August 28, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

In case you're new to this blog or you don't actually know me in person, let me tell you a little something about myself. I am a nerd. Always have been, always will be. I was one of those kids that was a little...slow to mature. I spent my entire school career being teased, picked on, ignored, you name it. It wasn't until junior year and for sure by my senior year that I finally felt comfortable enough with myself that it didn't bother much. My first few years out of high school cemented my "couldn't care less" attitude and I'm now very comfortable with my geeky status. It doesn't bother me to be the odd one out or to stand out in a crowd.

Let me turn your focus now to my dear Howdy. At 12 years old, he is smack dab in the middle of that awkward stage. His voice is getting deeper, he's growing armpit hair (I know, gross, right?) and he's closing in on my height. But he's also only 84 pounds, has teeth growing in all sorts of weird spots in his mouth and has a voice that randomly alternates between Alvin the Chipmunk and a deep tenor--sometimes all in one word. He's what I like to call a "sensitive" boy. He is a perfectionist who tends to stress over things like getting homework done perfectly and meeting new people. While he can be an outgoing and even obnoxious kid among his cousins and friends, he is super quiet around new people. He doesn't have that confidence and swagger that some kids seem to be born with. In truth, he is a male version of me at that age.

Taking all that into consideration, along with the fact that he has been homeschooled for the last 3 years, I was a little nervous about dumping him into public school in the 7th grade. Middle school is quite possibly the worst invention ever. Let's take all these kids who are at their most awkward and dump them all in a school that has 8 classes a day, all in different locations around campus--including PE in which they will have to shower in front of other kids who are all at varying stages of development--and hope they survive long enough to make it to high school. It's hard enough to make friends at a new school but Howdy isn't popular, cool, rich or the best looking. He's shy and awkward and seems (unfortunately for his social life) to be developing his parents' sense of humor. I lay awake at night thinking, "He's going to get eaten alive."

What could I possibly do to help him survive middle school? I consulted the closest thing I've got to an expert--my 15 year old nephew. I figured he's cool, has a lot of friends, seems well-liked--he'll be able to give me some pointers. His first piece of advice? Lose the knee high socks. Funny, that's the same thing his dad has been saying for years. Unfortunately, Howdy is pretty attached to his knee highs. In fact, if they made socks that went OVER the knee, he'd insist I buy those. (On a side note, I'm way more relaxed about things like this then MC is. He is always trying to think, "What is going to get them picked on?" He tries to help them match better and avoid going out in public in clothes that may be potentially embarrassing. I, on the other hand, encourage the "Be Yourself" attitude. I have a frog hat that I wear in the winter, my favorite outfit is a 70s style dress that MC calls a muu muu, and I keep hoping to find one of those cute baby tutus in a grown-up size so I can wear it. If my kids want to go shopping in mismatched clothes, I'm okay with that.)

Back to Howdy. His school starts at 8:25. As of 8:00 on the first day, I wasn't even sure if he was registered. We stood in line at the office and found out that yes, he was registered and they had a schedule printed up and ready for him. He had to skip out on getting an elective so they could fill that spot with his Math Tutoring class. Good bye, Theater. Hello, Algebra. Sorry, kid.

I had heard that they couldn't have backpacks so I sent him to school without one only to see 90% of the kids arriving with them. No big deal, I could buy him one after school. The only problem is that he was sent with a lunch (Just a plain, insulated bag--nothing embarrassing, I promise. I even refrained from putting in a napkin with a note from me like I did the other 2 kids.)

I helped him find his Advisory class where he will start each day and then (after lingering only a tiny bit), I left. I have to admit that I left with a knot in my gut. I was filled with anxiety and it wasn't even for me! I think that may be the worst. All the way out to the car I was racked with worry. Would he find all of his classes? Would he have anyone to sit with at lunch? Would he talk to any kids or would he spend the whole day silent? I called MC to let him know that yes, Howdy was in school and I dumped all my concerns on him. When it came to the lunch bag issue and how I was worried that he would look like a dork carrying that thing around all day, MC reminded me that he had given me cash that morning to pick up the rest of the school supplies. I ran back in the school 2 minutes before the bell rang and very discreetly swapped the cash for Howdy's lunch bag. I did give him the option and he chose to buy his lunch rather than carry around the lunch bag.

So that was it. I had done all I could do. The only thing left to do was to sit and wait. For 7 hours. Sure, no problem. At 3:25 I was outside his school with his brother and sister (who get out 30 minutes before he does) scanning the crowds, waiting anxiously for any sign of my big 7th grader. I don't think I had any fingernails or stomach lining left by the time he finally came strolling up. He looked up and, seeing us waiting for him, his face broke out into a big grin. That smile made my entire day. It eased the knot of fear and anxiety that had taken up refuge in the pit of my gut and lifted a weight off my shoulders.

Did he have a good day? Yes. His Math Tutoring classroom is cool. He'll get to have a locker. He likes his Advisory teacher. And they didn't have to do any work on account of it being the first day. He had a great day.

All my kids enjoyed their first days of school and were looking forward to going back. I felt so much better knowing that they not only survived but they liked it. I'm holding out hope that Howdy will find his own little mix of quirky kids who will be just like him--funny, sweet and slightly awkward. I'm hoping that he will find that self-acceptance sooner than I did. I know that he will be making memories that will stick with him for life. I hope the good ones stick like glue and the not so good ones slide right off.

(Author's note: As I was finishing this post, Howdy came up to me and waved his armpit stench at me until I was breathing in a cloud of noxious stink. Then he giggled in that evil, so-pleased-with-himself way of his before scurrying out of arms' reach. I think he may fit in just fine in middle school after all.)

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