Keep On Keepin’ On and Other Lessons to Teach Your Middle Schooler
Sam was a flawless baby. I know every mother thinks that about their bundle of joy, but he was to me. Perfectly chubby with pale pink, smooth skin and fluffy white blonde hair that made him resemble a happy baby chick. He didn’t have a single mark on him besides the small red dots on the back of his neck that we called his “stork bites.” And except for the times we put him down to take a nap, he was always ridiculously, deliriously happy. He was the baby who charmed everyone he met with his gummy grins and backward waves.
That sweet version of Sam popped into my head recently. Specifically, the morning after this past Halloween night. My now 12-year-old son had been at a friend’s house for a party and he came back home a little worse for the wear. Well, a lot worse for the wear. He had crashed into a wire while playing touch football and received a huge scrape on his forehead, another on the side of his nose and a small cut under his eye. He looked like he’d just lost either a prize, bar or bear fight. And lost it badly.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time he’d been scraped up–he is a boy. But when the injured face was added to the skinny legs covered in bruises, mosquito bites and scratches, to the messy hair that’d recently been treated for lice, to the small pimple on his nose and to the too-big preteen teeth in need of braces, he seemed pretty damn far away from ever being that flawless baby.
Unfortunately, he’s also pretty damn far away from ever being that ridiculously, deliriously happy baby, too.
Now a 6th grader, Sam has been navigating the social confusion that happens when three elementary schools combine into one big, crazy middle school. The stress of that, plus his preteen hormones, have made him a little crabby as of late. We’ve had door slams, scowls, pouts and quite a few, “Why are you so mean?” questions thrown in my direction. He would sooner hide in his room for two days than give a stranger a smile and a backward wave. It’s all part of growing up, I know, but still. It’s hard to watch your baby suffer the slings and arrows of life for the first time and he’s had a lot come his way recently.
The day after Sam’s Halloween injury, his best friend from grade school sat at another table in the lunchroom because he wanted to be next to the girl he’d just started dating. The same girl Sam had a crush on. The day after that, he was the last batter up in the playoffs, struck out in three pitches and his team’s season was suddenly over. Next up on the hit parade was the C he got on his report card. The first one ever. His banged up body seemed to me the perfect representation of his banged up emotions.
But those set-backs are how character is built, I tell myself when I see him looking upset and gloomy. He’s learning how to handle disappointment. He’s learning how to roll with the punches. He’s learning how to keep on keepin’ on, like a t-shirt I used to wear said in puffy letters. “It’s not good to peak when you’re 12,” I told him the other day. “Trust me on that.” I hope he does.
Yesterday, he got off the bus with a shy smile on his lips and light in his eyes. The scrapes on his face were mostly healed and, for a quick second, I saw a flash of that little chicken haired baby from long ago. It’d been a good day—he beat out 1,000 kids to get into the finals of the middle school spelling bee, he’d been invited to a new friend’s house and the book he’d been waiting to check out of the school library was finally in his backpack, ready to be devoured.
As we walked into the house, he let me hold his hand for a few minutes, then skipped off to his room to start his homework. I stared after him knowing full well that next few years aren’t going to be flawless. Not even close. But during that moment, that minute, I was still ridiculously, deliriously happy.