One of the best things about being human is that, occasionally, we get the chance to reinvent ourselves: we change jobs, or relationships, we move to a new city, learn a new language, take up a new exercise routine. We dye our hair, exchange belief systems, swap out old friends for new ones. Heck, sometimes we even change our names and genders. It is glorious, and exciting, and liberating, and terrifying, and it is a lot to ask of both ourselves and the people who know us. Which is why, for the most part, we only make these big changes once or twice in our lifetimes, if at all.
Unless, of course, you are in middle school.
Having raised two children through the age of middle school, and having been a middle schooler myself, I feel confident in asserting the claim that no one ever starts high school as the same person they were when they finished middle school.
Logically, of course, this doesn’t make sense. After all, only a few months pass over the summer. And yet, there is something about those few months, those particular few months, that must be revelatory.
Maybe it’s the fact that, for the majority of us, middle school is one long mistake, in every sense of the word. We choose the wrong friends, the wrong fashions, the wrong attitude and the wrong opinions. I know that, personally, looking back on the person I was in middle school I see someone I barely recognize, let alone would ever want to associate with. In short, an embarrassment. Someone I barely acknowledge ever have existing. And someone I would be insulted to be accused of still being today.
And yet, so often, that is exactly what happens. Not to me. Not anymore. But I see it time and time again with those who are much closer in age to the middle school monsters they once were. People look at the fourteen year old, or even eighteen year old in front of them and refuse to allow for the possibility that they may not be the snotty twelve year old they once were.
I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said it best: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
I suppose I have been thinking about these changes so much lately because, in preparation for my daughter’s high school graduation, I have been going through the pictures of her when she was in middle school. For, you know, the sake of embarrassing her. Because that’s basically my job.
I’ve found some great material. The Twilight phase. The asymmetrical hair that never met a brush phase. The never-smile-no-matter-what-you-can’t-make-me phase. However, as embarrassing as these photos are, they are also, in their own way, something to be proud of, in the same way the “before” pictures in the “before and after” shots are.
She smiles in pictures now. She has a CNN app on her phone. And her hair—well, let’s just say I never complain anymore about her spending too little time on it. It’s actually an amazing transition to take place over four short years. And it’s one that almost every high schooler goes through. Which, I think, is something that’s important for us to remember, especially when it comes time for them to go on with the next phase of their life.
Just as you can’t ever step in the same river twice, you really can’t ever meet the same teenager twice, either. And if you keep expecting to—well, as George Bernard Shaw said, that’s just not very sensible of you.