Anne had a rough first two days entering the 6th grade at a brand new middle school. Thankfully, unpacking kept my mind too busy to worry obsessively.
There was no time to picture her sitting alone at lunch crying onto her peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat looking pitifully adorable in her pink skinny jeans that I won’t call jeggings, or leggings because of the strict dress code.
I was in the upstairs bonus room lining books on the bookshelf when I heard the front door open and shut. The older girls had just gotten off of the bus which is reportedly “too hot” and “too loud” and “too smelly” and “too long of a ride”.
“Hey! Girls! How did your third day of middle school go?” I called from the top of the stairs.
Jane came upstairs almost immediately to tell me about her 8th grade English and History classes, complimenting her teachers’ approaches to literature and open discussion in an endless stream of run-on sentences. She was proud of herself for standing up to a bully boy that day. She told me how she told him to go to hell, and how later he apologized for the way he had behaved.
Meanwhile, I could hear Anne downstairs in the kitchen. I could hear cabinets slamming shut and the water coming off and on. My mind was half listening to Jane’s gleeful play by play and half worrying about my quiet child downstairs making her after school snack. Anne isn’t one to immediately open up; she always needs half an hour to decompress before reluctantly discussing her day.
Jane made her way downstairs, and I made my way into the girls’ room at the end of the hall where clothes were strewn about all over the floor and empty boxes with ripped off tops were stacked against the wall. “Why,” I asked myself aloud, “can’t they use a pair of scissors to open boxes instead of ripping into them like starving, rabid, wild animals hunting for food?” We had only been in our new house for two days, and, of course, the children had started unpacking way ahead of me.
I sat on the end of Anne’s bed looking at her new ice cream cone bedsheets she had picked out at Target. Neither her nor Jane were very happy about having to share a room at our new house. It was an argument we had been listening to at the dinner table for the past week leading up to our move. While Jane was in the midst of her teenage freedom and independence, Anne was still in-between in that awkward stage between childhood and early adolescence. It’s already an odd time for girls when their bodies are struggling to grow up, leaving their clothes fitting ill in certain places, which is only made worse by the fact that old favorite brands no longer look grown up enough while others look too grown up. It’s a time of insecurity and uncertainty—a time of trying to figure out why God invented these odd in-between years to begin with. Perhaps it’s a walk through the lost years of the bible when no one knew what happened to Jesus. Perhaps he walked all the way to the nearest desert in search of draping robes that wouldn’t be too snug around the hips, or too short for arms which still seemed much too long for His body. Those are the years no one wants to talk about once they have grown past them.
I heard the television come on in the bonus room. “Anne, is that you?”
“Yeah,” she called out.
“Would you come help me in your room?”
“You’re so good at decorating, and I could use your help.”
“Sure!” she responded in the most unexcited way she could manage.
She entered the room and gave me a look which said, ‘I would rather be doing anything other than spending time with you in this room because I know you’re going to expect me to tell you about my day, and I will want to, but I will never let you know that I want to.’
As we unpacked a box of clothing, I studied her facial expressions and body movements to gauge which way to approach the discussion.
“Where do you want these?” I asked, holding up a pair of shorts.
“Just stick them in the bottom drawer.”
“So,” I said unassumingly as I turned away from her, “how did today go? Better?”
She gave me a grimacing stare. “I didn’t have my dividers today! My teachers are frustrated with me.”
“I know. I found two of the packs in a box this morning. They are down on the table. I’ll go buy more today. Did you tell them we just moved and the school supplies accidentally got pack onto the moving truck?”
“No,” she answered as she picked dirty towels up off of the bathroom floor and placed them into an empty laundry basket.
“Well, tomorrow maybe I can write a note for you to show each of your teachers to quickly explain, and maybe they will be more understanding. Do you think that would be a good idea?”
“Yeah. I mean…no. I mean…I can handle it.”
“How did things go at lunch? Did you eat alone again?”
“No,” she answered. “I sat with six other girls.” She told me their names.
“Really?” I responded a little too excited and in that way moms often do when they hear their daughter relay positive news in the midst of intense internal mom-worry that her child is taking a nose dive into the depths of a burning social inferno that will leave her in social ruins for the remainder of her middle and high school years.
She gave me a questionable look.
I took a deep breath, bringing myself down a few notches. “So, that’s good. Um, sounds like it went better…I guess.” I walked over toward the closet and started rearranging things which had been carelessly thrown into the corner.
I wanted to ask her more questions. What did her new friends look like? Are they nice? Did they also hate the dress code, but do they follow it like good, obedient students? Do they read? Are they smart? Do they make good decisions? Do they pray before lunch and wear ankle length skirts and do nothing bad, EVER? Do they have a hidden pair of angel wings beneath their shirts, and do they have a good stable home with parents who ask them questions?
Do they at least have an OK mom doing her best to love her daughter for who she is? Do they have moms who want to protect and comfort their daughters while also giving them the space to explore and grow in their own right? Do they have moms who want desperately to fix it all, but know that they have to allow their daughters the freedom to fall and learn to get back up on their very own?
“I sat with them yesterday, too,” she added.
I contained my excitement this time. “Cool,” I responded.
She folded a few items and placed them onto her bed. “Yeah, I walked around with them at recess, too. They are really nice. One of the girls is also new. We saw her sitting alone outside reading a book, and one of the other girls suggested that we go talk to her to see if she wanted to hang with us and eat with us at lunch.”
“Cool,” I managed to respond yet again without any expression whatsoever, but my insides were starting to press outward through my skin. A beam of bright light and double rainbows threatened to explode through every orifice of my body.
I could no longer contain myself.
“That is so great, Anne! I mean, Elizabeth. You go by Elizabeth now right? I’m glad we gave you a great middle name! These girls sound so nice! What a great group of girls! Do you want me to talk to their moms? Do you want to get their numbers? Do they want to come over one Saturday to hang out? All six of them? This is just so great! I’m so happy for you. Great! Just great! Amazing!”
She looked at me, and for a brief moment a slight smile flashed across her face before disappearing again. “Mom,” she responded.
“Yeah. Yeah. OK. Well…cool,” I stated, and we proceeded to unpack more boxes.