Middle school was not one of the highlights of my childhood. It was when I was the last of my gal pals to start wearing a bra. It was when the teachers compared me to my genius older brother. It was when I quit playing the drums because the boys made fun of me for being a tomboy. It was when the mean girls omitted me from their Bat Mitzvah invites and the cheerleaders threw gum in my hair on the bus.
I thought that hormonal middle school angst was buried and gone. Even on my son's first day of middle school last month, I was as cool as the cool kid I wasn't when I watched him walk down the street with his buddies, staying behind because he banned me from the bus stop. It wasn't until I spent nearly two hours navigating my way through a mock school day at the back-to-school night a few weeks later that the true junior high anxiety came back to haunt me.
Even though the purpose of the event was to allow parents to meet our children's teachers and check out their classrooms, I think it also succeeded in nudging those middle school memories so we can fully empathize with our tweens' daily struggles. What tween-age anxieties bubbled up for me the night I relived middle school? It started before I even left my house.
1) What should I wear?
Should I wear a dress? No, that's too dressy. And I'm not a dress person. Wow, I'm still a tomboy. I can't wear shorts. That's not dressy enough. And sadly, none of my shorts are long enough to pass the school's dress code. Does that make me a bad role model? I wish I could wear yoga pants. What about capris? Yes, capris work. But not the red ones. I don't want to stand out. Now what top? Why didn't I plan my outfit earlier?
2) Cheerleaders scare me.
When I walked into the massive building wearing white capris and a black top, I was greeted by a hallway lined with perky cheerleaders waving pom poms. Yes, I had school spirit! Yes, I would join the PTA! Yes, it's going to be the best year ever! They smiled with their pretty bows on top of their heads, and as I reached the end of their spirit tunnel, I wiped sweat from my forehead, relieved to be out of gum-throwing range.
3) I'm sitting alone. People will think I have no friends!
As I sat in the auditorium waiting for the principal to make his speech and dismiss us to our first class, I desperately searched for a familiar face in the crowd. The moms next to me giggled when they saw each other and then compared complaints about swim team practice schedules. I debated whether or not to invade their inner circle and introduce myself, but then I spotted the parents of one of my son's friends. I was about to join them when the principal tapped the microphone. It was too late to move, and my wave went unnoticed. I can't be the only single mom sitting alone with no friends, can I?
4) The school is a maze, and my schedule makes no sense.
Once dismissed, I attempted to analyze the schedule my son had given me, trying not to bump into other parents who were also head-down. Electives, Block 1A, Block 5B? How am I supposed to get from room 126 to the gym in 4 minutes? Wait, where is the gym? Are 6th grade lockers on this hall? Good thing I'm not that mom who just walked in tardy to tech ed. Oh no, the classroom numbers are going up, not down! I'm going the wrong way! Now I'm the tardy mom in pre-algebra. Hey, there's that mom I know! Bummer, we're not in the same class. When is the bell going to ring?
5) Will I like the teachers? Will the teachers like me?
I'm meeting 6 teachers. They all have different rules, teaching strategies, personalities and levels of strictness. Should I raise my hand and ask a question? I don't want to be that mom who's talking every teacher's ear off, despite the principal's reminder that this night wasn't for personal conferences. I want to be memorable for being an attentive parent, not memorable for hovering.
6) How am I going to get it all done?
Listening to the teachers' summaries of my son's workload in each subject made my brain hurt. How was I going to make sure he was staying on top of his work and help him with homework I didn't know the answers to? Not to mention completing my own daily homework of checking his planner, the school website and the homework emails (that I had yet to sign up for, making me behind on my mom homework).
7) How quickly can I get to my room and shut the door?
By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was hide in my room with a glass of wine and mindless television. As Netflix eased my middle school anxiety I understood my son's after-school selective hearing and Minecraft marathons. And I vowed to cut him a little slack as I thanked my lucky stars I didn't have to do this all over again tomorrow.