Lessons Learned in the First Week of Middle School

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My oldest started Middle School last week. The public middle school he attends did a nice job transitioning the 6th graders into middle school. Starting with a 5th grade class field trip to the middle school last spring, progressing to a tour of the school during summer and a Welcome Luau the Friday before school started, and finishing with a 6th graders first week of school being “camp,” the school helped the 6th graders feel confident walking onto campus as part of the school community and not simply as the new kids on campus.

My son had a great first week of school. “Middle school is so much better than elementary school.” “Middle school is a lot of fun.” “My teachers are cool.” I was enjoying having a middle schooler. I liked that he liked school even though I knew his first week was “camp” and school-school was still to come. I liked that he had matured enough to have a bit more independence. I got excited for him, and the fun he would have. Then, our first Friday night …

The school hosted a movie night for the 6th graders. About an hour after my husband dropped off my son at the school with a few of his friends to watch the movie, I got a phone call from my son (using a friend’s cell phone because I am a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mom who won’t let him have a cell phone, making him the only kid in the whole school without one!) “Would you come to pick me up?,” asked my outgoing, social, never-wants-to-leave a party son. What?! Why? What’s wrong? Nothing was wrong. The movie was boring and his friends had left. His friend’s dad had come and got his friends, but the school wouldn’t let him leave with them. My husband headed over to pick up my son.

Ten minutes later, I got another call from my son (this time on my husband’s cell phone because, again, in case you have already forgotten, I am a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mom who won’t let him have a a cell phone, making him the only kid in the whole school without one!) “Dad won’t let me stay!,” he said. What?! You just called and asked us to pick you up! “No, I just needed you to get me out of the movie so I could leave and go hang out with my friends,” he explained.

UGGH! Seriously?! That is not what you said when you called. Had you said that, we would not have come to get you, which is probably why you didn’t say it. No, you cannot go hang out with your friends. You asked us to come to get you, so you can either come home or go back into the movie as was the plan for tonight. After the usual arguing of “but you said,” “I did tell you,” “why not?,” “that’s not fair,” and “please, pleeeease” rigmarole, my son chose to come home (primarily because my husband told him if he didn’t either come home or go back into the movie, the plans to have a friend sleep over the next night would be cancelled.)

That was not the Friday night I envisioned. My husband was frustrated. My son was frustrated.

To tell you the truth, I was happy. I was happy that this happened, especially that it happened early into our middle school experience. I was happy because this was an opportunity. My husband and I got to use this situation as a teaching opportunity – yes, we too read Parenting with Love and Logic (well, I read it and told my husband the things he needed to know.)

We taught my son that we mean what we say. When we say he needs to stick to the plans he gives us, we mean he needs to stick to the plans he gives us. When he wants to change his plans part way through, he needs to check in with us first.

We taught him that he too needs to mean what he says. If he asks us to come to pick him up, then we will go to pick him up. If he means he wants us to come to sign him out so he can go to hang out with his friends somewhere else, then that is what he needs to say.  (Though he is probably correct in his suspicion that we wouldn’t let him do so.)

We didn’t do this teaching as well as we’d have liked. We either yelled or raised our voices, depending on whether you are talking to my son or me. We allowed the arguing from my son to continue way too long by engaging in it. We threatened him with the loss of the the next’s night sleep-over more than once (yes, I know, threats, especially repeated threats, are not an approved Love and Logic method.) We did not do this teaching well at all … this time. We had the right idea though, and we are absolutely sure we will get many more opportunities to practice.

In the end, maybe I wasn’t so much happy because it was a teaching opportunity for my husband and me, or even because it was a learning opportunity for my son. Maybe I was happy because it was a learning opportunity for my husband and me.

Here’s to middle school! Here’s to many more years of teaching and learning opportunities! Here’s to my awesome first-born who, for better or for worse, is the one who has to teach his parents how to parent!

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First day of Middle School 2015
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How was your summer? Are you ready for school to start?

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As we head toward our first day back at school on Tuesday, everyone we see asks, “How was your summer?  Are you ready for school to start?”  My answer is always, “We had a great summer, but it went way too fast!  I don’t want school to start; I am not ready to leave summer!”  I am telling the truth, sort of.  I don’t want school to start.  I do feel summer went too fast.  We did have a lot of fun experiences.  The whole truth, however, is hidden in what I don’t say.

The words I say (and the way I say them) might give the listener the impression that I am a great mother, a mother who not only loves her children, but loves being with them!  A mother who has it all together, who planned and coordinated such a wonderful summer that she doesn’t want the party to end.

To tell you the truth, the reason I don’t want summer to end is because I need more time to get our summer “right.”

Back in spring, I had an image of how the summer with my three boys would be.  I would limit each of them to two weeks of camp so that we would would have lots of weeks to do . . .  oh, who knows what.  We would have lazy days, where we would stay in our pajamas for as long as we want.  We would go on adventures, day trips to the beach, the museum, the cool playground where they can build things with real wood and nails.  We would take walks around the neighborhood after dinner, maybe walk downtown to get a treat.  We would have fun, and most importantly, we would have that fun together, enjoying each others company.

Our summer did not look like that.  The 11- and 10-year old sons fought every single day about something.  The six-year old son entered a phase where he’d scream anytime he wasn’t happy about a situation.  All three boys got up early every morning and tried to sneak in some screen time on TV or iPads, so each day started out with me yelling at telling them to turn off the TV or get off the iPad – “We’re not going to spend the summer in front of a screen!

On top of all that, we were too busy.  One son had tutoring sessions several times a week.  I spent way too many hours working in a volunteer role I’d taken on for our school district. We didn’t have enough time to do nothing.

And so, I am not ready for school to start.  Not because I am a great mom, but rather, because I am an imperfect mom who had a summer dream that she didn’t make real.  I am not ready for summer to end because I believe, if only I had a few more weeks, I could salvage that dream and make our summer what I wanted it to be.

Despite my fighting it tooth and nail, however, summer is ending.  Ready or not, school is starting on Tuesday.  I can only embrace the return of the structure of the school day, week, trimester, and year, and I will look toward next summer. Next summer, I will get it right!

First day of school 2014
First day of school 2014