Meredith C. Carroll: A middle-school parent pledge
If given a choice between going back to middle school or wearing a suit made of fish chum while swimming with a shiver of ravenous great white sharks, I’d need to make a pros-and-cons list before reaching a decision. Even though the “Jaws”-watching trauma I endured in early childhood (kind of) abated by adulthood, thereby making it (sort of) safe for me to go back in the water, my body still shudders involuntarily at the memory of the very specific middle-school angst I suffered as if it were yesterday instead of decades ago.
My older daughter starts middle school Thursday and fortunately she’s reporting a healthy combination of nerves and exhilaration, except I know firsthand that she should be way more panicked. On the upside, she and an army of education professionals worked hard to construct a remarkably solid intellectual, civic-minded and creative base during five years of elementary school that will be among the tools stuffed into her backpack alongside her lunchbox and a vat of slime.
On the downside, it’s middle school — also known as an active volcano surrounded by a pre-pubescent atomic minefield. Intellectually I know I’m supposed to start loosening my grip on her, yet keeping me up tonight (and all the other nights) will be figuring out how to empower her while simultaneously ensuring her heart and mind stay healthy and safe. So, I’ve got a plan:
I pledge not to throw around the word “bully” lightly or overreact to every slight brought to my attention. There’s always at least one other side to each story and Defcon 1 will not be my default move upon hearing the report of a single bad lunch period. On the flip side, I won’t sit back and wait to see how things play out if someone’s physical or emotional safety is at risk.
I pledge to offer an abundance of positive reinforcement, especially for doing the right thing when no one’s watching.
I pledge to be a walking-and-talking daily affirmation about how there’s more good than bad, and we all have the power to make choices that have far-reaching, positive implications. Intentionally excluding others, making them feel unwelcome, or purposefully triggering sadness, loneliness or insecurity in someone might make you feel powerful or clever in the moment, but ultimately it just contributes to the corrosion of your own soul.
I pledge to keep enforcing how poison likes to disguise itself in the form of whisper campaigns and gossip. Middle-schoolers cannot be told often enough that treating others how we want to be treated is not the golden rule but a basic human principle.
I pledge not to kill any messenger who reports to me what I may not want to hear but should know about my kid.
I pledge to make more eye contact, listen better and really try to hear what’s being said to me (as long as it’s not another inane yet oddly well-argued case for why a second dessert rather than a bath is the best course of action).
I pledge not to judge any kid who doesn’t want to hang out with my mine, even while secretly hoping their parents insist on the same standard as me: You don’t have to be friends with anyone, but you have to be kind to everyone.
I pledge to try harder to lead by example by demonstrating more compassion and endeavoring to establish a culture of respect that’s worn as naturally as a second skin.
Speaking of skin, I pledge that any body part of my daughter’s that can’t be seen in school won’t ever be viewable on the internet, either.
I pledge not to try to project the rose-colored glasses I’ve acquired after years of hard-earned perspective onto anyone with vastly fewer and wildly different experiences than me. At the same time, I won’t apologize for trying to guide my kid’s still-developing, newly minted 10-year-old brain when she inevitably stumbles while trying to strike a balance between empathy and apathy and selflessness and selfishness.
I’ll always be my kid’s No. 1 advocate while also pledging to the middle-school principals, counselors, teachers and assorted support staff that I won’t be that mom. They know which one I’m talking about.
I pledge not to freak out when real life laughs at my plan and it all goes to s—.
I pledge that no matter what middle school does to or for her, I’ll never forget how my daughter hung the moon in my orbit — and if that moon is crooked more often than straight, it will have no bearing on my admiration and adoration for her, because embracing her quirks and imperfections more widely and warmly isn’t so much a pledge as it is a fundamental expression of love.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.