My kid wore a dress to school yesterday. Her first of the year. Trying to pull my jaw off the floor, I calmly told her she looked great. And when she nonchalantly sauntered out of the house for the bus stop, I marveled.
What are these preteen years? These moody, goofy, identity altering, wonderful years?
Looking for an answer, I tried to remember my own experience in middle school. As most girls in 1991, I wore my earrings big and my bangs high. I was also overweight and was teased mercilessly about it by the boys in my grade. To the point where I would walk the long way around the circumference of the middle school halls instead of cutting through the library when the name callers were inside. Kids like Clint, Casey, Kevin, Kylie, and Scott.
I bet if you think about it, you can remember the names of the 12-year-old taunters in your school, too. Those were hard times, y’all.
But I also made some amazing friends during those years. A few of whom are lifelong. They reminded me that I was still a kid, that it didn’t all have to be so heavy. They were my defenders, my cheerleaders, and my sleepover sisters. When I felt most out of sorts, I could pass a note folded 10 ways to my best friend in chorus and she’d answer back within minutes with encouragement signed with a smiley face.
And then there was my mom. I still can’t gauge exactly what she thought of my moodiness, my emotional outbursts, my outfits, or my bangs, but she was constant. She didn’t waver. She didn’t indulge. When I decided that my name had unacceptably been spelled my whole life with a y instead of an ie (what in the wide world, y’all?!), she was the first to buy a photo album with the name Mollie embossed on the front. She encouraged me to try out for the 7th grade cheerleading squad and when I surprised everyone (including myself) by making the team, she advocated that the coach order a new uniform for me since the one I was issued was 2 sizes too small. My mom showed up. Again and again. She didn’t hover. She remained unflappable.
This has been a tricky year for my preteen. She changed schools, she changed friends, she changed clothing styles. This rewiring work is brave and hard and I’m getting to know the new version of who she is and who she is becoming. I get scared sometimes wondering if I prepared her in the right ways for these adolescent years. Did I keep her too long in the bubble that was her private elementary school experience? Did I remove her too soon from that protective environment?
But one thing that makes me most proud is watching my girl become like the friends I had in middle school. She is defending the marginalized, the isolated, and the excluded. She’s passing notes—nowadays these look like texts—with smiley faces and words of encouragement. And she’s going into her last week of school wearing dresses and birkenstocks, donning blush and mascara with a Billie Eilish screensaver on her phone.
These years are awkward and silly and emotional and altogether wonderful, and it is a privilege— a privilege—to guide our kids through it.