My youngest daughter started a new school last week. It is the second time in 8 weeks that she has started middle school. The only thing worse than starting middle school once is starting it twice. In my recent blog to the Instagram generation, which was directed to my daughters who will likely never read it, I referenced the challenges of being in an IB middle school. When I wrote that post, I didn’t know how much more challenging it would become in such a short time. We escalated from “this isn’t going so smoothly” to “I’m pulling her out” in less than two weeks.
In 13 years of schooling even the unschoolable, I have never once considered pulling a kid out in the middle of a school year, much less smack in the middle of a 9-weeks. I’m either getting harder or I’m getting softer. I’m really not sure which one made me do it.
But I did it. And she was happy I did.
I expected some raised eyebrows. I expected some level of judgment. What I did not expect was that the worst would come from my older daughter.
“You’re quitting,” she said. “She’s a quitter. You could have pulled her out of a couple of bad classes and just changed her schedule.” She delivered quite an impassioned speech. I chalked it up to hormones and flushed most of it where the hormones go.
But she didn’t let it go that easily. A day or so later, Lucy got in my van after school. We rode along quietly for a few minutes before she opened a new thread of the same discussion.
“We talked today about growth mindset,” she began. That sounded promising. I was all ears. “It has to do with grit,” she said. “Something some people need a little more of,” she continued. The emphasis on some people caused me to bristle just a little.
“Now, hold on a quick minute,” I argued. And then we went around the horn again about my reasons for pulling Jenna out.
And I’ve been thinking about it since then. And the thing is, we did quit. I allowed her to quit and I quit, too. But I’ve determined in the last 8 days that quitting isn’t a bad thing if you are quitting something that isn’t worth doing (smoking, punching people in the jowls, IB schools that rob your childhood). And of course, making that determination is an intensely personal choice.
In just the last week, Jenna has started a new school around the corner from our house. She’s had new hallways to learn, new kids to meet, new teachers to adjust to. She’s had wrong schedules and then schedule changes. She’s had teachers question whether her mother actually turned in her field trip permission form through the office. She’s had the same teachers apologize to her when they found the form. She’s had a lot of stuff. It wasn’t a week without some growth minded grit, I can tell you.
On Monday, she walked the dog with me before we headed toward school for day 1 of her 3-day nature fieldtrip.
“I wish I was in Keller’s homeroom,” she said. “All my friends are in Keller’s homeroom. They are grouping us for the field trip by our homerooms.”
There was going to be nobody for her to ride the bus with. No one familiar to eat her packed lunch with. No one to make her feel safe.
“OK,” I said. “Well, let’s discuss this. Let’s try to make something out of nothing.” This is usually the point where the kids stop listening, 100%. But maybe today would be different. And here is the pep talk I pulled out of the poop bag dispenser and tucked into her backpack.
Every burden can be a blessing. I know this is true because I recently got it in a fortune cookie. Also, it’s in the bible. And I’ve lived it. But a person must be willing to be a conduit for the transition. Let it happen.
Do hard things, but make sure the hard things are worth doing. The hard things of IB middle were not worth the resulted suffering. The hard things of transitioning to a new school would be. This one is a work in progress.
Make it good. There isn’t always an exact right answer and an exact wrong one. And sometimes we aren’t even sure to which side the meter is leaning. We decide and we do the best we can with it. Whatever it is you decide—wherever you land—go and make it good.
Here’s where it got a little weird for her.
You are never alone. Even if you feel alone—even if you get on a bus with a group of kids you don’t know—you are not alone. God is on that school bus with you. Sit next to Him. Pray to Him. Let Him be beside you. Picture Him right there with you on that bouncing yellow school bus with the vinyl green seats. If you invite Him on your field trip, into your new school, He’ll come.
And then we put the dog in the house and drove to school. She had a glum look on her face as I tried to nudge her out the door and into a deserted teacher parking lot. Her eyes pleaded with me, clouded with fear and doubt.
“You got this,” I said. “And God has got you. Now go.”
And she did.
For the next 40 minutes, I kept busy in the house and prayed that all would be well on this field trip. It was a big leap into a new system. She would be facing it seemingly without allies. I prayed that God would do what I had told her He would. That He would be with her on the bus and everywhere. That she wouldn’t feel alone. And then I prayed specifically that He would show up in a big way, big enough to be quite obvious to Jenna. I knew He was going to be with her, but I needed her to know it, too.
Right then I got a text from Jenna saying that her permission form was lost. If they couldn’t locate it, she wouldn’t be allowed to get on the bus. That wasn’t the kid of action I was hoping for when I was praying. Not 5 minutes later, I got a phone call from Keller, who was not Jenna’s homeroom teacher, but was looking for her form. She asked me to send a text with certain wording, giving Jenna permission to be on the field trip and on the bus for transportation.
I sent the text.
About 5 minutes after that, I got another text from Jenna saying that she had inexplicably been put into Keller’s homeroom with ALL of her friends. She didn’t use the word inexplicably. That’s all me. And it wasn’t inexplicable at all. It was exactly what I had prayed for. There was no reason to put her in that homeroom. It wasn’t her homeroom. But there she was, boarding a bus with her friends.
“I’m going with Abbey,” she wrote me.
“REALLY??” I texted back.
“Mhm,” she responded.
“Guess what that is?” I texted her. “That’s GOD. That’s a direct answer to our prayers today.”
She sent me a couple of winky faces.
I’m still not sure what to do with those guys.
I can’t even believe that was only Monday.
Driving out of the neighborhood this afternoon for Carpool #1, I thought again about all of this. I caught my inner critic whispering, “Did I do the right thing?” And then I pushed back at her, reminding myself that there is no one way. No one right thing. Nothing is perfect. I struggle with this constantly, because I’m a destination thinker. I think that if I just do A and B, the perfect C will occur. And if I get D, it’s because I forgot A or did B wrong. I’m trying to be a journey thinker, because if I haven’t arrived yet, the chances are, there’s no one place to go. But I do need to keep going forward.
Even though my inner critic will likely continue to ask all the wrong questions, I can strike back with an occasional right answer.
I don’t know much about much, but I do know this:
The right hard things are worth doing and I’ll do them until they get easier. I can make good of almost anything. No matter what decision I make, what bus I ride, and what posse does or doesn’t surround me, I am never alone. And that’s good enough for me.