Mary Claire in an MSU Hoodie

Mary Claire and I attended the mandatory call-out meeting for all eighth grade athletes yesterday. We found the junior high, signed in, and sat down among a sea of chatty new teenagers and their equally chatty parents.

“Do you see anyone you know?” I asked, casually trying to lighten the mood as we swam in a sea of strangers.

She rolled her eyes at me.

It’s tough — this new-kid-in-school gig. Two rows in front of us, ten long-haired, giggly girls talked and laughed and shared summer stories together.

“You can go introduce yourself,” I suggested.

Another eye roll.

Please offer her a smile, I silently begged. Just one. All it takes is one.

I looked around that auditorium filled with fresh, young faces and thought… who is going to offer a kind, inclusive hand? Who is going to mock my girl’s sassy, red Chuck Taylors? Who is going to ask her to sit at the lunch table? Who will capture her attention? Who will break her heart?

And I had to swallow back tears. Because in this world of pervasive self-preservation, sometimes we human beings are mean. Sometimes it feels safer to knock someone down than to help pick them up. Sometimes pretending someone doesn’t exist is easier than opening yourself up to potential heartbreak.

But you can’t discover new love and light and friendship in a cocoon. Taking a risk on someone might be scary, but isn’t it always — always — better than missing out on what might have been?

“Do all these girls look exceptionally skinny to you?” my daughter asked.

Tread carefully, I thought. Choose whatever comes out of your mouth next with precision.

“I think they look like eighth grade girls in a variety of beautiful shapes and sizes and hair colors.”

Eye roll #3.

“Are you nervous?” I asked my girl.

“I’m nervous about making the volleyball team,” she replied. “I don’t know how good these girls are or how long they’ve been playing. But I’m not nervous about school.”

“Not at all?” I asked.

“No, Mom. I’ve done this before. It’s no big deal.”

She is so brave, my girl. All my kids are. Three different schools in four years is no cake walk. Someday, they’ll look back and be grateful for the strength and tenacity they acquired during these years, but right now, they’re still just kids trying to find a place to fit in.

Mamas out there, please teach your children to smile at the new kids. Please let them know that it’s courageous and strong and brave and adventurous to reach out to someone you don’t know. Please remind them that behind the new girl’s glasses or the new boy’s fresh forehead break-out might be the best friend and biggest heart they could ever hope for — that an infectious belly laugh is just waiting for permission to make itself heard. Please help them understand that our shapes, sizes, and make-up choices don’t define us — that looking into a human being’s soul is so much more important than looking at her clothing labels.

I promise I’ll teach my kids the same.

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18 Responses

  1. My kids are going to be in the same boat this fall, Katrina….thank you for this post! Sometimes I think they’re doing better with all the transitions that come with moving to a new town than I am. Blessings to you and yours as you navigate your way.

    1. It’s so challenging for us as Mamas not to project our own anxieties onto our kids, isn’t it, Emily? We need to be where we are as a family right now, but I still feel guilt for uprooting my kids… yet again. And although I know they’ll learn and grow and be better for it, when their first few days or weeks are lonely and scary and overwhelming, it breaks my heart in a million pieces. Best wishes to you and your kiddos, too, on your new adventure! (And I’ve always heard that it’s the Mamas who are last to transition well. I think it’s because we tend to take care of everyone else’s needs before we tend to our own. Be sure to take care of yourself, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) XO

  2. I know how you are feeling. A couple of yrs ago we moved across our state taking our new 10th grader to start a new school. Even though he had met a few new people before school started, because he was on the soccer team, I remember dropping him off that first morning, watching him walk alone into that new school, and then proceeded to cry all the way to work. I didn’t want my oldest son to be alone, I worried all day if someone would talk to him, if he would talk to someone, I cried at lunch time because I pictured him sitting all alone eating lunch. I was a damn wreck the entire day! We all survived and I pray that we are all better off for the experience. But your post really brought that memory back! Good luck to your kiddos in the next coming weeks, I hope they get the smiles they need and deserve!

    1. It feels a bit like throwing them to the wolves, doesn’t it, Michelle? There are such lessons of character built in new situations — and the kids always seem to respond with such adaptability — but as a Mom, it’s so tough to watch. Do whatever you want to me, but don’t hurt my babies. That’s the Mama Bear in all of us, I think.

  3. That feeling of helplessness is overpowering! You’re brave for trusting your kids to be brave and strong, knowing you’ve taught them the very best way you could!
    Other kids will include and exclude as they’ve learned by watching their parents…I suspect your kids have learned a great deal about kindness and inclusion from theirs. Brava you!
    I wish your girl the best volleyball tryouts and school year! <3

  4. I do teach my girls to talk to the new kids. Invite them to sit with them at lunch, offer any help they need, etc. Unfortunately it never seems to develop into a friendship for my daughter. She’s still excluded and considered different. That breaks my heart. I prayed for a special friend for her and every new child that comes to school, I pray is that child. One day, maybe one day (sigh).

  5. I am in the process of moving my family from Ohio to California. Your recent posts certainly hit home as I have a frosh and soph. I am sharing the same feelings and inward pleas for my kids’ new peers. All the best to you and your fam ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I was at school today with Tim, a junior. He knows every single one of his classmates. He is well-liked, an athlete, a scholar and a holder of office. I recognized at least 11 kids, male and female, from his class in the registration room. He spoke to no one. Kids are so worried about looking “stupid” that they don’t realize they are looking like assholes.

  7. What a lovely piece this is, Katrina! I totally get where your heart is. Having homeschooled our Tribe, whenever we participate in public school or any activities/sports involving school age youth, they are the new kids, even though we having lived here for 16 years. So, I know what you are feeling. We also teach our children to reach out to someone they don’t know and get to know them, So, if your jobs happen to have you move to the Twin Cities area of MN, just know we have 5 (aged 15-3) children who are ready and more than willing to make new friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

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