Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm so moving on

On Tuesday my second daughter, Simone, graduated from the eighth grade. Simone and her older sister, Sophie, are seventeen months and one grade apart. This means that for the past three years, we have been dealing with junior high girls in this house (I'm only counting seventh and eighth grade as junior high).

What a ride!

Also, it so happens that we moved here from Chicago three years ago. This means that the girls have had to adjust to a big move while going through all the changes that take place in junior high. It also means that I have been the mother of junior high girls during the entire time I've lived here.

For me, these have been the most challenging years as a parent. Very little of what I'd learned during the first twelve years as a parent has been of any use to me. This came as a real blow! At age 39, I had to start from scratch -- right back to where I was fifteen years ago, when I first embarked on the adventure of parenting.

Junior high seems to be the time when girls are preoccupied with identity. Their bodies are changing, what they know is changing, and even if they stay in one place, the world around them changes radically, as well. Just as when a baby becomes a toddler and can see the world from a different vantage point, the sudden extra inches of height make it possible for junior high girls to look the adult world in the eye. Their big task is to process, both mentally and emotionally, the change in themselves and the new information about their world. This work is enormously stressful and exhausting, and nature seems to have given them preternatural bursts of new energy so that they may tackle it well. The trick is, though, to harness the energy to the task at hand. The energy goes shooting out in all directions, and sometimes it isn't productive at all. Meanwhile, the sense of flux and uncertainty is disorienting and anxiety producing. The results are not always pretty.

One way that junior high girls cope is by generating interpretations, definitions of self, and definitions of others. This is pretty much what my last post was about. Over the past three years we've been going through interpretations of events faster than a debutante goes through shoes. Let me give some examples:

  • I can't study. I'm not smart like other people. [this is a meaningless statement -- how does one measure "smart"? What does it have to do with whether you do the job that's in front of you or not?] But it won't make any difference if I study!! [Maybe the point is not to "make a difference" but just to do the work that you've been given?]
  • I will be miserable if I can't have a manicure. [no comment]
  • I'm the kind of person who __________________ (doesn't get classical music, can't do math, can't invite people to things, needs things to be a certain way or I can't function, can only listen to people when they tell me what I want to hear, falls apart when someone's manipulating me, needs to be in professional theater, can't read poetry...you fill in the blank). [these are definitions that we impose, we decide in advance that we have these limits. The "kind of person" rhetoric attaches a sense of doom and finality to the interpretation]
  • She's saying these things to me because _______________ (she hates me, she hates anyone who's taller than she is, she thinks I'm stealing her friend, she just wants other people around her to be suffering or she can't be happy, etc.). [Why don't you ask her? People are pretty mysterious. You can't know what her motives are. She might not even be aware that you think these statements are belittling or offensive]
  • He always says this, she never does that... ["always" and "never" have been shockingly abused and overused in this house in the past three years!]
  • It was the only thing I could do! [Who took away your freedom and creativity?]
  • You can think whatever you want, but I think that she's ugly and stupid. My opinion is as good as yours. [What do you gain by thinking she's ugly and stupid? How does it help you? People are so much more than the labels and categories you can slap on them]. That's fine for you, but I still think she's ugly and stupid! [Okay, you think she's ugly and stupid. I think she's beautiful and intelligent. But what is she really? Just what we think about her? How about what she thinks about herself? Does that count the same or more than your opinion? How about what God thinks about her? How do we figure out who she really is?] I don't care! Okay? I just don't care! Now go away! [I can go away, but it won't make the question go away]
  • I don't need to read or to learn about what someone else says about ____________ (Shakespeare, a painting, God, meaning, etc...). I can think about it on my own. What I think is all that matters. ["No man is an island..." Anyway, we all know this is just an excuse to be lazy -- or it comes from a fear that I will discover that there is more, much more, to any subject than whatever I can say or think about it]
  • It is so because I say so! And anyway, I'm happier this way. [Happiness without the truth? I think this experiment has already been tried, but go ahead...test it out and let me know your results]
Now, before anyone accuses me of picking on my girls, let me just say that I have engaged in each of these attitudes myself. This is why I said "we" yesterday. Only with me, the examples aren't so clear and easy to parse. This will give you some idea, though:
Living in the midst of this process (or should I say "storm") can sometimes feel like constantly taking a test that I'm failing (whatever wisdom that may be found in the bracketed statements above has rarely been synchronized to the events as they happen in real time!).

So, hurray for Simone's graduation! Hurray for new beginnings! Now both girls are in high school summer band camp, and all afternoon and into the evening the house is filled with rousing flute and clarinet melodies. My favorite these days is when they practice, at top volume, "I'm so moving on!" I think it's the theme song of our summer... at least for another year, until Serena reaches seventh grade!
Congratulations, Simone! You did it!

1 comment:

Justine said...

So beautiful! I loved that dress and the way the shawl was tied in the back.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."