Thursday, January 25, 2024

Middle schoolers, you guys.


These guys used to be middle schoolers. Now they are delightful humans.

I have been thinking about Lisa lately and how she says toddlerhood is not her favorite stage but then has tons of posts where she is having a delightful time with her toddler and trying to summon that energy as I deal with a particular middle schooler because middle school? NOT MY FAVORITE.

I think the problem, really, is that middle schoolers seem so together and human-like sometimes. They are smart and funny and responsible and capable. And then all of the sudden they are very extravagantly not those things, and not only is whatever they are doing annoying/distressing/anxiety-producing, but also my expectations have been violated.


I am trying to do a better job of setting my expectations.

Middle school is, really, a metaphysical nightmare. Middle schoolers are people very much in the process of becoming, and I make the mistake of thinking they already are. But! It’s an easy mistake to make, because we see these tantalizing glimpses of the people they are on the way to being.

I don’t get annoyed at all  when Minnie loses her shit over a sandwich in the wrong shape or a pair of underpants printed with a character she suddenly will not rep or an invitation to exit the car on what has magically become the WRONG SIDE because I expect her to be irrational. I know she needs some quiet time before dinner and snacks every couple of hours and a break from her tablet and a pre-8pm bedtime and a song to clean up her toys.

I need to apply that same logic to middle schoolers who are also at a weird, discombobulating moment of development and have big feelings and bodies that are growing faster than their clothes can contain and can’t actually play Fortnite more hours than they sleep even though they totally ay they can. It’s so easy to praise a toddler for learning to spell her name or being able to pull up her own pants after she uses the bathroom or learning to struggle into her snow gear with minimal assistance, but middle school milestones go unappreciated. I need to be better at finding the human-in-the-world skills these kids are learning and letting them now that I notice the people they’re becoming. But not in a weird way. Like I can’t all of the sudden say at the dinner table SHOW DADDY HOW YOU SET A BOUNDARY WITH A FRIEND ALL BY YOURSELF. Or SHOW YOUR BROTHERS HOW YOU OVERCAME INCAPACITATING INSECURITY ABOUT THE WAY THAT ONE HAIR STICKS UP AND WENT TO SCHOOL ANYWAY. Or TELL GRANDMA ABOUT HOW TEST ANXIETY MADE YOU PUNCH YOUR SISTER BUT THEN YOU STUDIED AND STOPPED SCREAMING AT EVERY ONE AND IT WAS FINE.

Middle schoolers: people caught up in a being/becoming nightmare that is actually just their life one emo day at a time. Not demons trying to make me die of apoplexy. 

But also MIDDLE SCHOOL IS THE WORST and it is hard not to resent losing work time to other people’s dysregulation, you know???

Onward and upward— here is a baby ballerina saying French dance words. Luckily I will be firmly in my dotage by the time she’s a middle schooler and will have cute grandkids to gush over maybe if I a very lucky.


  1. Agreed - Middle School is the absolute worst …. Struggling so hard right now with the “is it anxiety/adhd/something else…” or *just* normal developmental terribleness that they’ll grow out of … or some combination of both. BUT! those glimmers of the person they are becoming!?! Oh so yummy and fun!! Thank you for this timely and appropriately descriptive reminder!

  2. It’s coming for me next year, Sarah! 😱

  3. middle school is hard hard hard :( thus far I still prefer it to toddler parenting but that's just me! my own middle school experience sucked and I guess I shouldn't be surprise to see it hasn't improve in the past ~30+ years or so. i am reading Lisa D'Amour's The Emotional Lives of Teenagers and nodding vigorously.

  4. I jumped over her from San's blog after seeing the dish towel you got in the Secret Santa exchange....hahahah I LOVE that Wonder Woman one!! That is so great!! Who gave that to you?? Hilarious!

    P.S. Not to be a creeper, but I am 99% sure our boys went to 4K in the same class a very long time ago now! Olson? I swear I remember your last name from email lists... (How I remember this, I do not know, since I can't remember to bring the grocery list with me most of the time. ) We've since moved to SP along time ago now but used to live West side ;)

    1. Grateful Kae - I loved that towel too and I sent it to Sarah. I thought it was so fitting for her. I was cackling in the store when I stumbled on it.

  5. Middle school is SO hard. Like SHU, I still prefer it to toddlerhood - BY FAR - but it's so rough. An emotional rollercoaster and you're so right that you simply can't parent that emotional rollercoaster the same way you would a toddler going through the same extremes.

    To be fair, I think everything from Grade 6 to Grade 12 kinda sucks. I liked life A LOT better once I was in university.

    I feel for kids in middle school because it's like "the worst" and it's a bit shocking to me what they have to put up with; fighting, name calling, more pressure academically. I'm very relieved that I'm not still in middle school!

  6. OMG. Yes. I had a sweet spot for about 6 months where I had a delightfully human high schooler, an 8th grader who had found her stride, and a little elementary school one who was just quirky and loving and delightful. But now I'm back to stewing in a house of existential angst where the only thing anyone agrees on is that I am obviously an idiot. We may not recover...

  7. I am a middle school teacher (20 years!) and I felt this sentence so hard: “ And then all of the sudden they are very extravagantly not those things, and not only is whatever they are doing annoying/distressing/anxiety-producing, but also my expectations have been violated.” YESSS! This is the time of year too where in the classroom they go totally bonkerballs and make me wonder why I do this job. 🙄 Right now I also have a 13yo at home and whoa boy is it rough to be awash in adolescence ALL DAY LONG. I told my husband many times that I was not looking forward to the years when my own kids were the age of my students and I was not wrong to dread it! It is so very emotionally exhausting. I am tired all the time.

  8. It will be interesting to see if I am like SHU and Elisabeth and prefer tweens/middle schoolers to toddlers. The toddler stage is SO HARD! I find fun things to do with the boys and try to enjoy the time but I'm mostly just white knuckling my way through things in the hopes it will get better soon. Taco is a particularly SPICY toddler, though, and mornings are an absolutely gong show in our house. I travel again next week and Phil is hard core dreading it but at least I'll only be gone for 2 mornings which is by far the worst part of the day for us. He loves school and yet he does not want to go to school so he fights every single step of the morning...

    My MIL was a middle school english teacher and she somehow liked teaching that age!! It takes a special person to teach middle schoolers IMO.

  9. As one of my BFFs has had to tell me, "you're only as happy as your most miserable child" so I totally get how middle school angst is seeping into your own day. No advice, just sympathy. I find your approach of trying to find things to praise so lovely.

  10. I constantly refer to eighth grade angst as the absolute nadir in my life. Middle schoolers, man. Brutal.

  11. This post - you nailed it. I have to say that my biological kids were mostly decent and funny during middle school. I enjoyed their evolving personalities and treasured joking around with them, but I credit that to both of my girls having the absolute best group of girfriends EVER. No drama, how was that possible? Lad had a much harder time, because he was so insecure and I look back and shudder at some of the bad/frustrated parenting choices I made when I handled it/him. :(

    The two newbies are in middle school and this is a whole new ball game. We are trying to get them to adjust to our home and our family, while navigating friends and school expectations and self image (all things that we weren't there to foster positive thoughts about), and dear God - even dental care expectations, and it is A LOT. They haven't had the foundation our bio kids had and they aren't as sure of themselves and things are rough.

    But we are powering forward. We are seeing glimmers of progress. A 7th grade girl told Rae she was fat and I just found out about it and that is adding a whole new layer to everything, of course. I'm officially too old to keep my mouth shut when I run across kids who have crappy parents.

    Is it me? I loved the toddler years. So much. When I needed a break, there was always naptime or bedtime. ;)

  12. Oof, middle school does sounds exhausting... I am exhausted for you reading about it LOL

  13. I honestly do not know anyone for whom middle school was a fun adventure. It was more like an "adventure" filled with flame-throwing peers and (for me, at least) a never-ending series of dispiriting encounters with said peers and also, sigh, teachers. Your perspective shift is really impressive and I hope that things smooth out soon... just in time for the next one to become a middle schooler.