Today Brendan took the first step into his middle school career. School doesn’t start for a couple of weeks yet but they had a summer program for incoming 6th graders where they would have a few hours to go up to the school and walk through their new schedule, find and open their lockers, and most importantly meet a lot of other kids and hopefully start to build some friendships.
All summer this is all that Brendan has been able to talk about. He goes back and forth between being super excited about moving on to middle school, and super scared about going to a brand new school where he has no established friends. I don’t think he regrets his decision to move out of his home middle school exactly. I think he’s still excited about the program that the school offers and all the opportunities being in middle school will allow him. But I think it’s finally sinking in that, for a while at least, he will have no friends.
I can remember being in a very similar position to Brendan, and walking into that very same middle school both excited and anxious for what was to come. My family moved here when I was in 7th grade. My dad was transferred and moved immediately, while my mom stayed back where we used to live so she could sell our house. My brother and I were given the choice to move with my dad, or stay with my mom. It was the only time, in the many times that we moved, that we were given that option because my dad’s family lived here in town and that’s where he would be staying until our house sold.
I wasn’t particularly close to my dad when I was growing up, but the thought of spending months away from him yet again was something that I decided I didn’t want to do this time around. Besides if I was going to transfer to a new school I might as well do it early in the school year as opposed to the end of the year when friendships were more cemented into place. My brother, who was in 10th grade that year, decided the opposite. He didn’t want to leave his friends and his school until he absolutely had to.
So November 1, 1992 I moved with my dad into my grandparents house, and a few days later started my new school. What I do remember was that the staff was very nice, and arranged for a student to help me to my classes for a couple of days. That student didn’t treat me poorly by any means but I also got the impression fairly quickly that she and I had very few things in common and would not be becoming best friends any time soon.
I wish I could say exactly how long into my new school career it was before I met my first friend. But time has a way of dimming certain aspects of memories. What I do remember was that the girl sitting next to me in music class was very quiet and seemed nice. Somehow we struck up a conversation and soon after she introduced me to the rest of the girls she hung out with. After that I had a group of friends that I would stick with through the rest of my school career and into adulthood.
I keep thinking back to that time to help myself remember that no matter how hard and hopeless it seemed at the time I did make friends and Brendan will too. Making friends has never been easy for him, but I think it will become easier in middle school. In elementary school he was singled out as being different from a very young age. And even as he got older and started to shed some of those stereotypes they really stuck with him because the same kids were in his classes year after year. Besides, as the kids start getting older their interests develop more fully. There were a lot of kids who tried band and orchestra in elementary school that didn’t stick with it. Kids who are still into music in middle school generally have at least some interest in the subject making some potential built in friends right there.
Going back to this morning, we were in the car making our way across town to Brendan’s new school. We recently downloaded the soundtrack to the movie Home which is currently the kids favorite thing to listen to. As we drove the kids and I were all singing along to the songs and I glanced over at Brendan, who was sitting next to me. He belted out the songs with no cares in the world. Even as his voice cracked from time to time he just sang on unabashedly. From experience I could tell he was nervous, but to the untrained eye he looked cool, calm, and collected. It made me realize that this was not the same little boy who used to get completely out of sorts any time there was a day off from school because it threw off his routine. This was a boy who’d learned through the years how to internalize those emotions and deal with them appropriately.
I walked him inside because he wasn’t sure where he needed to go. Inside the front doors was an absolute mad house. I couldn’t believe the number of 6th graders who had signed up for this opportunity. It looked, at least to me, like more students were milling about the entryway than all of the grades in Brendan’s elementary school combined. I stayed with him as he made his way through the crush of people to the sign in table. I let him do the talking and get his information packet. He seemed both overwhelmed and yet confident that he could do this. After that, I stopped him only briefly to make sure he could read the small print on his new schedule and locker information and then sent him on his way without so much as a hug or kiss.
My little boy is growing up. His caring heart is still there, and at home he seems to know instinctively when mom is in need of extra hugs. But no more will I get those hugs as he goes off to school. His focus will be getting to his friends to be social rather than worrying about leaving his parents behind. He asked me this morning if I would be this sad when Cameron moved onto middle school and I realized that I probably wouldn’t be. Middle school is a new experience for all of us right now and I worry for Brendan having to learn to navigate it all on his own. By the time Cameron gets to that point it will be old news for us and teaching him to navigate it will be a breeze.
I guess I’m just not ready for my boy to become a man.