I’ve caught myself saying, “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?” And then I’ve answered myself, because there’s never anyone else around during school hours, “You knew. You had to know. You WERE them once.” And then I shudder and try to keep doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes these flashbacks completely upend me. Sometimes they amuse me. Those were not my best days.
I made Cs at a public middle school. What if I’d gone to an IB school? I hated opening the crinkled cellophane of a school portraits package, because I knew what I was going to find inside. I knew my mother would be sending it out in the Christmas cards. What if I’d had Instagram?
In 1982-1984, I didn’t deal with the things my girls are having to deal with now. But some things are universal. So I’ve been thinking about Middle School Missy and wondering what she would tell my girls about the world if she could. Here’s what I came up with:
Dear 2019 Girls:
- Do your best. Turn in your work. Study reasonably. But after that, let it go. A C in 7th grade World History will not change your life or the direction of your life. An A++++ would not either.
- Work with what you have. If you have straight hair, do straight hair as well as you can. If you have curly hair, do curly. Don’t do curly for straight or straight for curly. That’s just raging against the machine. God gave you what you have. Accept it and wear it well.
- Look at your body for its strength, not its shape. Your body is going to change 100 more times before it settles into anything you recognize for any length of time. You are a constantly changing lump of clay. And your body has a big job to do. Recognize it for the amazing way it does that job. For carrying you to 7 classes a day and surviving last period P.E. in the hottest place on earth. For surviving two brothers and each other on a daily basis. Fight for your health and not for popularity and you’ll be fine.
- Don’t worry about the boys. It’s way too early to worry about the boys. I tried and tried and tried to get Kyle Miller to like me in September of 1982. I had a mismanaged afro and teeth that protruded just enough to feel the cold fronts 15 minutes before I did. I thought those were the reasons Kyle didn’t like me. We were buddies, but he really liked Lauren Hightower. So I tried and tried and tried to be just like Lauren Hightower. I thought it I did everything right, he’d see me like he saw her. Fast forward 20 years and I learned that he was married to a guy, living a very different life than the one I was prepared to offer him. Middle school romances are condemned at their outset, by one thing or another. Just keep swimming.
- No one looks good with duck lips. It’s the universal face of stupidity. Cute people who never knew awkward. The most awkward person ever, dealing with a mouth full of metal and rubber bands. They both look equally bad with duck lips. You’ll see.
- Everyone deals with something. Loneliness. Divorce. Grief. Abuse. Abysmal self-esteem. Something. The girl who embarrassed you at lunch? She’s dealing with something. The girl you think is perfect because her duck lips picture got 155 likes in 15 seconds? She’s dealing with something. There are no charmed lives. There are only people better at hiding the uncharmed parts of theirs.
- Sometimes what looks like snob is actually just shy. Get to know people before you decide they aren’t worth knowing.
- Every day has good in it. Every day is salvageable. Sure, there are days when you’ll get called Popcorn Head more than you get called by name. And there are days you’ll sit out of the really cool science lab because you forgot to grab the paper your mother signed that allows you to participate. And there will be days when word gets back to you that someone doesn’t like your hair. Or your clothes. Or your face. Or your personality. Even on those days, you can find the good. If you don’t see it right away—if you are too exhausted even to look for it—be patient. Wait it out. Because it’s there and it’s coming for you. So take a deep breath, put your duck lips back in their holster, and get off Instagram.
Girls, you’ve got this. If it all gets too much, go find your mom. I hear she knows a thing or two about dealing with middle school.