Month: August 2015
After living through it once, surviving Dylan’s years, and now enrolling my baby, I think I finally understand middle school.
In elementary school, the kids are both coddled and lectured with great consistency. Teachers tell them how to walk in the hallways, where to hang their coats, when and what to eat, with whom they should sit, and when to go to the bathroom. Teachers are also authority figures, to be treated with respect, and most of the elementary-aged kids do that.
In middle school, though, that familiar structure goes right out the window. Kids get their own lockers and are told, as a group, where to congregate – but not where to sit, or with whom. They have rules but, possibly due to the students’ larger sizes, these rules are not as strictly enforced – if they are enforced at all.
In middle school, the kids are left to fend for themselves in many ways. In concept, it’s a great opportunity: kids have the ability to choose their own identities at this point, to share who they are with their peers. They have a slew of after-school activities to choose from, and they can find friends with similar interests.
But that’s not the only thing that happens.
Many of these kids – some really kind, decent kids – don’t have a clue how to survive without a rigid structure. So they go hog wild. They swear constantly, just to see what will happen. They steal – even if it’s just taking someone’s pen – because they can. They cheat, they lie, they push the boundaries until the boundaries almost disappear. And their respect for authority figures goes right out the window.
But I don’t think the problem is middle school. I think the problem happens in elementary school.
There is no allowance for the fact that the kids in elementary school are growing up. They come into kindergarten with a desperate need for structure. They need to be told where to go, what to do, when to go to the bathroom. But by second grade, they’ve pretty much learned the ropes. And by fourth grade, they are busting at the seams to break free from all the restrictions.
For example, Shane once told me that the lunch ladies had given the fifth graders assigned seating – and that the fifth graders had hoped to be able to “earn back” the right to sit with their friends. When I asked what the fifth graders had done to deserve this punishment, Shane said, “I don’t know, but we’ve had assigned seating for like two weeks.”
When I talked to the principal later that day, he was just about to talk to the lunch ladies – and so the ban was lifted.
But the kids should be given more independence in fifth grade, not less. They need to become accustomed to being able to choose seats, talk in hallways and get around. Instead, they are roped down like cattle – and set loose on the middle school community, just as they start puberty with a vengeance.
And then they explode. They go wild, trying out all the new-found freedoms. Most of them – especially those without quality parental supervision (and there are lots of those) – have no internal monitor to remind them of that precious Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Instead, they push, fight, claw, cheat, lie, and steal – while other students (often the ones with internal monitors) cower in the corners, and try to stay unnoticed until the madness dies down.
And when it finally does, the next logical option is … high school.
In spite of my initial reaction to Dylan’s using electronics at 1 a.m., he seems to be doing quite well.
First, he sat with me and discussed what happened – and shared his thoughts. He decided – on his own – to remove the offending electronic devices from his room until he thought he could better control his behavior.
This reminded me of when I would hide the box of Ho-Ho’s from myself in the back of the closet, hoping that the children would get a Ho-Ho before I ate the whole box. Sadly, my children did not actually eat a Ho-Ho until they were nearly a decade old.
So I agreed to keep his electronics in my room – but he had to put them there at 10 p.m. And thus far, he has done exactly that, every day.
Second, while still being a typical teenager, he has been setting his alarm to get out of bed – meaning that he isn’t forcing himself to stay awake at night, just because it’s summer “and I can.” And he gets up and spends the day with us.
Third, Dylan didn’t turn into evil-demon kid, like he has been known to do in the past, especially when I would enforce a rule he didn’t like. Instead, he went right back to doing his best – and succeeding.
In other words, Dylan is – gosh – growing up! And he’s doing it very, very nicely.
I’m not sure if this is a temporary thing. I know he is just beginning the nightmarish teenage years. But Dylan has taken a pretty rough patch and turned it into a life-altering experience – on his own. He has been consistenly and optimistically doing things with his brother, with the family, and with his friends that are positive experiences.
And he’s acting like …
Dylan is making decisions – not all the time, but most of the time – that are based on doing the right thing, rather than doing whatever he wants to do. He’s taking care of himself, eating well, taking his vitamins, getting enough (and not too much) sleep. Heck, he even has a job – a story for another day.
He’s still a teenager, and he wants way more sugar than he needs. (Don’t we all? It’s probably because of the Great Ho-Ho Denial in the early 2000’s.)
But Dylan is choosing, more often than not, to do better than he used to do. In fact, he’s doing better than I used to do.
And I could not be more proud.
When I was a teenager, Quinton married Nola. As I recall, they married outdoors, high on the red cliffs of a glorious mountain. Pachelbel’s Canon in D played as Nola glided forth in her gown, to finally wed the man of her – and my – dreams, in a wedding that will live in my mind for the rest of time.
That wedding is also on YouTube – because it’s completely fictitious, created for the now defunct soap opera, The Guiding Light. I watched it on YouTube, and it turns out that Nola and Quinton were married in a very traditional church ceremony, and she walked down the aisle to Here Comes the Bride. I was wrong about nearly everything.
But I remembered one thing correctly: Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The song was dubbed in by the show’s sound editors as the bride and groom kissed and glided out of the church. I’d never heard the song before that day, and didn’t know what it was called – but I remembered the tune, and got a little thrill every time I heard it thereafter.
I’m not one of those people who daydreamed about a perfect wedding day. I never even thought much about it until I got engaged. But I wanted that song in my wedding.
Fast forward 16 years: my now-husband and then-fiancé Bill, not only knew the song but recognized it immediately when I hummed a bit. Then he pulled out a CD from his eclectic collection and played it for me.
A few months later, Canon started our wedding ceremony.
Fast forward another 16 years: I went to the bank one day, and came home to a familiar tune. I walked in and saw my two angelic boys, side by side on the piano bench.
Together, they were playing Canon.
Dylan taught himself to play the song – and then taught Shane to play the melody for a derivative song called Christmas Canon. The song sounded perfect.
I stood there for a moment, listening. I thought about Nola and Quinton and the dream life I’d imagined only briefly, so many years ago. I remembered hearing that song over the years, long before I’d met Bill, when marriage seemed like it would never happen. And I remembered the song starting to play on a gorgeous summer’s day, as my bridesmaids strolled through the grass to stand near my groom under a huge oak tree, where we were married.
And here I was, listening to my two babies – my angels, created by God and formed through a deep, caring bond – playing this glorious love song on our piano, in our home, making beautiful music together, making an awesome memory for me.
And I cried the same tears of joy I cried back in 1983, before any of this was ever real.