August 22, 2018
I'll begin by saying I have no idea how this happened so fast. When we started our daily walks up our dead-end gravel road to the blacktop and the sidewalk that led us to kindergarten, it seemed like those 6 years would be an eternity. By the time the spring rolled around, I clung to each of those walks like a little kid hanging on to a teddy bear, knowing full well that we were counting down to the end of it.
I won't soon forget that last walk home on 5th grade graduation day, holding hands like we did when you were little. Or how much I appreciated that you understood then that it was a milestone - the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. And that there was no going back.
You are no longer a little kid - wow! It's time to start the next phase of your grand adventures, and though the work and responsibilities will at times not seem so exciting, middle school is indeed an adventure. After these three years you will be a teenager, closer to a young adult than a little kid. None of us will believe how much you have changed.
And so tomorrow, I'll walk with you up to the blacktop once again, this time to watch you get on the bus to middle school for the first time. I know most every kid we know has been riding the bus for years, but it makes me appreciate all the more how unusual our last few years have been, and how lucky I was to share those walks with you. That bus takes you hardly a mile from home, but it is a big middle school with lots of kids and noise and chaos and hormones. You sixth graders, all 300-odd of you, will be navigating a brave new world with new responsibilities and new challenges. It will soon become routine to you, further proof of the adaptability of kids.
There is so much racing through my mind tonight, my dearest child. I can tell you to work hard and do your best, and pay attention, and mind your manners and all of those very important things. But the truth is that these are the years when you will either learn to do these things routinely, or struggle with the consequences of not doing so. There is little I can do, short of being a parrot on your shoulder; I simply must pray that you find your way as best you can and learn from your mistakes. Each of you will make plenty of them. Some of them will make you feel terrible, others you might not even realize until much later.
But my only advice to you is simply this - be kind. To the teachers and custodians as well as your schoolmates. You don't have to be best friends with everyone, and you don't have to tolerate the baggage of mean people and bad behavior, but it will not hurt you to smile and say hi. Because you will likely not ever know the challenges that each of them might face, nor how they struggle to hold it in check in the rest of their daily life.
Some of your schoolmates may be insecure in the most basics of life, others dealing with abuses that might horrify you, still others making their way without a parent who is absent or even deceased. Someone beloved to them may struggle with addiction. Some of those kids may have not known the warm loving embrace of their parents anywhere nearly as often as you have, nor the loving firmness of boundaries and expectations that you be a decent human being and responsible family member. And all of them will be struggling to "fit in" to this new social mayhem.
You may think that others have it so much better than you, and in some ways that may certainly be the case. It will almost certainly also be true that some will see you in exactly that same light, and maybe for reasons you wouldn't believe. The knowledge that you can't possibly know everything about everyone should never be far from your mind when relationships become strained, as they inevitably will. It will never hurt you to be kindly for a moment, even to those who are unkind to you.
Know this - you will still be the awesome human being that you are right now, and that you were the day you came into the world. As you've heard me tell my writing students, no one else in the universe sees the world as you do. Your vision and your sentience is a blessed and unique gift, just as it is for each of the other seven billion humans on this marvelous planet.
With being human by definition comes imperfection, and hardships, and obstacles to overcome. You will be forever changed, just as your mother and I have been by all of our experiences in life. And just like you, we too are marvelously flawed and awesomely imperfect human beings. And just like us, you are and always will be loved unconditionally, no matter what happens on a bad day at middle school.
Just be kind, and be yourself. Especially be kind to the person you'll see in the mirror in your locker every day. You've got this. Even when you don't.
With all my love always,