They arrive in their black and white, masquerade masks, bear and unicorn heads, short dresses over leggings, sweatshirts, ties over dress shirts, middle school dance anxieties.
I stand behind the food table and the bowls of candy, Doritos, Kettle chips, donut holes and yogurt-covered pretzels with my mama friend whose boy is in 6th grade and friends with my girl.
Soon, the room fills with many we’ve known since kindergarten, and as the kids approach the table, we scoop out food with plastic-gloved hands, make small talk with them. In between groups, we laugh and talk about what it’s like to be a kid and parent during these (pre-) adolescent days.
Throughout the night, my daughter doesn’t approach the table.
First, boys and girls line up as if a wall’s been built between the two cafeteria tables. The boys nearly topple one, girls the other. Then lights go down, and fast dance moves and personalities fill the sticky room, punctuated by colored balls of light.
When “I Love Rock N’ Roll” plays from the speakers, I’m back in Bolton Middle School’s gym with my dancing clump of friends, and the memories rush with those awkward slow songs — my palm laid across his sweaty back, his palm at my waist.
This night, throughout the gym-cafeteria, kids move in herds. I struggle to catch glimpses of Sici. When the boy with the huge stuffed bear head comes near, I see her pod of friends squeal and run.
An hour or so into the dance, the center of the floor clears, covered by melting ice that’s been snuck from coolers of water and fruit juice. Some kids try to avoid it, others intentionally slide across the water and candy wrapper mess like skaters, legs and arms unsteady.
They’re all a bit unsteady.
I often tell Sici that one of the things nobody tells you at this age is that, though you’ll have times of feeling other, weird and like the only one, the truth is you are not alone. Mostly, you’re all feeling these same confused things, but everyone is so vulnerable in their changing skin they won’t say so.
As the dance nears its end, I leave my snack table post and talk with parents in the hallway.
“My daughter found my face in the midst of the crowd and motioned me to get out of the gym,” one mother says. “I thought I could just stand in the corner and blend in with my black jacket, but she spotted me across the room and went like this,” she says, cutting her hand through the air and pushing it to the side.
Her mouth turns down at the corners before she forms a quick smile.
“My daughter hates me,” another mama friend tells me. “I know it’s age-appropriate, but oh…” she says. “At least you have little ones who still want to be with you — mommy, mommy — but I don’t. Those days are over.”
I want to cry, but we hug instead probably so we won’t feel alone, trying to be strong as the music winds down.
Yeah, I think we’re all skating across the wet floor, trying to figure this out, wondering if we’re the only ones. Even though our heads know this is normal and developmentally appropriate, we’re hoping ours won’t reject us, that our hearts won’t take it personally when they take their space. We’re trying to remain open to new ways of moving, staying in it while giving room.
After the dance, my girl lets me hug her in the hallway, untie masquerade eyes. She asks for a fried egg, shares pieces of her heart.
Later at home, she tells me about a friend who’s being left out of the inner circle, wonders how she can bring her in.
We talk in whispers as her sisters try to sleep across the hall. And I watch my 11 1/2-year-old keep a steady gaze on herself in the mirror, remove her bun and let her hair fall loose and long around slender shoulders.
This is a tender time of development in the life of my oldest girl, and so I won’t be sharing many stories like this. It is always my intention to never write anything that would cause my children embarrassment. As Sici grows older, I especially want to acknowledge her need for privacy and her own process. I did ask for and received her permission to publish this piece.
This is Day 26 of Right Here. Throughout October, I’m joining with a community of bloggers (linking up with The Nester) — all of whom are writing each day of the month about a topic of their choosing. To find all posts in 31 Days of Right Here, click here, or see the listing below.
To continue receiving these daily words, subscribe to this blog on the sidebar at left, click here to Like Draw Near on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @AshleyMLarkin. I am immensely grateful to share the journey with you.
POSTS IN THE SERIES
An introduction: Welcome to 31 Days of Right Here
Day 1: For You, Too
Day 2: Fear’s Invitation
Day 3: My Portion
Day 4: Five Minute Friday: Write
Day 5: Rise and Shine
Day 6: My Joys Mount As Do the Birds
Day 7: A Mother’s Fierce Love
Day 8: When Life’s A Mad Rush – How To Slow Time
Day 9: The Fight For Right Here Told Through Two Tales of Epic Whining (Part I)
Day 10: The Fight For Right Here Told Through Two Tales of Epic Whining (Part II)
Day 11: Five Minute Friday: Ordinary
Day 12: When Right Here’s A Mess
Day 13: O God, We Thank You
Day 14: The Date That Almost Wasn’t
Day 15: One Thing That Makes Us Human
Day 16: That We Might See And Remember
Day 17: In Which I Hit A Wall
Day 18: Five Minute Friday: Laundry
Day 19: When You Can’t Hold All The Moments
Day 20: Let Me Walk In Beauty
Day 21: Tend This Seed
Day 22: Just One More Click Away
Day 23: A Reset
Day 24: What We Hold
Day 25: Five Minute Friday: Together
Day 26: The Middle School Dance
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I just wrote about my third child in a piece about puberty on my blog. I read it to him and he was okay with it, though he shook his head a couple times, probably because I used a bad word at one point. My third child though, is the least sensitive of all three of them about these things, he’s pretty seasoned. That doesn’t mean I can say whatever I want, he’s still an adolescent and he still deserves privacy. It’s a dilemma for me because I love writing about my kids. The good news is, as they’ve gotten older, they don’t seem to care that I write about them, and it seems to please them that I write, though if I ask them if they read my blog, they usually say they haven’t. They’re too busy doing age-appropriate things I guess to bother with my boring old blog!
Haha! I can relate to the privacy dilemma, Chris. It feels different when I share about myself. With them, yeah — I want to take their feelings/development/tender spaces into account. I’m sure this will morph over the years. Figuring this out as I go — that’s for sure.
oh man. precious moments. sici is so loved by you. what a great girl she is. beautiful girl. beautiful mama.
Thanks, buddy. She is great.
Bless you sweet mamas! This part of the journey is especially bumpy, but God will see you through. Hold on tight to Him!
Makes my heart hurt, but it is good. How else can these kids grow up into amazing adults? :-)
They really need you more during this years, all the while they’re pushing away to gain their independence. Love the way this ended. :)
Isn’t that the irony of it, Elizabeth? I keep reminding myself of that. Years of working with middle schoolers, but it’s so different when they’re you’re own.
I love this glimpse into life with your girl and I also very much respect how you value that relationship above a good blog story. She does need you and it may be harder to figure out exactly what that is supposed to look like in the years to come…has been the hardest thing for me to determine as mine have grown older, especially my girl, when to be mom, friend, or wallflower…
Yes, discernment. And it might look different day to day, moment to moment, child to child. It’s not an equation to solve; more like art to live, probably. Thank you for your thoughts, Dea.
It makes me cry to think about how quickly our kids grow up…this was beautiful Ashley, & you are a great Mama!
As always, reading your work is a special moment in my day. Thanks.
Oh, thank you, friend. Makes me cry, too.
Such a change, isn’t it? A little hard for me to wrap my head around you and Sici already being in this phase of life. Well shared, made me feel a part of your experience. Getting the rumblings of this phase with Josiah, too. I, too, loved how the piece ended.
Bless you in the rumblings, the eruptions and all the places in between. Peace and wisdom be with you.
I’m right here with you, Ashley, with nods and tears. I take great comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in whatever is to come with my now 11 1/2-year-old (who happens to be in her bed trying to sleep off her tummy ache right now).
You always touch me with your heart and words.
Sending so much love your sweet way,
Thank you, Julia. Always good to know I’m not alone. Wish we could parent our 11 1/2 year olds closer to one another, but I take great comfort in imagining your nods and tears with mine. Love you.
This was so tenderly, sensitively told, and so deeply heard. How I wish I’d known as a girl growing what Sici is reminded of so often – I’m so deeply grateful that your girls will each know it, beginning with your wise beyond years Sici – with her long hair tumbling over slender shoulders. Just beautiful.
Thank you, Mama. Your words touch me deeply.