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.


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