Whenever I get the privilege to tell someone that I am a teacher, the next question that is sure to follow is: "Oh! What grade?" which is followed by a bright smile that lights their eyes. As soon as the reply leaves my lips, "6th grade," their smile freezes and slowly droops to a concerned frown, and the twinkle in their eyes transforms into a look of pity and sympathy as if I had just said I have a terminal disease. Then their struggle to think of what to say next gives way to somethg like-
You are braver than me, I couldn't do that, or
oh my. . ., or
well bless your heart.
I must admit that anyone who chooses to spend so much time with middle schoolers has to be a little . . . um, special. I guess that I am a lot special because I have been in 6th grade for almost 15 years now, and I have to say working with those guys can be quite unique to say the least. These 11 to 14 year olds are now referred to as "tweens" which sounds slightly alien to me. This alien-ness is rightly so because these humans are in a sort of twilight zone part of life, not yet teens but desperate to not be children either.
I have learned so much about tween-agers during my time in middle school, some of it amazing, some frightening, and some absolutely puzzling. With my oldest child on the brink of middle school and showing some definite signs of morphing into a middle school alien, I have been reflecting on what I know about these quasi humans.
In short, when kids reach this age, it truly seems as if another being has taken over their body and mind. What once was a sweet, little boy, who loved to snuggle with mom, turns into an odd smelling stranger who speaks another language and becomes physically attached to a set of ear buds and a game controller. The cute little girl, who you dressed in cutesy outfits with matching bows, now communicates primarily through grunts, sighs, eye rolling and exasperated expressions, and is happy only when she is texting a friend. It seems almost as if all logical brain function ceases and gives way to bizarre thought processes and ideas.
I realize there is a scientific/medical explanation for all of this – HORMONES – but that doesn’t change the fact that tweens are consistently inconsistent, and can drive their parents and care givers to the brink of insanity. Whoever you think you know your child is, he/she will become strange and different at this age. Their peers become key players in their lives, and they themselves are the center of the universe. This is the age to try on different identities, so you may see your child dressed as a glitzy pop star one day, and in cowboy boots and flannel the next. Life as a tween is an emotional roller coaster, going from the highest high one moment, to the lowest low the next with seemingly meaningless instigation for the change.
Tween-agers say and do things that make their parents speechless because they never thought their child would do something like that. They push their parents to want to hug them tight and protect them one moment, and then squeeze the breath out of them the next. They can force a parent who has ALWAYS stuck to “We don’t say those words in our house,” to want to scream profanity at the top of their lungs (and sometimes follow through). It is all or nothing, feast or famine with this age group. They can have loved something yesterday, but hate it today. The never ending contradictions can be maddening. I have often thought that the idea of a boarding school somewhere far away from me would be the ideal fix for this age, but then they do or say something so genuinely thoughtful that gives you brief glimpse of the person they will become. That’s all it takes to string along a parent’s (or teacher’s) hope that just maybe something they are doing is making a difference. This is why I endure the madness of middle school; it’s like working with a diamond in the rough, dreaming about the beautiful gem it will be one day. And well, to be honest, I probably do it because I’m a little crazy too.