Why Seventh Grade is Ridiculous (and other things I’m learning)

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In a recent effort to expand my community borders in Jefferson City a little further, I applied to be a mentor to a high schooler. The director of the organization was hesitant to match me with one for ambiguous reasons but I’ve resigned myself to the ever growing, unspoken obvious, that I probably look like a high schooler. This has been a slow and painful realization, more acutely felt this year than in years past. Whether my assumptions are misguided or not, I received a call a few weeks later that I was matched with a seventh grader. “After talking with her I really think she’s a great fit! I think you guys will have a lot in common!” He gushed. I found this interesting because through the piles of paperwork leading up to the match, I divulged  to the organization all sorts of guilty information about myself: that a perfect Saturday for me was sleeping nine hours and then taking a nap on the back porch, wearing elastic band pants, and maybe having people over for dinner and a movie. I told them I enjoyed reading about women’s issues and trends in photo equipment and that my favorite color was yellow and that I was reading The Bridesmaid’s Guide and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and that my favorite movie was The Swiss Family Robinson. It really was baffling that he sounded sure I would click with this person, when I  completely forgot to mention that I have a sibling in the 9th grade who keeps me relevant to the younger generations. I know what Tweet Like A Girl Is and that the only cool thing about Facebook is Facebook Chat – A social media feature that completely horrifies me, and that there’s a boy in One Direction who has blonde hair. But I left that out. Who was this kid he found and how was he so sure?

We agreed for the three of us to meet at the middle school and when she met us in the counseling office I dug this girl’s vibes. She was wearing bright red pants and huge coke bottle glasses with neon tape in the middle, probably more as a statement than a functionality.  Everything about her was round. She gave a silent head nod, like I was a respected counterpart, which I found both hilarious and endearing. The director left us alone in the room to get to know each other for several minutes and she looked out the window as I settled my purse on the ground to sit in a worn chair next to her. “So, Kylie, tell me what to do at school and for fun.” I attempted at small talk. Her eyes widened with wild adoration, “ONE DIRECTION.” Feigning total despair I matched her wild eyed look and bounced back, “One of them has blonde hair.” She lost it. She screamed right there in the counselor’s office, overcome with the power of Directioner passion. The next ten minutes was talking about how carrot sticks was her favorite food because Louis loved carrots, and that every day of the week she and her friends dress as different band members. She showed me her infinity sign with the name “Louis” breaking up its infiniteness. “Because today is Louis’ day and we’ll love him forever.” she vowed. As I would later progress in my One Direction education, I would understand that this also explained her red pants. Outside of One Direction, the kid loved to sing, eat any kind of food -“No really, I have no food standards”- and she was in love with a boy named Duncan. That’s all I could get out of her that half hour. I liked her silliness mostly and liked that she wasn’t afraid to love something to the point that one might question her social skills, and she even told me before I left that she wanted to talk to me about, “you know, serious stuff” but that she just wanted to be friends for a little while first. I left the building dreading having to find the leaked single “Diana” by One Direction and report back to her, and check into the One Direction board game, but excited that she was excited and even more baffled that Mr. K thought we were a good fit. But he was right. We’ve plotted ways for me to spot Duncan in the hallways before fourth period while eating fruit roll ups, I’ve made a mostly truthful analysis of the leaked single, we’ve made bracelets for our keychains and talked about her family, we’ve tried high kicks and the splits out by the benches, and we’re making progress to talk about what it means to live with bipolar disorder and a highly dysfunctional family, and her anger problems, or that she’s been in school suspension last month, but those are a long ways away from really building that trust and rapport with her that I’m at times impatient for those privileges and places to speak into her life.

It’s the impatience in this relationship that is teaching so much about myself. I’m not only impatient with my expectations of what I want out of our relationship but also impatience with the stage of development in Kylie’s life where the emotions are HIGH and drama is BIG and friends and crushes are EVERYTHING. I have been a supporter of Kylie and Duncan becoming a couple. Everything in my nature balks at this but I’m fakin’ it until I make it! I’m going out on a limb for her on this! I love Duncan too! Just make sure he treats you right and keeps his hands to himself! I’ve invested my own emotion in this supposed one-sided crush. Week-to-week the excitement of running into him on “accident” in the hallway, or the high five between first and second period, and the comment that he thought she was cool to her friend Sarah. Two weeks ago I could tell there was a lot to talk about, the way she pursed her lips tightly and hid a giddy smile as I signed in. She waited until we sat down on the benches outside to blurt out, “OH MY GOSH DUNCAN ASKED ME TO BE HIS GIRLFRIEND ON FRIDAY AND WE HUGGED!” I yelped! I jumped up and down! We high-fived with our feet! I was punching the air when she sat back down and continued, “But on Sunday night we were Facebook chatting and he said he was upset that I was flirting with Clint at youth group.”

“Clint? Like creepy Clint?”

“Yeah. But I told Duncan he shouldn’t judge me and so we broke up.”

I was so confused. “And that’s that?” I asked, totally floored. “You’re not going to fight for this? But this is Duncan, the guy you’ve crushed on since last year!”

She kind of rolled her eyes exasperated at ME, “No, if he’s going to judge me I’m over it and besides I have a new crush now. His name is Dalton.” I couldn’t believe how betrayed I felt. I was upset that I was upset! I was even upset at her! I had put thought and energy, planning, and guidance for what? A sunday night Facebook Chat to decide she’s on to …Dalton? No. I can’t keep up with this madness! I can’t care anymore. I’m resurrecting the damaging opinions of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” so I don’t have to deal with her frivolity. I went back to the office, ruffled feathers and all, truly disturbed by the day’s events. I stewed. On my way home I started thinking about all the adults that invested in my life as a kid and all the crazy things I was obsessed with that never panned out -like Lord of the Rings parodies and duct tape prom dresses and a career in music. And the crushes that came and went that I was never put down for. I think about all the wild things that my parents and Becky and Jennifer in particular had to listen to – and I was several years older than Kylie! In hindsight, it’s really overwhelming to think of how incredibly blessed I am to have grown up around adults who loved me enough to allow me to grow without force.There was no high bar of expectation of behavior or maturity. They were there for the Duncans and the One Direction doused world views, and the bad attitudes, and the silly dramas of my time. They spoke their wisdom and respected my decisions and differences, whether I suffered or flourished because of them. And that’s what I want to be now for Kylie. But it’s the harder road to take having to withhold an opinion and opt for wisdom or watch her reap the consequences of her choices. Love covers a lot, I’ve experienced but have been stingy to pass on. The theme of my fall was articulated well by author Reggie Joiner who stated so profoundly that, “Love over time equals worth”.  My prayer is that I will grow in genuine, no-strings-attached love, coupled with a patience that never demands or expects much in return to have an openness with Kylie -and others in my life- that prove to be worthy and weighty.

But this isn’t happening over night. Being choosy with my words and learning to lean into the silliness and drama that encapsulates what is seventh grade is so tough for me. I just want to tell her that Corbin’s popularity isn’t worth giving two hoots over because high school is looming and it is game over. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter if she gets a date to the winter dance and that that math test isn’t worth giving herself an ulcer over. I want to tell her how different it is on the other side and what’s popular on the middle school value scale will change in eight months and that she’s capable of influencing her peers in a way that can make a difference there. But I know her reality says the very opposite. So I meet her where she’s at. Tomorrow is Wednesday and Wednesday’s I meet with Kylie and Wednesday’s are Louis days. Kylie will be wearing a striped shirt or suspenders in his honor and we will be eating fruit roll ups and it will look like every other Wednesday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School but I have the hope that it will nothing short of a new day for me.

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