￼Dear Middle School,
I know you. I’ve been you. I’ve walked your halls. I’ve taught in your classrooms. I’ve graded your dog-chewed homework. I know your smells of too-fruity perfume and not-yet-discovered deodorant. I’ve seen your slow dance: awkward, gawky, spinning. Just like you. Arms out, braced against the weight of everything you don’t know, everything you want to know.
I’ve watched you watch that one girl. The one with the perfect everything. The perfect nose, the perfect laugh. And that other girl. The loud one. The sad one. The annoying one always answering, answering, answering because knowing things is all she has.
I know the boys. The sport. The bully. The pudgy one, all pimples and jiggle belly and glasses sliding down, chubby middle finger pushing them up again and up again. Why the middle finger? Doesn’t he know? And the funny boy. So funny, so indifferent, so secretly and deeply unsure.
I’ve seen the new kids. New to this town from places that are bigger, warmer, shinier. New from places that are worse. Forsaken places, half a world from here with refugee camps and wars fought by stolen children. Girls in sequined hijab and long skirts with bold patterns. Boys with velvety smiling eyes.
I’ve been to your cafeteria with its noisy chatter rising and rising. With its caste system. No, you can’t sit here. Don’t try. Yes, sit with us. Yes, you belong here. Thoughtful lunches in neat containers pulled from cooler bags hiding secret sticky-note I Love You’s. Free lunches on clattering trays, free breakfast, every meal here at school and summers hungrier.
I know you’re vulnerable. I know you’re strong. I’ve watched your athleticism untangle itself, your wit find laughter, your voice fill space. I know this in-between place. These years that build you, break you, define you, defy you.
I wanted to say something to you, Middle School. I wanted to say something to my daughter as she enters 6th grade. I wanted to say something so true and complete that it would usher her through these years unscathed, unfazed. Only, I don’t know what that would be. I can’t find those words. I don’t have that magic. But I do know this much:
- Whining will get you nothing good. Work hard. Try again. No whining.
- Find something you love and practice it every day. Writing, math, music, skating, drawing, building, telling jokes. Return to it when you feel unsure about who you are. Which you will.
- When someone is mean to you, it’s because they feel badly about themselves. From now until forever, this will always be true.
- Your starry soul, your powerful mind – these things are housed in your body. You will be repeatedly sold the lucrative idea that your body is not good enough. Yes it is. Listen to me: YES IT IS. It’s a revolutionary act of rebellion to love your body and to love yourself. Be a rebel.
- Physical activity is really, really important for your mental health. Be active.
- Believe in something good. Stand up for it. Stand up for yourself.
- Participate in the educating of you. Understand how you learn. Ask for help. Be eternally curious.
- The only way out is through.
- Music will help get you through. Laughing will help. Friends will help. Gossip won’t help.
- Everyone is special and no one is special. Have empathy, feel love.
And finally, this: Remember me. Remember my face. If you hurt my girl, forget everything I just said, I’ll be waiting for you on the playground after school.