So Squirtle….you’re starting middle school.
I guess this means I should stop calling you Squirtle. Let’s table the nickname issue for a minute though. We have more important things to discuss. Namely, that the next three years are kinda gonna suck.
I don’t want to be Aunt Jessica the downer, but I do want to be straight with you: middle school is probably going to rank as one of the crappier experiences of your life. This sounds horrifying, but before you become a sixth grade dropout, hear me out.
You’re 11. Everything feels bigger than it is. When I was 11, the smallest things sent me over the edge. You want me to switch dance partners? This is an injustice the likes of which Dr. King would not stand for. I didn’t get the part I wanted in the school play? Nothing crying for a week can’t solve.
I’m not trying to say you don’t have real problems. Things happen to you that hurt or make you smile and they do so for very good reason. What I want you to understand is this: the older you get, the more you realize that this stuff does hurt, but that you are strong enough to bounce back and move on.
You’re a strong kid. Remind yourself of that every day before school starts or whenever you feel like you just don’t want to deal with it anymore. It may not make you feel any happier about pushing through, but let me tell you, life only gets tougher and it is the people who can push their way through their problems that succeed.
Now, on to some more practical advice.
As someone who incessantly photographs you, this first bit of advice might surprise you. Avoid photographs. Take the school picture, pose for some Christmas shots, but don’t get in any more photographs than you have to be in. Middle schoolers are a universally awkward bunch. I was reminded of this last week when a friend posted some photos from Aunt Jessica’s middle school days. Try not to judge the hair too harshly. As Grandma will attest, this was a transitional phase, which is a girly hair concept you probably won’t ever understand.
The one relieving thing about these photos was a realization I want to impart on to you: when I was your age, I thought many of my peers looked like tall, gorgeous models. I thought I couldn’t compare. Looking at this photo, I can tell you without hesitation that we all looked incredibly awkward. There is no avoiding it. Just embrace that you are all going through it together, wear your braces with pride, and thank the heavens that the health and beauty industries are advancing at lightning speed.
Next tip Squirtle: play the friend field. These are the folks you’re going to spend the next seven years with, so don’t get tied down to the first kid who asks you to eat lunch with them. Get to know as many people as you can. Meet the athletes, the artists, the band geeks, and the science kids. If you want, stay friends with all of them. In your teens, there is no such thing as too many friends. You never know when your interests might change or someone you wouldn’t have given a chance opens your eyes to something really cool.
You, kiddo, need to make it your mission to open people’s eyes to things that are really cool. Don’t look to others to tell you what you like and what is cool. Keep reading, keep testing out new video games, and always be on the lookout for the cool new thing. You know how you don’t spend your middle school days trying to keep up with what is cool? Be the kid determining what cool is.
You’re like Aunt Jessica—dripping with sarcasm. I’m gonna warn you that some of the kids aren’t gonna get you. Don’t let it get you down, but here are two other important lessons. 1. Never, ever dumb yourself down for anybody. 2. Never, ever lord it over someone when they aren’t in the know on something.
The second rule is going to be tough, because this is a three year period in which kids learn that putting other people down can make them feel better about themselves. I’ll be honest, I did this. I can almost guarantee your mom did this too, because everyone that age inevitably does. If you mess up and say something mean, rest assured that (hopefully) no one will remember in 15 years. At the very least, most won’t hold it against you. Then tell yourself that you absolutely have to grow out of this bad habit if it is the last thing you do.
I know I said I would be practical and this stuff still sounds pretty emotional and heavy. So, if this stuff isn’t quite sinking in to your 11 year old brain, set it aside for a year and focus on these ten concrete rules:
1. Ask girls to dance at your middle school socials. You’re in Tennessee, as a dude it is your job to do the asking and girls will love you for it.
2. Learn from my mistakes, do not become a procrastinator when it comes to homework. This is a bad habit you CANNOT outgrow. And let me tell you buddy, writing 25 page papers for a Masters program 48 hours before it is due is not something I ever wish you go through.
3. If homework does get overwhelming, don’t ever copy someone else’s work. You are still young enough where you get one get out of jail free card, but by eighth grade, that crap ain’t gonna fly and the consequences will be dire.
4. Find some sort of activity. I know you hate them, but these extracurricular activities are going to be more useful to you as an adult than a lot of stuff you’re going to learn in the classroom.
5. Don’t be Grandma. Learn how to use the computer. Type everything. Surf the internet, but don’t ever cite Wikipedia as a source. If you want the full lecture on why you can’t, we can talk at Christmas.
6. You’ll probably start thinking about getting on Facebook now. Before you put anything and I mean ANYTHING on your Facebook page, ask yourself this: How do I feel about Grandma seeing this? You’re not allowed to sign up for FourSquare. It is dangerous to constantly report where you are to strangers on the internet. You are allowed to post something emo on your Facebook status once a month. That is it. I will be policing this from Las Vegas.
7. Be nice to your teachers. I know you sometimes think you’re smarter than them. Sorry kiddo, most of the time you aren’t. They aren’t out to get you. They’re here to help. Let them help, ok?
8. Being a nerd is cool these days. Embrace it. Let your nerd side work for you. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.
9. I say embrace your nerd side, but a quick exception to that rule: You’re going to still like some of the kid stuff you liked in elementary school. In theory, you’re supposed to grow out of this by sixth grade, but it is okay if you still like it. Just keep it on the DL. I hid that I still watched the Care Bears movies well into my teens and only pretended to rediscover it when I claimed it was “ironic admiration” at the start of my baby hipster phase (we’ll talk about hipsters when you start high school).
10. Relax. I know I’ve thrown a lot of rules at you and I bet your first day of school felt like a day-long list of dos and don’ts. There is no right or wrong way to make it through middle school. Do what you can, have as much fun as possible, and remember that this, like everything, is only temporary.