Most people only do middle school once. I’m sitting happily in year 15. I spent three years of my young life as an adolescent middle school student and eventually walked into a career that would keep me in that world forever. Teaching middle school keeps me in the constant awareness that out of all ages, this is the one right here. Out of all the humans we have walking around this earth, middle school aged ones are the cream of the crop.
Middle schoolers are people who haven’t yet decided on what kind of kid or person they will be. They are honest about how they feel, but still open to the idea they might feel differently by tomorrow. They are brilliant and not yet compromised by the world around them. Their wheels are spinning, but they still haven’t landed on all their decisions yet. It is the most honest version of development we have.
I get to witness and walk in it every day.
But there is a tricky space between teacher and parent, and I find myself wanting to say things that really should come from home and not me.
Even though it’s been over 25 years since I walked the hallways in their shoes, this middle school thing? It is exactly the same. So if you are looking for the things a middle school girl should hear, from home, here are the seven I wish you would start with.
Take the word “just” out of everything.
There is no such thing as “ just” when you are in middle school.
It’s “just” middle school drama.
It’s “just” hormones.
Those are lies. It is drama and it is hormones and both of those things are unfair. The tears, the constant thinking, the real heartsick pain you feel: you are imagining nothing. It is all real. Adults have even made up real-life words for those things and are making bank off of them. Look up relational aggression the next time an adult tells you it’s “just middle school drama.” You are allowed to feel, think, cry, and work through these very real emotions. All of this type of work is going to serve you for much longer than you think.
Your Queen Bee is scared.
I know she seems powerful. But listen so carefully to this fact that will prove truthful for the rest of your entire life: Behind all that natural know-how and power is a frightened and fragile spirit. There are things going on in her mind you have no idea about. Be kind to her. However. Take a second to count how many there are of her and how many there are of you. How many buzzing bees feed into her royalty? Hear this advice and hold it so carefully in your hands because it is potentially explosive.
You could overthrow her by lunch. That power that feels so big? You created it, which means you can take it away. Do not confuse this advice with being mean, starting drama, or going to war. However, a little reminder of where her power was created may be worth remembering and possibly even mentioning. Think about who gets to be your boss and understand fully—you bow to no one.
You are crazy amazing.
If you are not telling your middle school daughter what a heroine she is, start now. These adolescent ladies can hold a mask in front of their face like no one else. They appear fine but on the inside, they are questioning everything about themselves. They want to make everyone happy with who they appear to be. They will ultimately conform to whatever they think that looks like for you. I am here to tell you they literally have no concept of what a natural luminary they are without the conforming. Hormones are unfair, so they have to hear this on the days they are monsters too.
Save the jean jacket.
One of the greatest things in life is a broken-in, weathered, middle school jean jacket. That baby will keep you and hold you, so for the love of God don’t get rid of it. For every breakup and make out, that denim will catch your adolescent tears while keeping you as cute as the day is long. When you grow up, drive right past that Goodwill store and look the other way. Let no one take that precious cargo. You will need that jacket forever.
Get your hand in the air and ask the questions. I know you’re timid and scared but you would do everyone else in the room a favor if you would get your hand up. The questions in your head? Everyone else in the room wants the answers too. Get the attention of the adults in the room and ask. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what page number you should be on or if you’re wondering about the big stuff. Advocating for yourself is a skill you will need for your whole life sweet sister. Be the girl who asks the questions.
Sit in the sunny stuff.
Before you get to the fire and rain that life ultimately insists on, it is everyone’s hope you will experience the same kind of sunny days James Taylor didn’t think would end. Sit in that sunny stuff. As serious as things feel right now, it starts getting heavier. You get to be your very own version of a kid right now. Screw the stress over the advanced placement whatever-class and stop thinking about what comes next. The worry carries no worth. Instead, make fun of how awkward you are. Embrace, play, and fart in front of your friends. Bring silly joy to this group of people around you. Soak them up. Laugh at the pimply boy’s jokes and humor him when he shows you the flashy cars he will drive one day. Don’t roll your eyes when the ridiculous kid-ness shows up in the people you get to do this with.
There is a hard, most awful, and unfair part to all of this. One day, the sunny stuff starts to shift and it makes room for things you will still be too young for. You will have to walk through them anyway. It is possible that the pimply boy, who still sits next to you forever in every yearbook, will grow up and drive one of those dream cars too fast one day, and be the first one to really go. It will make you feel everything, forever. You will look back and hope that you laughed so hard and entertained every single one of his dumb car pictures and jokes. You will hope that nothing was too important other than sitting in that sunny stuff for longer than you had time for.
These people don’t leave.
Like it or not, middle school has its own version of forever. Be kind, be kind, and keep being so kind. Forgive them when they are not because you will need the same forgiveness. Each of you will have days to be awful versions of yourselves. Hormones require it.
But hear this.
You and these people will grow up, move away, and likely marry outside of the group. You may not speak to each other through high school. Or college. Or thereafter. You may go 10 plus years without seeing them. But they show back up. And so will you. One of them is likely to be the photographer at your wedding. Mr. Personality will sell you a house while Mrs. A+ Trig will set up your mortgage.
It doesn’t matter if you fought in the girls’ locker room, shared too much time in the counselor’s office, or if she blamed you for sneaking that Judy Blume book out of the library . . . and stuffing your bra. You will show back up for each other in the weirdest of ways. It will be because you did middle school together that you will be forced into a level of respect and cherishing that sits. It stays forever in its own little space.
The people who witness and walk next to you during adolescent survival get a door that will always stay half-open.
Remember to give it to them when they need it.