I was allowed- and yes, I do mean allowed- to go to Ben's middle school picnic today for his "team" at school. The 6th grade is divided into three teams- Yellow, Orange and Red.
Ben is on Orange and today was a day at a park very close to our house for a BBQ and hanging out in the sun. Parents were asked to volunteer to bring some of the extras- sodas, chips, desserts- and come by if they wanted.
I signed up for sodas and stopping by. Ben looked at the slip and said, NO WAY.
Oh, come on, I won't talk to any of your friends.
ONLY if you bring soda and PROMISE not to talk to me at all.
NOT AT ALL, Mom.
I know. Got it. I'll chat with the teachers.
He was a bundle of nerves last night but managed to not get in too serious of trouble. This morning, the soda list was given to me along with the reminder not to talk to him.
After witnessing what felt like genetic-pituitary madness, I decided middle school is the single most awkward time of your life. There was one boy who was over 6 feet tall and several of the girls who were barely over 4 feet tall. Boys who were all bones and limbs, and girls who were so filled out I wasn't sure if they were students or classroom aides.
Until they started to talk and then I knew the familiar lilt of sassy-know-it-all- obnoxiousness that only comes from a 12-year-old.
Not a single one of the 80 kids were even remotely comfortable with their bodies. They moved as if they were only half under control of the steaming pit of hormones inside them.
There were the quiet girls who brought books to read- they broke my heart. I remember being painfully shy. There were the table of mean girls- you knew they were tearing everyone apart, laughing at people and completely full of themselves. Tough boys, a few terribly shy boys who didn't even bring books to read but wandered around the edges watching.
The one new twist from when I was in middle school was the sports playing. It was completely co-ed, girls and boys playing basketball, baseball. In my day, I was almost always the only girl who played ball. It was great to see.
I helped set up the table for food. I chatted with teachers and other parents. Ben was not to be seen.
After lunch, he came up to me. Mom, bring Beanie.
Bring Beanie over.
How would you ask that?
Please... please bring Beanie over.
I was amazed he spoke to me so I went to get the dog. I did a few things around the house- dishes put away, folded a load of laundry- and Ben called me.
Mom... where are you?
On my way.
Recently, it's been clear that having parents- especially gay parents- is mortifying for Ben. He's uncomfortable with it and I'm guessing most of his new friends do not know. It's why he didn't want me to go in the first place.
It was nice to have him call and want me there.
Okay, he wanted the dog there, not me.
Beanie and I arrived. Ben ran over to get her leash and immediately became the center of attention. The shy girls put their books down and came and pet her. The awkward boys ran over to pet her. Ask her name. What kind of dog is she...
Mom... what kind of dog is she again?
He spoke to me in front of his friends. Whoa.
Golden mixed. She's a little of everything.
I was called into action when she did her business on the field- picking up poop seems to be one of my callings in life. Other than that, I went and sat on a shady bench.
Eventually, Ben tired of parading Beanie around and brought her over to me. The kids, however, didn't tire of petting the dog and asking questions. She is so demure and gentle even the most timid kids made it over at least once.
Watching those kids today gave me a new sense of empathy for Ben. The girl he used to "date" hounded him relentlessly around the yard. His buddy he's known forever- a goofy boy whose body is being completely driven by sugar and impulse with no volume control- danced around him suggesting a million different things to do.
He kept it all together, remaining cool, aloof and annoyed by everything and everyone. I know his fears about being different, not fitting in, desperately wishing he was like everyone else. A storm of uncertainly brews inside him and he is only just beginning to learn how do deal with it.
On the outside, today? He pulled it off masterfully.
And if you're ever feeling old, fat, insecure, unsure, or generally pathetic? Go to a middle school at the end of the day and watch the kids file out.
If nothing else, it'll give you a little perspective.