Sometimes as a mom, I can feel 13 all over again: awkward, unprepared, and embarrassed. When my daughter started middle school, we made the decision to send her to a school that was located in the next neighborhood over, rather than to the middle school that all of her friends from elementary school were attending.
Meeting New Friends
Not only would the school be new, but she would have to meet all new friends too. As school approached, I realized that she wasn’t the only one. I had to meet all new people too. She had attended the same elementary school since she began kindergarten. People and routines were familiar and safe for both of us! I had to figure out the middle school jam for myself. When she moved to her new school, it gave me so much more empathy for what she was experiencing. I mean, I know that middle school is hard. But to be new myself—hardly knowing a soul—was humbling.
On her first day, we navigated her school supply list, class schedule, and a new outfit. I watched her walk into the building, brave and tentative.
Then it was my turn. And I suddenly remembered that when you feel new, everything is magnified. Especially anything that feels awkward. Were my jeans cute? Was I wearing the right shoes? Who would I talk to?
Going to the PTA meeting for the first time felt like my first day of middle school! Where should I sit? Do I stop at Starbucks on the way to have a drink to casually sip in case I have no one to talk to? Should I be early or sneak in late?
The first meeting was so painful. I didn’t know anyone, and the meeting was set up more for addressing school business than as a meet and greet. I tentatively chose a seat, and slowly sipped my chai latte. When the meeting finished, I slipped out quietly, feeling too shy to break into the groups of parents chatting. Being new is hard work. I did go back, and after several meetings I began to recognize a few faces. But it takes work to keep showing up, even when it seems intimidating.
Middle School Dropoff
A few weeks later, I took my daughter to school (middle school, mind you), and in the very busy drop off lane, I went to press the button to open the door to our minivan so that she could get out. Instead, I pushed the button to open the back hatch of our van, which, by fantastic coincidence, was broken. It opens automatically, but does not close, so I have to get out of the van and walk around to push it closed. As the hatch popped open, I realized my error, and with red cheeks stepped out of the van to close it, as the very long line of car pool parents idled anxiously behind me.
To top it off, the next day at the PTA meeting, the principal led a discussion on how to help parents understand the importance of moving quickly out of the drop off lane. While not personally directed at me (no one knew about my carpool lane foible), I still blushed as red as a tomato!
Despite the discomfort, this is good training for my heart. I have more empathy for my kids as they experience new things. I remember anew what it is like to not know a soul, to feel unsure, and to do the. Most. Embarrassing. Thing. Ever. It happens to all of us. It also helps me look out more carefully for that new person who is silently sipping their coffee, hoping someone will talk to them, and reach out to include them. Being new is good for me. As this new school year starts, I hope that being new is good for you, too.