I hold on to Jackson’s arm as he flings him self around me on a set of bleachers. It is Layla’s eighth grade graduation and I was trying to hold onto some sort of emotion long enough to be nostalgic. It is really hard when my head turns like a wind up toy every time Jackson breathes funny. Josh had already taken Cece out to the hallway but I was stubbornly holding on to the notion that I would see them announce her name. I craved hearing the words they used to describe her, creative and poetic. I fought the urge to raise my hand and list off additional synonyms for Layla Taylor: artistic, unique, passionate, genuine, old soul, good friend. I can go on and on and on – and not just because I am her mother. “Are we bringing them to the ceremony?” she asked, in the snarky teenage tone that suddenly worked its way into her inflection range. “They can’t stay home alone.” I said, in my new defensive tone – a mom/teenage hybrid. This is common now. Teenagers and toddlers are the epitome of the self-centered years, the time in your life where being an asshole can be explained simply by referencing age and everyone nods in agreement. Trying to explain to Layla that Jackson’s behaviors are mostly because toddlers lack impulse control is like explaining to Jackson that Layla is hormonal.* Back in the gym, as I am just as focused onto Jackson and I am swallowing my tears as a beautiful girl stands on the podium, with a soft pink dress that contrasted her bright green hair, and she is giving a speech about how much middle school made her grow. I envied her, almost as much as I envied Layla, at the very beginning of adult hood with so much ahead. Like a Hallmark greeting card, I mouthed the words along knowing the theme and how graduations go. I look at Jackson; he is sitting on the step smiling at me. That smile, the way he twists his lips into a perfect little grin, he looks angelic – and completely full of mischief. I see the spark and he ignites, across the gym floor. I am spry and suddenly thankful for all the running I do as I dart across he gym after him. I could hear the entire gym laughing. My mouth can’t figure out whether to laugh or cry and my lips start shaking at the confusion. I realize half my bra may be hanging out, but I am moving too fast for anyone else to notice. “Good catch” someone comments as I scoop him up and drag him into the hallway.
She was right. In all her wisdom and insight, she has become the thing I feared: smarter than me. I often questioned the level of milestone eight-grade graduation falls under. I barely remember mine. It is the end to her elementary school, then middle school life. I still pictured her the elementary school fourth grader who drew animals, read “Cat Warriors” and loved to play video games. I suppose she is still all those things, but now she is not a child. I don’t know how to honor this graduation. Is this an ice cream graduation? A present graduation? I went back through my years of writing and blogging to find a little excerpt I wrote about her in 2011. I used to be so afraid her unique, old soul creative personality would give her negative labels. Kids can be downright cruel. We have had our fair share of issues over the years, but when I saw her sitting with a group of kids who were just as unique, graduating from an alternative middle school and going to an alternative high school and hugging teachers who did nothing but expose her talents, I thought back to that time when I knew she was going to be ok, maybe because she took my advice and words to heart, or so I like to think.
Am I the only one who is sick and tired of bullies? It seems like they are a necessary evil in life like taxes and rain but it breaks my heart when my daughter tells me she is being bullied. All too soon, memories of my less than glamorous middle school self just come rushing back. What I often wonder is why we need to put each other down so much in order for other people to like us. Layla told me that there is a group of girls at school that have been cutting in front of her at school and have called her the…gasp…N word. I have feared the N word from when she was in preschool and had no clue what Hannah Montana was but could tell you all you needed to know about elephants. I told her the N word is what insecure people use because you are different and smarter than them. I also told her that I too had once-upon-a-time been called the N word as well…but now proudly embrace it. In kid terms, the N word is NERD! What is so bad about that word? If being a nerd means you are different, smarter and more culturally astute than your peers, then I am a nerd all the way. It is the nerds in life that become the Steve Jobs, or, most likely, your boss. If the calculation to success in your adolescent years is a multiplier of whom you put down to get on top combined with perceived beauty and athleticism, then probably about 85% of us are royally screwed. So I am doing my daughter a service by saying this…bullies are not cool.
There are words that put a wrinkle right in the center of my nose, like cliques and popularity. I wanted to tell my daughter that it was going to get better as an adult and that cliques would magically go away and that people weren’t going to be judged based on how many friends they had but I knew that would be a lie and that after pretending things like- there is a fat man who comes down our chimney every hear and brings you presents if you are good (for a month before)- I couldn’t continue to sugar coat real life for her. The only thing I could tell her is to be true to herself and hope for the best…and enlist some good friends for standby when life throws you a wrench. I know as an adult, I don’t function well with groups. I am wired for one or a few conversation. I am too weird for everything else and I will have to say it may have taken me over twenty years, but I am perfectly ok with that.
Cheers to my beautiful daughter Layla, beautiful soul and (gasp) brand new High Schooler