A Bonus Year Of Childhood

My kids’ elementary
school goes through sixth grade, and for that I am eternally grateful.  It’s an anomaly in LA, and probably in most
parts of the country, where primary school is normally K-5.  And now that my daughter is in sixth grade, being
able to put off middle school for another year has felt like a huge gift to
me. 

A bonus year of childhood, if you
will. 

Middle school, as we all know, is a horrible time,
fraught with braces and puberty and a generalized awkwardness that every kid
goes through as she tries to figure out who she is and where she fits in. Add into that mix hundreds of kids all
funneling into a new school, and it seems like a recipe for disaster.  

My friends whose kids have already made the
transition to middle school tell me daily horror stories about the mean girls
and the pressure to wear the right clothes and the competition for the boys’
attention, and the Instagramming.  Oh,
God, the Instagramming.  

I follow some of
my kids’ friends on Instagram – just to keep a handle on what’s going on out
there – and I find it deeply troubling. 
It’s a smorgasbord of selfies – selfies of girls looking pensive,
selfies of girls looking artistically up at the sky, selfies of girls with ducklips
and peace sign fingers, selfies of girls in bikinis in their bedrooms.  And even worse than the selfies are the
comments – not the mean ones, mind you, but the “nice” ones.  

OMG, you are so gorge! OMG, look at your
body!  OMG, you are so perfect! OMG, I
totally want to look like you!  

I’m sure
I don’t have to explain to you why this disturbs me, on so many levels.  I’ve already told my daughter that, in
addition to my no duck-lips rule, I might be imposing a no-selfie rule, as
well.  OMG, she’s so totally going to
hate me when she goes to middle school.

I remember when I started middle school, way back in the
mid-eighties.  Three local elementary
schools all fed into the one middle school in our district, which covered sixth
through eighth grade.  I remember hearing
rumors about how, if you went into the bathroom while the eighth graders were
there, they would force you to smoke cigarettes.  I remember being worried about whether I
would remember my locker combination, and whether the seventh grade girls were
as mean as everyone said they were.  

It
almost feels quaint, given that now you hear stories about seventh graders
having oral sex in the bathroom, and about eighth graders coming home drunk
from parties.  If only I were worried
about my daughter forgetting her locker combination.

But that’s the thing. 
As parents, I think we are so much more worried about all of this than
our kids are.  Sure, my daughter is
anxious about starting a new school; she’s worried about mean girls and whether
she’ll make new friends and whether she’ll like her teachers.  But she’s so young and innocent and clueless
about all of the really scary stuff, she probably does think her biggest worry is whether she’ll forget her locker
combination.  

As her mother, however, I
am totally FREAKING OUT.  Because, I
mean, I do know about all things she
doesn’t, like the oral sex in the bathroom and how kids smuggle liquor into
parties in their backpacks.  I know about
the damage that all of those selfie-comments can do to her self-esteem, and I
know about the hackers who will steal your selfies right off of your phones and
post them on internet porn sites.  (I
read about this, FYI, in Teen Vogue, which I read for the same reason I follow
my friends’ kids on Instagram. You’d be amazed at the things you didn’t know
were going on in the world.) 

But
the sad truth is that she’ll find all of this out eventually.  Probably next year, when all of those fast
kids who have already spent a year in middle school teach her everything
they’ve picked up.  

So as we brace for middle
school to begin next year, I keep thinking about how wonderful this sweet, Instagram-less,
selfie-free, no mean-girls last year of elementary school is.  And I remind myself to savor every last
moment.

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