On Middle School and Happiness

As Chloe’s middle school graduation approaches, I feel a bit unmoored and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

For every positive thought I have when I think about the milestone – pride, relief, happiness, excitement for Chloe’s future – I have an equal and opposite reaction, and those reactions all essentially revolve around the overwhelming fact that in three short months, my 14-year old will be a freshman in HIGH SCHOOL. Setting aside the fact that this makes me feel old, it primarily makes me nervous, but not for the reasons you might think.

I don’t worry about Chloe per se. She’s her own person. She has no problem saying no. She’s vocal and fights for the underdog. She treats other people with kindness. She knows right from wrong. She willingly communicates with us, at least for now. She’s trustworthy and responsible.

If you had asked me to describe Chloe three years ago when she was on the cusp of her elementary school moving-up ceremony, I would have likely used words like intense, independent, serious, creative, confident and stubborn. Today, as I write this post on the eve of her middle school graduation, happy is the first word that comes to mind.

That’s not to say Chloe doesn’t embody all of those other character traits. She does. But damn if she isn’t one of the happiest teenagers I know. Which both astounds me and frightens me.

Chloe 6th Grade
6th Grade Chloe

If there’s one thing parenting has taught me is that it’s best to accept the fact that you cannot truly control your kids’ lives, especially as they get older. You won’t always be able to protect them from bad people or bad experiences (or themselves). Nor should you try. They need to learn to persevere and work through difficult times. They will inevitably have brief moments or interminable weeks of sadness, grief, pain, frustration or anger. And as challenging as those chapters of their lives may be, your role as a parent is to guide your kids and help them turn the pages until they either embark on a better chapter or reach for a new story altogether.

Chloe was intimately familiar with those difficult emotions as an elementary school student. For a couple of years, she had few friends and was unwilling, if not unable, to initiate new relationships. More so than usual, she buried herself in her books. Even though she camouflaged her unhappiness well – she had always been independent, after all – it was heartbreaking to see her struggle with her loneliness.

But then middle school happened and seemingly overnight, Chloe’s social universe expanded exponentially. Her friends are generous and fun, loyal and caring.  Her social life has evolved into an increasingly complex Venn diagram – she flutters among the intersecting circles with ease. The variety and depth of her friendships will provide comfort and security as she enters the tumultuous seas of high school.

8th Grade Chloe

As excited as I am for Chloe as she begins this new adventure, I am also nervous.  Anxious that high school won’t live up to the promise she thinks it holds. Anxious that she’ll experience romantic heartache for the first time. Anxious that some of her friendships will fray. Anxious that her intellectual curiosity might lead her to try things – all in the name of experimentation – that I’m not ready for her to try. Anxious that the college application process will overwhelm her. Anxious she’ll retreat into her teenage mind and stop talking to us.

Most of all, however, I’m afraid that once Chloe’s in high school happy will no longer be the first word that comes to mind when I’m asked to describe her. That would be a shame.

Despite all the highs and notorious lows of the early teenage years, middle school was an unexpectedly positive experience for Chloe, which gives me hope that high school might very well surprise me, too.  Enduring happiness is elusive, which is why I want my girls to embrace it whenever it comes along. Because at the end of the day, if your children are genuinely happy, isn’t that one of the greatest gifts that we, as parents, can receive?









2 thoughts on “On Middle School and Happiness”

  1. Being able to move within different circles and have a wide variety of friends should give you confidence that she will be better able to make the transition to high school. Its a quality that I sometimes wish out teenager had more of.

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