I admit it. I’m a sappy grown-up. I weep every time I watch E.T. and get choked up during graduation ceremonies. That scene in Toy Story when the Mom is getting ready to send her son off to college? Just. Don’t. Hell, a decent marching band can open the floodgates sometimes. So it’s no surprise I get a bit misty at your school assemblies. Blame it on a combination of nostalgia, music, and harsh fluorescent lighting. Blame it on the rain or blame it on the bossa nova. For the most part it’s simply watching a gym full of you all so gloriously oblivious to the world around you.
Your mid-pubescent bodies do me in every time. They are so FULL OF LIFE, ripe with it, fairly bursting with it, that it’s almost painful to see. From afar I watch you unfold those newly lengthened limbs. I watch you laugh with friends, watch you lost in your middle school dreams and nightmares. And always I am struck with the width and breadth of possibility in front of you.
You can be…anything. How breathtaking is that? The whole world is in front of you. You’re still lumps of clay; unformed, unpainted and unadorned, just waiting for life to come along and shape you into what you’re meant to be.
It’s intoxicating. And it makes me well up with the sheer joy of it all.
My son is one of you now. The other day I got to see how you spend your down time at an end of term holiday party. There was a room for karaoke and another for bustin’ a move. There was a room set up for games and another with snacks and hot chocolate. Yet with all that choice for letting your hair down and whipping your nae nae, there were still a few of you who sat, eyes rolling into the backs of your heads, too cool for school.
I wanted to take shake you by the shoulders. I wanted to say, Oh, honey child, if life’s got you this jaded at twelve, what the hell are you going to do when you figure out that being an adult is all about filing out things in triplicate and saving for retirement? About arguing with the insurance company and trying to scrub skid marks off the toilet bowl?
Instead I’ll say this to you: sing the karaoke song. Get up there and belt it out, whether you can carry a tune or you drop it like it’s hot. No one’s going to remember you because you were too cool to join in. You want to be remembered? Be the one who gets up there and doesn’t give a shit whether or not you sound like Adele.
Dance like no one’s watching. Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. Because life doesn’t have enough dancing opportunities as a grown-up. All of a sudden you find yourself longing for a chance to shake your booty, which is hanging down near your groove thing. I think you kids call it bass now. But whatever, dance when you have the chance. They don’t come around as often when you start squeezing in work, food shopping, and the laundry list of other boring stuff that makes up 98% of grown-up-ness.
You can be anything. Don’t be bored. God, there is so much boring shit about being an adult. When you have the chance to spend an afternoon playing games with your friends and being goofy? Do it. Play a game of Connect Four. Let yourself get excited when the little discs slide into perfect formation. Be happy when you sink someone else’s battleship.
I know, I know. You’re waiting for life to really get going. It’ll get really interesting right around the next corner, at the next intersection, toward the next bend. You’re counting down the days until you’re grown up so you can go out and drink and smoke and drive and fall in love and have real fun. Truth is, what’s really lurking around the corner is going out to work every day and coming home to decide what shape pasta you can boil for dinner. Exciting stuff, I know. You’re waiting until the right man or woman comes along to sweep you off your feet and whisk you off to happily ever after land. I wish I could make you understand that happily ever after land looks nothing like what you think it does right now. There aren’t any unicorns for starters. And there is way more shouting.
Oh, sweet child o’ mine. Go forth and dance. Get out there and sing. Don’t bend yourself into a shape that you think is the right one. Don’t settle on a mold because you think it’s cool. You still have plenty of time to find your shape. You have time to break the mold. All the time in the world. Don’t be afraid of smiling, of having fun, of acting goofy, of screwing up the lyrics to the song. Don’t peak too soon. Don’t peak now. There is so much ahead of you, plenty of days to check your phone and roll your eyes.
Dear middle schoolers, trust me. When someone gives you carte blanche to sing and dance and drink hot chocolate in the middle of a Friday?