What I Learned in Middle School at 42

Flashback to fall, 1984:  Benetton sweaters, braces, big hair and even bigger EG socks.  I was twelve and in the seventh grade.  It was my first year of junior high (we didn’t call it middle school).  All the usual pre-teen insecurities and anxieties were multiplied because my school was actually a junior/senior high school, with grades 7-12 together in one building.  Twelve-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds milling about in the hallways … probably not the best idea, for so many reasons.

Fast forward to last week, 2014:  No Benetton sweater, no braces (although if I had worn my retainer as I was supposed to back then, my teeth would be straighter now.  Lesson learned, Dr. Seewald!), no big hair (at least not 1980s Long Island big) and no big-assed socks the near-size of leg warmers.  I am 42 and back in sixth grade, the first year of middle school.

Why?  Because last week was Take Your Parent to Middle School Day.  This visitation day is supposed to give us parents a glimpse into the daily life of our middle schoolers, to better understand what they are learning and see how they are adjusting to their new environment and responsibilities.  In theory, it’s a good idea, but I wasn’t totally sold on it.  Sit still all day and not fall asleep?  Pay attention and not chat with friends?  Get permission to use the bathroom?  This was going to be a challenge for me.  But I was curious.  Besides, I couldn’t come up with a good excuse fast enough not to go (not wanting to miss boot camp didn’t fly with my 6th grader), so I went.

I made a few observations during my 7-hour stint in school:

  1. The school is like a mouse maze … virtually windowless with many, many hallways.   It’s a bit depressing, actually.
  2. The size range of pubescent boys and girls is comical en masse.
  3. It’s pretty easy to pick out the sixth graders from the seventh and eighth … the sixth graders are the ones scurrying through the halls with huge piles of books in their arms, struggling to see over or around them.
  4. Two months in and cliques have already formed … as evident from the cafeteria seating arrangements.
  5. Locker organization is a skill that my son clearly does not have … and from what I could see, neither do most of the other 11- and 12-year-old boys in his grade.
  6. Parent visiting day is like reality TV, with teachers and students putting on a show.  This was not a typical middle school day, I’m sure.

The windowless building is more like a mouse maze than a middle school.

In addition to learning how the school day is structured, my adult middle school experience reinforced a few previously held notions about myself …

  1. I am not cut out to be a student again.  It’s a l-o-n-g day, the chairs are uncomfortable and I zoned out more times than I’d like to admit.
  2. I do not like crowds.  This disdain only grows with age and the chaotic hallways made me tense.
  3. I pee a lot.  On the bright side, I now know where every bathroom in the middle school is located.
  4. I am often tardy.  Four minutes between classes isn’t enough time when you need to pee after each class, or when you stop to talk with friends.
  5. I get anxious in unknown social settings.  Walking into the cafeteria alone immediately brought me back to the first day of junior high again … Where was I going to sit?  Did I have any friends in here?  Are people looking at me?  Thankfully, my son “allowed” me to join him and his friends … but only because another mom was already sitting at the table (thanks, Jen!).
  6. I am glad I’m not still in middle school.

All in all, I’m happy I went.  But I’m even happier that I don’t have to go back again tomorrow.

6th grade

6th grade buddies.


The Dog Ate Your Homework? Lame. I Can Do One Better Than That …

We don’t have a dog so the old excuse, “The dog ate my homework!” isn’t an option for my kids.  But that’s okay because my youngest found an even better excuse … “My mom burned my homework!”

Yep, it’s true.  A few weeks ago, I burned my third grader’s math folder and spelling workbook.  Not on purpose, of course.  Actually, I think it was really his fault.  Yes, I realize I am throwing my 8-year-old under the bus here, but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

Adding "Fire Chief" to my job description

Adding “Fire Chief” to my job description

Here’s the scenario:  I was at the stove cooking dinner while simultaneously supervising my kids’ homefun — that’s the elementary school’s weak attempt at renaming homework so it sounds more appealing.  [Note to school:  The kids aren’t buying it.  It’s still homework.]  My 8-year-old had been doing his assignments on the kitchen counter across from the stove, but left to use the computer in the study.  While my back was turned, he came back in to the kitchen to grab something out of his binder and carelessly (or inadvertently, depending on how you spin it) knocked his math folder and spelling workbook off the counter and onto the stove.  Directly onto a pot of boiling water.  He didn’t notice, so he went back to the study.  Soon enough, the school books caught fire and flames were rising up.  I was able to retrieve the burning books and put out the fire, but I couldn’t stop the smoldering without dousing the workbook with water, thus rendering Mega Words both charred and moist.  As for the math folder, it was plastic — was being the operative word — so it melted.

Post-fire math folder.

Fire-1, Math-0

Did I yell?  Did I lecture?  Did I overreact?  Of course I did.  It’s what I do best.  Then I did what I do second best … I calmed down and I retracted most of what I had just screamed about.  After the smoked had literally settled, I was able to see the bigger picture … It could have been worse.  Much worse.  No one got hurt, no damage was done (except to the school books) and dinner wasn’t even ruined.  Crisis averted.  Lesson learned:  No more homework on the kitchen counter while cooking dinner.

A few days later, I went out and bought a desk for the kitchen/family room.  Problem solved.


New fire-proof homework area


Real Boys Wear Pink

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … I do not dress my kids unless formal wear is required.  So when school picture day came around earlier this week, I let my 8-year-old choose his own outfit.  My only request was that the clothes be clean and neat-looking.  He selected a light pink golf shirt, camouflage shorts and darker pink socks.  Neat.  Clean.  Done.

picture day 3gd

3rd grade picture day, 2014.

While I didn’t suggest this combination, his selection wasn’t completely without influence for three reasons:  (1) His older brother wore virtually the same outfit a few weeks ago for middle school pictures (monkey see, monkey do!); (2) He sees professional athletes, NFL players in particular, wearing pink (another case of monkey see, monkey do); and (3) He knows October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and he’s vowed to wear something pink every day in honor of his Aunt Virginia, Aunt Dwynne, cousin Eileen, Aunt Tricia and Aunt Deirdre.

Back on September 30, my little guy made his declaration:  “Mom, just so you know, starting tomorrow I’ll be wearing a lot of pink.  More than usual.”  He wasn’t joking.  It’s October 10 and he hasn’t missed a day yet.  If he’s not donning a pink shirt, pink socks or shorts with some bit of pink in them, he has a pink towel hanging out of his pants.  Not a dish towel or anything gross like that.  The kind football players use.  Actually, it’s a pink rally towel he got at a Philadelphia Eagles game a couple of seasons ago.  Best game day giveaway item ever … at least for a kid who loves both pink and football.  But back to the color issue.

pink pride 2014

Proud to wear pink, 2014.

pink power

Proud to wear pink, 2014.

My boys are not alone in their love of pink.  Everywhere I turn, there are boys (and men) dressed in pink.  In the 1970s, boys didn’t wear pink.  It was too girly.  In the ’80s, preppy boys wore pink sometimes, but it still wasn’t mainstream.  Men of the ’90s didn’t sport much pink as far as I can remember, but now pink is hot … thanks to the neon color trend (read my August post about it over on knobu.com), sports (professional and college football in particular, but also lacrosse), the American Cancer Society and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.  Boys everywhere have embraced pink, and October is when all the stops come out.  Pink power!

photo 3-75

I thought my kids were proud to wear pink!  Check out our friends who took “Pink Pride” to the next level … Go ahead, tell them pink is for girls.

The NFL may have its issues, but it’s support for and sponsorship of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has made pink cool in the eyes of little boys everywhere.  Cool and manly.  Both my boys’ football teams follow the NFL’s lead during October and add pink to their uniforms by way of pink socks and pink shoelaces.  My boys swap out their black mouth guards for pink ones during October as well, and in years past, they’ve also worn pink wristbands and added a pink stripe to their helmets.  Go pink or go home!

st.max pink jv

JV squad supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a touch of pink.

st.max pink flag

Flag team supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month with pink.

Yes, my boys (and most of their buddies and teammates) wear more pink during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I love that.  I love that they care enough to make the effort all month-long to show their support and solidarity for all those who’ve been affected by this disease.  But boys in pink — my boys and others — isn’t just a seasonal trend.  Boys wear pink year-round.  Happily.  By choice.  With pride.  In fact, each of my kids lists pink as one of their top 3 favorite colors.  When given a choice, they often choose pink for items such as sports bottles, athletic tape, slides and even iPods.  And they decidedly seek it out on the rare occasion they go clothes shopping with me (and by “shopping” I mean a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods or the merchandise tent at a lacrosse tournament).  Pink isn’t girly anymore.  Pink is now gender neutral, like red or black.

I’m proud to say my boys wear pink … and for the record, they eat quiche, too. (If you’re too young to get the reference, check out the similarly titled satirical book from the 1980s, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche).


Pretty (oops, I mean handsome) in pink, Easter 2014.


Side note:  The women mentioned at the beginning of this post are just a few of the strong, fearless, kick-ass survivors who motivate us with their fortitude and attitude.  Sadly, the list of friends and moms of friends/teammates is too long, but all of these brave women are an inspiration.  We wear pink for all of you.