When my twins were in kindergarten, parents were welcome to come to the cafeteria and join their kids for lunch. I thought it would be fun to see my kids in their school setting, and I truly appreciated the fact that my 6-year-olds weren't yet embarrassed by me, so I went.
Coming face to face with hundreds of kids talking with their mouths full, eating yogurt with their fingers, licking the peanut butter off their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches... the whole thing grossed me out. I had enough trouble trying to instill manners in my three kids at home. Why did I need to subject myself to this?
I loved staying involved at my kids' schools, but after that kindergarten lunch, I promised to volunteer at non-eating times. (Lucky for me, the library doesn't allow food, and they always need volunteers!)
But this year, my policy changed. With two kids in seventh grade and one in sixth, I thought it might be safe to return to the cafeteria, so I volunteered to help serve lunch once a month. I figured it would help with my writing, not to mention allow me to see my kids in their school setting now that I do embarrass them!
I was there on Tuesday, and I have to admit, the kids' table manners had improved a bit since kindergarten. I wasn't disturbed by the commotion of the cafeteria. But I was struck by how hard it is to be a middle schooler. I know that's not a big newsflash or anything, everyone knows middle school is tough. But it's one thing to think about middle school kids... it's quite another to be surrounded by hundreds of them.
The pimples. The hair. The boy-girl drama. The friendship drama. The reputations. The clothes. The homework ,and tests, and sports, and grades. All of it is really, really challenging. I wouldn't want to go back to that age at all. Yet that's who I write for. So in a way, I go back to that age every single day.
Maybe it's a way for me to make it right. To make it better. I don't know. I do know that I'm going to try to have a little more compassion and patience for my kids as they navigate through these early teen years.