Back to School and Raising an (Almost) Teen in Unprecedented Times

This is not your typical back-to-school blog post.

In September 1987, I started my seventh grade year in middle school. My biggest worry was whether I’d be able to handle being placed in GATE classes (gifted and talented education, GT, advanced classes, as they’re called). Spoiler alert: I did well in nearly all the subjects; I dropped down to regular math. I was quiet, scared and had very few friends. One of my strongest memories of that year was when the English teacher accidentally turned on MTV in class and the “I Got My Mind Set on You” video was playing (I can still see that video). The teacher, Ms. Lorch was her name, said, “Who the heck is this?” George Harrison, we all answered. “The BEATLE!?” she exclaimed.

Two weeks ago, on August 19, 2020, Sophie started her seventh grade year in middle school. While May marked the end of her sixth grader, the last time she set foot in a classroom was March 13. Her biggest worry is forgetting to wear a mask to school and being able to remember her every-other-day in-person/remote learning schedule. Sophie is outgoing, played the lead role in last year’s school musical, performed on the school dance team, and has a fair number of diverse friends, which is pretty impressive considering we’ve only lived here four years.

I often wonder how I got the daughter that I have. In so many ways, Sophie and I could not be more opposite. Although, our middle school fashion sense is eerily similar since she prefers to wear oversized clothes that look like they’re straight out of the late 1980s.

But all kidding aside, Sophie is an extrovert. I’m an introvert. Sophie is LOUD, talks and sings to herself, plays music and shouts on FaceTime while doing school work. I purchased noise-cancelling headphones because I NEED quiet to write (by the way, she’s so loud the headphones don’t really work). At her age (and now), I complete any task, simply because it was assigned and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Sophie begrudgingly completes tasks with minimal effort, but complains the entire time if she doesn’t think it’s “worthwhile” to do. I was organized, made lists and needed very little supervision. Sophie is scattered, needs constant reminders and help staying on task.

I’m not going to lie when I say raising Sophie these last few years, especially in the middle school years, has been HARD. There is a lot of drama, a lot of anger and back-talk toward me and slamming doors, and a lot of hormones. Many days, I find myself crying wondering where I went wrong (and breaking plates in frustration). I know her behavior is “normal” for girls at her age, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

And during this time of COVID-19, everything is amplified and the uncertainty for the future is just as difficult for her as it is for me. As much as Sophie complains about school, all she really wants to do is be busy, spend the day with her friends, attend basketball games, participate in the school play and after school activities. We are fortunate that she attends school every other day. But that may change by next week.

Still, as much as she drives me crazy at times, I’m proud of that kid. She is so strong and resilient. One of the hardest thing I’ve done in my life was tell Sophie about the divorce. But she’s adapted so incredibly well, has grown and matured, and has an understanding of adult relationships in a different way. And she now has stronger relationships with both me and Bryan.

From politics to social issues to pop culture, Sophie is knowledgeable about so much (more so than I ever was at her age). Part of that is she has the Internet, YouTube and TikTok at her fingertips. But more than that, she thinks deeply about issues and is not afraid to articulate her feelings or opinions (as opposed to me, who has only recently started being comfortable expressing those feelings). She was absolutely serious when she recently told me she plans to file a formal complaint with the school corporation because of the new pandemic schedule.

Would I like her to be more respectful and kinder toward me? YES! Do I want to stop constantly telling her to pick up her trash and complaining about (what seems like) everything? Of course! Do I wish she didn’t place so much importance on her appearance and what others think of her? Absolutely.

But the fact that she gets up every day – in the midst of a global pandemic – continues to learn, is extremely intuitive in her perceptions of people and situations, and teaches herself skills like how to skateboard, is pretty impressive to me.

I read that when it comes to parenting, we’re given the child we need; not the one we want. I think there’s something to that statement. Sophie has a personality all her own. She drives me crazy, more often than not. But she does make life interesting. And I’ll continue to love her until my days are done.

A note about the photo: Sophie said we had to take photos at the park because she didn’t want anyone near school to see her. She also told me to buy her a bag of chips as payment for the photo.

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