posting here when I can. Hopefully by week’s end, the unknown territory of sixth grade will begin to take shape and put my mind at ease.