It’s Friday night, and I am dropping off my 6th grader for her first middle school dance. And I am trying not to panic.
She’s wearing her “I Love Bacon” shirt and a pair of camos, and her hair is perfect. Before she jumps out of the van, I give her some last-minute advice. Well, “advice” is putting it mildly. It was more like desperate warnings on how to survive being out in the cruel, cruel world. The words still ring in my ears. “Remember, if someone tries to offer you a pill, or some drugs, use your brain.” And the ever-important “Do not, for any reason, go along with the bigger kids, who decide to go climb out onto the roof.”
“Mom. I know,” she says, as her eyes almost roll right out of her head. And then she is gone, slamming the door, walking determinedly toward the school’s front entrance. Looking back to grin at me and discreetly wave before she goes through the door.
There are cars beeping, behind me. So I drive off slowly, catching one last glimpse of her long black coat, a flash of light brown hair.
I never seem to get enough of this kid. I adore spending time with her, and I miss her when she is gone. Now, this is true of all three of my kids. Usually. Of course. But 11 is an awesome age, and K is a delight to hang out with.
Just the day before, K and I went to the mall and spent a few rare and wonderful hours together, just the two of us. We got sodas from Chic-Fil-A, and sat at one of the tall tables, our legs swinging while we got high on caffeine and sugar. We talked about Minecraft. Gaming. Someday getting a puppy. Our plans for a costume for Halloween. How to survive the zombie apocalypse. It was, in truth, one of the most delicious Cokes I’ve ever had.
Afterwards, we left the food court and headed across the mall. We were there for a special purpose. K had decided to have her ears pierced. We arrive at Claire’s, and I fill out the piercing paperwork while K picks out her first earrings. She chooses gold stars, and the piercer preps her ears, dotting the spots with purple ink. The first piercing almost sends K running out of the store, screaming in pain. But I hold her hand, and let her know that, unlike what the Claire’s employee says, it really doesn’t matter if she only gets the one ear pierced. I am indifferent. I want only for her to make her own choices.
She thinks about it for a long time, while the piercer stands nearby, impatiently. I talk to her calmly, and she finally, after about 10 minutes, makes the decision to go forward. She winces her way through the second piercing, a few tears glittering in her eyes. But then she checks out her reflection. She catches the glint of gold in her newly pierced ears, and is charmed, instantly forgetting the discomfort. I hug her. We pick out 3 pair of earrings: 2 pairs of sparkly lizards and one pair of shark earrings that bite your ear lobes. They are SO her style. And then we take off to get double chocolate chip cookies from Au Bon Pain and be incredibly late for her doctor’s appointment, 5 miles away.
This day will stand out in my memory as one of the most beautiful days I’ve spent so far with my big kid.
But that was yesterday. Tonight, I’m confused and frustrated with her. I don’t understand why she is choosing to go to this middle school dance, all alone. While all her friends are going on a Girl Scout campout. K says she wants to try to meet some new people at her middle school. And I have to respect her choices. I have to back her up. This is the kid I am raising, flexing her independent muscles. Being mighty.
Uugh. I want so badly to overrule her, to convince her/bribe her to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead, where I know she will have the time of her life. But this thing, this letting her make her own choices, is what it’s all about. THIS is the right thing to do, I assure my conflicted self. She needs to make her own choices.
And just as I talk myself into a calmer state of mind, as I get through the worst of the evening traffic on the way back from the middle school, my phone rings. I look at my phone, and there’s K’s number.
“It’s really loud. Like, my ears hurt. And not where I got them pierced. The music is too loud. And I can’t see anything, because there are huge 8th graders everywhere, and …”
“K, do you want me to come get you?” I ask, trying to sound calm and cool.
“Yeah, please?” She sounds nervous.
And I take an immediate, glorious u-turn in the middle of traffic. I’m racing back to the middle school to save my kid.
I park and go in to get her. There she is, jacket on, ready to go. Quickly. I nod to an understanding chaperone, and we jet out the door. When we get to the van, I ask her what the dance was like. She describes the too-loud music, the cafeteria, jammed with older, bigger, frenzied 7th-and-8th graders. All strangers. There was no one to notice her pretty new earrings, her shiny hair. Her quirky sense of style. Her eagerness to make friends.
So we get home, and she runs into the house to hug her little sister and brother, and then she snuggles in to join our regular family movie night. Just us. She sings along with the songs from Mulan. She eats pizza and has a tickle fight with her little brother. She goes to bed smiling. She hugs me good night.
I know it won’t always go this way. I know she will successfully venture out there, into the places I can’t control, the places I don’t approve of. And I really hope she will be ready. And that the world will treat her justly.
And I also realize just how messed up I really am. How I need to do some work on myself, to get ready for this to happen. Disengagement. Independence. I know it’s inevitable. And I want to be better at letting her go. At letting her soar. I don’t want to hold her back because of my own fear, my own issues.
But I’m just selfishly glad that Friday, that this time, SHE wasn’t ready, either … yet.