Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to School...with some growing pains

The start of a school year always inspires a mixed…backpack-full…of emotions. There’s a sprinkling of melancholy, at bidding farewell to the carefree days of Summer. Throw in a healthy measure of anticipation and excitement about the new classes, teachers, and experiences to come. Add a dollop of dread, sparked by the thought of being forced to heed the insistent call of an alarm once again…at an hour which is decidedly unpleasant to adolescent constitutions. These are all normal reactions we expect to encounter on the first day back each August. However, this year the boys expressed one more feeling, completely out of character for both of them: jitters.

The night before Day One, as we organized and prepared…stuff…Derek told me he was nervous—about not knowing any other kids, about attending a new school…even about not having anyone to sit with at lunch. (Mommy Moment: I wanted to just wrap him in a big squeeze and tell him I’d be happy to come along and introduce him to as many people as he wanted. However…nowadays he has to lean down for a hug, at which point I can barely get my arms around him anyway…and it’s not preschool he’s trying to navigate…so I know I have to step back and let him find his own way. But it’s so haaaarrrrrd!) For Riley, it was concern about the new Middle School model—switching classrooms, getting acquainted with 7 instructors and a whole bunch of fellow 6th graders…and having someone to share a lunch table. (And what is it with my kids and eating? Oh, right…it’s absolutely their favorite activity in the whole, wide world…)

I reassured them as best I could that they’d be fine, and everything would work out (fingers firmly crossed behind my back for luck). The next morning, Riley bounded out of bed before his alarm even rang (or…beeped…or chirped…or whatever silly sound he’d set his Kindle to project). This year he’ll be a walker for the first time in his life, as our neighborhood lies almost directly across the street from the back of the school building. Even though we’d figured out pretty much to the second how much time would be required to stroll in an unhurried fashion and still arrive before the bell…he left 5 minutes early anyway. “The anticipation is killing me,” he sighed as he practically skipped out the door. Although I offered—several times—he declined to allow me to accompany him past the end of the driveway. (Can you imagine? He wanted to go by himself, without his mother? I just don’t get it…hahahahaha!)

The teenager moved considerably more slowly…true to form. (Is “not a morning person” an inheritable gene? ‘Cuz yeah, he totally got it from me. Tragically, he isn’t yet able to self-medicate with the heavenly nectar commonly known as “coffee”…) But he got himself together without a problem (well…he’s a BOY, so it was pretty doggone uncomplicated: breakfast, brush hair, brush teeth…lucky dog!) and left for the bus stop at the appointed time. Husband and I tried to send him off on an encouraging note, giving him pep talks about such varied topics as: striking up conversations with other kids while waiting for your transportation…breaking the ice with students by telling people he’d recently moved from Maryland…staking out a dining spot with people from your 4th period class, with whom you’ll presumably be meandering to the cafeteria…you know, Important Life Advice like that…

Then…the house was silent. It was utterly, completely...weird. Husband returned to his office to resume working, and I went back to…I don’t even remember, just “stuff I had to do”. After about a half-hour, he emerged for a moment to comment, “Well, no one came back, or texted for help…so I guess that’s good!” And it was, for hours and hours. At about 3:30, Riley came racing in the door, bubbling over with cheer about his day. “Middle school is so COOL!” he exclaimed. He paused for a moment, thoughtfully, before continuing in a serious tone, “After just one day, I could NEVER go back to elementary school!” (Yep, that’s my drama boy…also to be blamed on me…) To sum up his enthusiastic, extended babbling: he ran into lots of other kids walking; he figured out how to find all of his classes without difficulty (or getting lost); he had conversations with some people; and he ate lunch with a nice group.

In contrast…Derek seemed considerably more…subdued…and also overwhelmed. One of his main issues revolved around an elective course he and I had selected when we registered him in July. No one was available to help us in the Guidance Office, so we perused the options online and made what we thought was an interesting choice. And it might very well consist of fascinating course material…but according to Derek, he is one of only 2 boys on the class roster…the rest of which contains entirely Junior and Senior girls. (Note: at some future time this might fill him with hope and glee, but right now it just Freaks. Him. Out…) To add to his worries, it’s the period right before lunch, compounding the difficulty of the whole “finding other freshmen to eat with” dilemma.

Another thing weighing on his mind is the fact that, since he’s in Honors courses, the grading system is skewed—A=93-100%, B=85-92%, etc. Aaannnnd, we might have made a teeny error in allowing the counselor who briefly consulted with this Summer to enroll Derek in Honor's Spanish 3. Honestly, I didn't even notice at the time, or think about what that would entail. Well...it means that according to the teacher's handout, the class will be conducted mostly in Spanish. And let me just tell you, Derek is soooo not ready for that quite yet. (Por favor, can we please have the Regular Espanol? Gracias!) Coupled with the sheer numbers of syllabi and other important official forms we had to wade through, file, in some cases even sign to show we’d read them, it was a LOT to manage. Oh, and then he had a few minor pieces of homework to complete for the next day as well. By bedtime, he was struggling to put coherent sentences together while stumbling around his bedroom in a daze. He presented an unfortunate demeanor of equal parts “glazed”…and “shell-shocked”. (I’ve gotta say it: My poor baaaaaby! How can I bear sending him off to Big, Mean High School?)

So, I can already sense that this will be a Year of Major Growth for the Westman boys…whether they like it or not…and however painful it may be. The first order of business, I think, is going to be transferring Derek into the appropriate level of his foreign language...and an alternative 4th-period, pre-lunch elective, so he can bond with some other 14-year olds….or at least MALES. After that…well, who knows? But Team WestEnders will undoubtedly figure it out…with coffee (for some of us, anyway)… a lot of group hugs…and a small sacrifice to the Education Gods couldn’t hurt, right? Do you think they’d like a nice PB&J? I'm on it!

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