Back in September, my 12-year-old, a seventh grader, came home after a rough evening with a friend—an evening during which his friend’s mother criticized him for cheering too loudly at an event and for covering his head with his hoodie because he was cold, and during which his friend literally pointed and laughed at him while her mother’s head was turned.
Taken alone, the evening might not have been such a bad experience for him. But if followed on the heels of a not so great first two weeks of school during which time some older boys had been targeting my son in the locker room. (I’ll save my post on middle-school gym classes for another time.) He hadn’t mentioned any of the school troubles to me because he wanted to handle the situation himself . . . or simply hope each day it would go away. Lunch wasn’t much better for him. Kids he’d been friends with for the past few years couldn’t gather up the nerve to defend him against another crew of eighth graders intent on hassling him. So he found himself more or less on his own at a new school, trying to navigate his way around all the social mazes that simply left him, well, a little lost.
And even these issues might have been more bearable if they, too, hadn’t followed on the heels of a tough few months at the end of sixth grade. During those months, the pack of popular boys—and several girls desperate for their approval— had turned against him. But he remained strong through that time, and at the end of the year, when each sixth grader was asked to write what they’d learned in elementary school, he wrote, “I learned that I like who I am, and nothing anyone else says or does can change that.”
But come September, his first month of junior high, everything had just piled on him to the point where he, as we euphemistically put it when other parents ask about our decision to pull him from school, “needed a break.”
So we gave it to him. He’s been taking math and French at school, coming home afterward, learning a bit of science, social studies, and English with me, and then going back for afterschool activities: theater and chorus. He’s also been going three early mornings a week for concert band and jazz band. It’s been a busy few months, not without their own set of challenges as we’ve worked together to figure out this homeschooling thing, and it’s been immensely rewarding for me personally. I’ve loved our time together. I’ve loved the bond we’ve forged. I’ve loved learning with him. I’ve loved his company. I’ve loved seeing him in new lights and gaining a whole new appreciation for the person he is and the person I know he’s going to be one day.
But we’ve also—my husband, son, and I—decided it’s time for him to go back to school full time. He’s made some really great friends through his extracurricular activities. They love him. They “get” him. They let him be the goofy, nerdy, hyper, random, loud kid he is. He has a girlfriend. He has the support system he lacked just a few months ago. And, I have to add, he has two principals who really do care about their students. They’ll be paying attention.
Sending him back, however, has been in many ways a harder decision than pulling him in the first place. I’ve straddled this line between wanting to protect him from the world and wanting him to be strong enough to face it. And he is strong enough. But if I don’t “let” him go back, how is he going to believe that himself? He’s faced a lot of challenges—physical and social—in his 12 years, and he’s gotten through them more or less intact. He does like who he is. He knows his family loves him. More important, he knows we like him. I don’t for a minute think it’s going to be all smooth sailing for him when he shows up at school full time after the Christmas holiday, but I do think this break has done him a lot of good. It’s done us both a lot of good. I’ve learned about a lot more than the U.S. Constitution and Isaac Newton and manatees and Napoleon.
When I started writing this post, I wanted to talk about bullying in general. I wanted to talk about the accountability of parents, not just of kids. And I will next time.
But my focus has strayed to the reminder that we need to believe in our children so they can believe in themselves. We need to, yes, nudge them from the nest so they can try their wings. But that doesn’t mean we can’t now and then spread our own wings just a bit so we can wrap them around our kids, even if only for a little while, before we let them go again. I’ll miss having him at home much more than he’ll miss being here.