August is here. The time to sort through clothes to figure out what fits and what doesn’t (not to mention what’s fashionable or “so last year”) and to make the annual back to school shopping trip for all your kids’ clothing and school supply needs. Call me crazy, but even though I despise shopping, I actually really love this time of year. I revel in the feeling of total organization and freshness in starting a brand new year, new clothes, new binders, new opportunity. My daughter, who is a shopper at heart, usually loves this time of year too, but this year is feeling a lot more trepidation.
This year she will be going to middle school.
Lets’ face it. Middle school can really suck. I can honestly say that middle school as a whole was the hardest time I had growing up. First of all, it is a HUGE change from elementary school. The school is bigger and the work is harder and more plentiful. Then there are the social and physical transitions. Everyone’s bodies are changing, and at all different rates, just to make it a little more awkward and confusing. This makes for emotional, sometimes irrational, fickle, drama filed social interactions fueled both by chemistry and a heaping helping of insecurity. No thank you. But I digress…
As expected, although my daughter is anxious about the bigger school and demands awaiting her in middle school, she is mostly concerned about two big things: friends and puberty.
The friend piece is hard. Kids can be mean, and adolescent girls seem to be some of the fiercest and most aggressive life forms. Middle school friendships are volatile to put it mildly, and unfortunately there is nowhere to go but through it. I have reassured my daughter that we will always be here for her and although friendships will sometimes be hard, if she always chooses to be kind, she can feel good about herself even in the face of “girl drama.” In addition, if she models the type of friend she wants to have, eventually she will attract the type of friends she wants and is worthy of.
As far as puberty, at least I can help her be prepared. We have already had “the talk,” and I feel very lucky that we speak open and honestly about her pre-pubescent concerns. She came to me recently, very concerned about the possibility of getting her period for the first time at school. She told me a story of a friend who this happened to in 5th grade and the friend had to go to the nurse and was horrifically embarrassed. As a nurse, I assured her that the nurse was very happy to help and that she did not need to be embarrassed, but she maintained that it was just TOO embarrassing and she would not do it. She also expressed concern about participating in gym and not wanting to play hard (even though she’s an athlete) because she was afraid of smelling bad afterward.
It became clear to me that not only did I need to spend some more hands on time teaching her and answering questions, but it also inspired me to help her create a “Tween Tote,” to keep with her at school to meet her most special needs while way from home.
The “Tween Tote” was initially just going to be a little bag with pads in it, should she get her period at school, but it morphed into something quite unexpected and we learned a lot together as we made it. We talked about her fears and what things were important to her, to help her feel secure about herself, and particularly her (changing) body as she started middle school. We talked about wearing a bra, and body odor, and having food stuck in her teeth, and even just having a bad hair day. Together we assembled the tote, and even engaged in some tutorials in the process. For example, though we have talked ad nauseum about starting to menstruate, and I have showed her various feminine hygiene paraphernalia, while making the tote, she was able to stop me and say, “Can we practice putting a pad on so I know how to do it?” What a great opportunity for us both!
Upon completion of her “Tween Tote,” this is what we have inside:
- An extra pair or underwear
- A few feminine pads
- A few feminine wet wipes
- A brush with hair ties
- Hand sanitizer
- A travel toothbrush, paste and flosser
- Moisturizer, lotion and lip balm
- Phone numbers and a “pick-me-up” note from Mama
As parents we want to protect, shelter and be there for our kids at every turn, but as they grow it becomes more apparent that they need to spread their wings while still knowing that if they fall or are not ready to fly, we are there. Making the “Tween Tote” was not only fun and a great bonding experience, it also gave me a tangible way to guide my daughter and culture her individual needs even when I can’t be there in person.