Throw away every kind, thoughtful or genteel thing you’ve ever learned. Do not offer your hand upon introducing yourself. Never hold the door open for anyone — especially not for a girl. No, strike that, boy or girl, same story. And whatever you do, never, ever admit to liking, respecting or even tolerating your parents.
This is a page out of our middle school preparatory training manual. My 12 year old son, Levi, starts middle school at a new school in four days. It’s his first foray into the public school system and he doesn’t know a single soul. So we’re all a little nervous about how he’ll like it and whether or not he’ll fit in easily, etc…
For those of you who don’t know Levi, he’s not your ordinary 12 year old boy. He’s delightfully chivalrous, amazingly mature, deeply thoughtful and incredibly sensitive. Having these traits has necessitated some serious middle school tutoring.
My best friend in LA told me a horror story about her eldest son holding the door open for other students the first few weeks of his middle school experience. He was “dork” labelled and alienated for three quarters of the year. Luckily he found his niche and figured out that kindness and consideration were not attributes a middle schooler ought to display.
Another friend of ours was horrified upon meeting my son that he had warmly extended his hand, smiled broadly and happily introduced himself using his first and last name. “He’s not gonna do that in middle school?” My pal asked anxiously.
“No,” I stammered. “Of course not. He can be just as unfriendly and ill-mannered as any other child.” I grabbed Levi and fled the scene.
Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I clarified to him that going to middle school was a lot like going to a foreign country. It’s important to observe the culture and learn the language so you don’t inadvertently find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable international fiasco. No standing out. No drawing attention to yourself. “Middle school is like a water color painting,” I advised, “Best done in muted shades that blend together easily.” What can I say? It was the best I could come up with on short notice.
“But I thought I was always supposed to be myself?” My son curiously inquired. “You’ve always told me to let my unique personality out and if people don’t like me it’s their problem, not mine.”
“Yes. Yes, I did,” I conceded. “But that hasn’t worked out all that well for us thus far. And all bets are off in middle school. Fitting in, laying low and not rocking any boats — that is our new M.O. By the way,” I added, “Do not, under any circumstance, admit to liking your parents or enjoying our company. That is a number one middle school faux pas.”
“I don’t think I’m going to like middle school, mom,” he said with the resignation of a soldier being sent to the front line.
“That’s okay,” I told him. “In fact, that’s perfect. Because no one likes middle school. Good job, buddy. Way to fit in.”