Growing Up in London: Middle School Minefields
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Our oldest daughter Avah, is one of those kids that makes you feel like a stellar parent. She fooled us into thinking we were such good parents, that we had two more. Avah is kind, creative, thoughtful, loyal, and genuinely just a bright spirit in the face of every situation. In the South we would say, "she gets in, where she fits in." Her transition to a new house, new school, new country has had a few hiccups, mostly missing friends and family, but has still generally been pretty easy. I've been waiting for the shoe to drop, and today, it did.
When I was Avah's age, I can remember long talks with my mother just like the one I had tonight. The ones about the hidden minefields of school and friends and boys. Sixth grade can be quite treacherous. My mother drove a beige colored Honda Accord, and its interior fabric had tiny little blue and pink dots I would trace while she drove and we talked. Mona had a terrible sense of direction and we were always lost, so those talks were LONG, which was quite possibly Mom's plan. After a hard day at school, I would try to swallow back the hurt when she would pick me up. But inevitably, it would all come tumbling out. After a few good songs, my mom would reach over, grabbing my hand like she was leading me to tell her everything. And so I did. On this occasion, I was devastated by the treatment of a very dreamy high school boy when I was in 8th grade. I won't go into all the sordid details, but I'll give the cliff notes so the story makes sense. He was looking for an adoring girl that was interested in extracurriculars, and I was looking for prince charming. Therefore,It was doomed. What was worse and most embarrassing, he called my own best friend to dump me. I was heartbroken. When my mother reached for my hand on the drive home, I felt the pain burst like a bubble in my chest, releasing all the hurt and embarrassment to come spilling down my cheeks. As she tried to soothe me, I tried to describe, what I was feeling. I remember telling her, "Mom, I was just fine before he came along! It's like he just came in my world and shook me like a snow globe, then he just sat me down when he was finished with me. Like I meant nothing!" (I had a penchant for the dramatics and analogies) Mona quite liked my analogy. She squeezed my hand, and said, "Oh Toonie, that boy has no idea the mistake he just made. I promise you two things: first, this feeling won't last forever and second, he will regret this one day, and you will look back and wonder why you ever let him have an affect on you. Don't let anyone else determine your worth sugar, they will always undervalue you." She ended with, "I kind of feel bad for the boy." This made me tear up again, because at this point, even as much as I hated him and his rejection, I didn't really hate him. On the rest of the drive home my mom told me how much she loved me, how much she wished she could take away all my pain, and how I needed to suit up and put on a brave face for the next day. McClaran women strongly believe in "faking it till you're making it," and never letting them see you sweat. The next morning, she put a little rouge on my cheeks and loaned me her Lancôme lip gloss so that even though I felt broken, I looked like a million bucks. My mother was great in a heartbreak situation, whether it was with friends or crushes.
Tonight, I would have given a million bucks to call Mom.
While sitting at my desk, wrapping up work for the day, my baby girl came home from school in a flood of tears. She began recounting every detail, every wound, made by some kids at school. The cliff notes was a mother's worst nightmare: Avah sitting hurt and alone at lunch. I felt the blood rush to my face, and my heart started to pound in my ears at the vision of her all alone. In the moment, I was struck by the weirdest sense of pride. How in the hell my mother didn't end up in jail in these situations, is beyond my comprehension. Kudos Mom. Avah buried her head in my chest and sobbed. While I held her, I closed my eyes, and I was transported back to the passenger seat of the beige Honda. I could vividly see my mothers hand in my hand. I thought to myself, Baileigh, you can't fix this, but you can walk her through this. You know this won't be the last time.
When Avah finished crying, I took the time to listen again to the play-by-play now that some of the emotional sting had subsided . Every little detail she gave me was nothing new. I remember the tactics of 6th grade boys and girls and it hasn't gotten any more refined over time. It's sadly a little comical that not much has changed since 1996. Avah finished and I told her to take a breath, wash her face, and I'd make her a hot chocolate. Chocolate has healing powers in this family. We would talk it out when she was ready. As she went up stairs, I sat down at my desk and just stared into space for a minute. How did I get here? I barely feel old enough to have a kid that is old enough to have these problems. I want my Momma. It's funny how as you get older, you see your parents so much more clearly. My mother may not have been the most conventional, but she was a master at overcoming hard. She would have been a handy tool throughout this move. I think the secret to her sauce was that she spoke from a place of her own pain, it was vulnerable and it left a great mark on me. I'm going to give it a try.
Avah came down and I readied myself. I began channeling my "Inner-Mona." Taking a direct play from her book, I cut to the chase, and was well,...direct. "Avah, honey, I have felt the way you are feeling, and been where you are, so many times in my life. I would love to say this will get easier or be the last time, but I won't lie to you. It still happens when you are an adult. What I do know for sure is that you will be smarter the next time, you are never alone and this horrible feeling will not last forever" She smiled a little, Avah is smart. She doesn't always understand why people are cruel, but she does understand hope. I proceeded. "Avah, when it all comes down to it, there are two types of people in this world: The snow globe shakers, and the snow globe swirlers." If you think I am drinking, I hadn't started yet. I'll go on. First, there are the snow globe shakers. They will pick you up, toss you about and when they do, they make such a glittered bubbly mess that you can't find yourself in the haze. The "Shakers" aim to get something out of you, or see you flounder. They don't always do it out of cruelty, but often simply miss the point of relationships and are overcome by their hang-ups. The mess they made will knock you off kilter for a while, and you may forget how you want and should be treated. You'll even start to question your own value because when you stop being useful to a shaker, they will sit you down and walk away. Seemingly, unharmed. Their actions will leave you devastated, because their motives are so foreign to you. Avah my love, you are a snow globe swirler. The "Swirlers" of this world look into your tiny bubble and they are overjoyed when a little swirl showers you in the bright shininess that is your success and happiness. They are not looking for a short term thrill, but are appreciative of the long term opportunity to be a part of world. They want good for you, they speak kindness to you and above all, they value you. When you are down, they care, they want to hold you up to the light and be dazzled by you because they are happy when you are happy. BE a swirler, and SEEK the swirlers when you can. Forgive the shakers, because someone probably shook them too once upon a time. One day, they will look back and regret they missed out on the magic that is you." Avah began to nod her head and her grin turned to a laugh, because I think she thought I was equal parts silly and right. I wrapped it up. "Today, you were tossed about and you accepted poor treatment because you just want to be loved and accepted. I get that. Tonight you are gonna let the bubbles settle, put yourself right side up and try again tomorrow. I think your friend made a huge mistake by not seeing all that I see in you." I gave her one last hug, and she went off to do homework.
When Zac arrived home, he gave his own brand of advice to Avah. I always love hearing a grown man's view on 6th Grade drama. I poured a gin and tonic, sat back, and watched him work. His conversation made me glad to see that surely between the two of us, she had gotten some sort of help in navigating the situation. When I went to bed that night, I laid awake and thought about the new road of parenting on which I find myself on. I know it will be long, and hard, and I'll have to come up with more eccentric analogies that will make her laugh. We so often forget the complexities of Avah's little life as she manages an overseas move, new friends, a new school all while barreling head first, down the path to womanhood. But I know she'll figure out her place in the sun because she has a world of glittery goodness to share.
The next morning, I put a little rouge on her cheeks, we crimped her hair and I loaned her a lip gloss. A little piece of Mona lives in England today. When I got everyone off to school I found a little note she left me by the back door that said, "I love you Mom."
Long live the Swirlers.
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