Back in my day we didn’t call it middle school. Most people called it Junior High or, if you went to SPS like me, you just called it seventh and eighth grade. I had the unique experience of being in the same building with many of the same kids from grades 1-8. That’s pretty rare these days and I’m not certain that’s a good thing. I did some papers on that model during my graduate work years ago and still stand by many of my assertions and conclusions. But, that’s not what this column is about.
The things I was worried about then had as much to do with me and my comfort zone as they did about anything else. I had worries that the twin’s relationship with one another would change, that their relationship with their younger sister would change, that everything would change and it would never be the same. I worried that they wouldn’t want to play together anymore and they wouldn’t want to be around me anymore, either.
Keep in mind, they were only 4. They started kindergarten in Hawaii and would later do another kinder year once we moved in NoVA. But, at the time, I was terrified of these things. We were in a good place, I thought, and I worried that that one first step away would be the end of everything we’d tried to create together.
I left my career in education for a number of reasons, all of them valid. Paramount among them, however was a desire to connect with my family in a manner that I’d never had the opportunity to before. I wanted to be home with the kids and by the time they were heading to Kindergarten, I’d been doing it for two years. We had a groove… It wasn’t always easy. Actually, I don’t know that any of it was easy but by that point, two years in, we had a pretty fair amount of mojo going on. Change scared me.
“They can’t stay little forever.”
The wife said that to me, late at night on the eve of their first day of full-day, five days a week school, as I sat on the edge of the bed blubbering like a…well, I’m sorry that I can’t think of a good reference here. Feel free to message me one-I’m sure there’s one there, but I was emotionally overloaded at the thought of them moving out into the world. I nearly hyperventilated with anxiety at the time. I’ve gotten better at handling that since then, so, bonus, but I was really upset about it all and they were only four! It was Hawaiian “junior” kindergarten!
This week, half a world away from where their school journey started, they will complete Elementary school and will begin seventh grade in the fall.
So, how’d that happen? They did what kids do. They grow and they develop and they change. I find myself, at least for the moment, feeling less full of trepidation than I was back in the day. That may change between now and Thursday/Friday when the twins have their “transition ceremonies,” but I think it’s a little different this time. I’ve seen them transition through so many things, without the benefit of a ceremony even. They moved from Hawaii to Virginia. They started at new school. They started Scouts and played Soccer and Rugby and Volleyball. The Boyo started a new school in third grade. They’ve done choir and Sunday School and played in the school band. They’ve done All County Chorus and Area Honor Band. They’ve made friends and had friends move away. They’ve taken tests and run races and created art. Boyo is closing in on his Black Belt. J-Bird has become a fixture at the Pyramid Art show. Boyo is an amazingly thoughtful gift giver. J is more empathetic than anyone I’ve ever known besides her mother. They still, along with their younger sister, like to play together. And as a family, we do an awful lot together. That’s remained important.
I still read to them all, every night. The last few years I’ve managed to find books/series that all three kids are into, so that’s out routine. I’ll do it with them forever if they let me. I’m getting pretty good at voices.
Now, none of this is to suggest that we haven’t faced a pile of bricks worth of challenges. If you know me at all or have read in this space at all, you likely know what they are. I’m not going into all of that right now as I don’t want to and don’t have to. There have been a lot of days that I wasn’t sure how we’d make it through. Hell, there’ve been hours that I wasn’t sure how we’d get through.
Somehow, we did. We got through those moments where I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Those times where nothing made sense until we learned how it did. Those moments where it became clear that I didn’t know enough-didn’t know the right things to do about the challenges we were facing. So, we learned-all of us together and we continue to do so. I’m a different parent than I was when they were four and two. I’m a different man. I hope a better one, but I’d settle for marginally adequate/meets expectations.
I know every step they take into that larger world is a step away from the life we have today but it’s also a step towards the life that they will build for themselves. I hope we’ve laid a good foundation, and I’m officially and openly asking for advice on navigating middle school as a parent. I’m not certain my experience in grades seven and eight have prepared me for this any better than being a high school vice principal/athletic director prepared me for being a stay-at-home dad in Hawaii.
I’m feeling less trepidation today then I did back then. Perhaps that’s growth. Maybe it’s confidence in the twins and their own personal brand of awesome. Maybe it’s trust that the wife won’t let us screw this up. I suppose it could be surety that the friends the kids have made and skills they’ve learned will serve them well as they move into a whole new middle-schooly world. Could be faith. I’ve gotten better about seeing that and the grace it entails.
Or, perhaps when the twins actually do their transitions, maybe in that moment I’ll completely lose it. It’s possible. I’m a human male of complex emotions, so that’s certainly a possibility. But if I do, it won’t be because I am worried about the future. It won’t be because I am afraid about who they will become.
It will be because I am so amazingly overwhelmed by the distance that our whole family has traveled, both physical and otherwise, to arrive at the moment we now have the privilege to inhabit. It will be because I am so outrageously proud of the things all my children can do. It will be because I am impressed with the way they both connect and challenge their siblings. And their parents. And their friends and themselves.
It will be because I know that this moment that now approaches is one I could not see when they were little. It wasn’t in my mind back then, as our future at that time was more in flux than we realized. But here we are.
So how did we get here?
I’m not going to say comfort zone. That’s become hack for me at this point, but I like very much where we are. Where I am now. The space we inhabit.
It is simply amazing for me to revisit the things I wrote in this space back when they were little. I’m so glad I wrote them. I don’t think anyone else is, but I know I like the fact that I can look back on my own ridiculousness. It’s therapeutic and there’s no copay for it, so score one more for me.
I don’t know how I’ll react this week when they transition out of elementary. I’m cool with that. It’s nice to look at myself and not find a foregone conclusion. I like who I am now. That’s not something I’ve been able to say with impunity throughout my life.
However it all goes, I’m amazed and astounded and deeply humbled to have the privilege to be a part of the life of my family. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Hawaiian sayings: “Kulia I Ka Nu’u.” It means, “strive to reach the summit.” I like it because it’s never depended on actually reaching the summit. Just that you strive for it.
I think let’s leave it at that for now. If I blubber at their ceremonies, perhaps I’ll have another column. As always, thanks for reading.
It seems like mere moments ago that I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our home in Ewa Beach on the eve of the twins starting kindergarten. I wrote about that in this space then and just re-read that one now. I won’t reiterate the whole things, but, as we approached the moment where the twins began their career as full-time students, I, um, well, I kind lost it.
I got emotional about it to a degree that probably should have been embarrassing to me (I know it was for the wife), but as I look on it now, I realize that I was reacting to the first time they made that inevitable move away from what has been, towards what will be. It’s the way life works and I think I’m a little more mature and experienced as a parent now, right?
All of us are a work in progress. I think that is perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned since I sat on the edge of the bed and blubbered my eyes out because I was worried that the kids wouldn’t want to play with me or each other anymore after going to school and that my whole comfort zone was once again set to implode. It didn’t then, it just changed, much like it will again soon.
We worked. We loved. We struggled. We fought. We made up. We celebrated. We cried. We said hello. We said goodbye. We said Aloha. We ate. We drank. We slept. We drew. We painted. We played. We walked. We prayed. We planted. We moved. We grew. We sang. We went to church. We played records. We listened to the radio. We went to garage sales. We created. We read. We drew. We folded paper. We visited family. We made new friends. We kept the old ones. We said goodbye to some friends. We did genealogy. We learned. We learned a lot, about a lot of things. We watched sports. We got a dog. We found a place.