Monday, January 27, 2014

My Friends Are Awesome

...worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.
--Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

Parenting middle schoolers can be a depressing business. With a sixth grader and an eighth grader in the house, I find myself having a lot of conversations about the way people treat each other, as well as reprimanding the boys for random acts of dickishness to each other and their little brother. I have had long conversations with Son #1 about what motivates some of the worst of middle school behavior--insecurity, and the instinct to tear other people down so that you either feel bigger or don't become the next target yourself. I like to think that by giving the boys knowledge, I'm giving them a little bit of armor to get them through these awkward years. But I have to acknowledge, even to them, that it's flimsy protection.

This year Son #1 had to deal with his first full-fledged incident of mean-spirited middle-school teasing. He had gotten friendly with a girl (I'll call her Maria) who was in a couple of his classes. I think at the time he thought she was kind of cute, though since he's really just emerging out of the girls-have-cooties stage of development, that mostly meant answering any question I asked about her with a loud exasperated "Moooom! Please!" (I have told both middle school boys that girlfriends are totally out of the question for them right now. Them trying to get a girlfriend in middle school would be like a dog chasing a car; if they caught one, they wouldn't know what to do with it.)

Several of his classmates in the two classes Son #1 and Maria shared started teasing them both. Son #1 tried in his earnestly Aspergery way to try to convince them that there was nothing between him and Maria, but of course that just led to more taunts. I tried in vain to coach him to display a convincing level of indifference, but it probably would have required an Academy-award-winning performance to make a dent. Son #1, I'm proud to say, spoke to his teachers, counselors, and the magnet coordinator before I could even suggest it in order to stand up for himself and enlist their help. Finally, the whole sorry incident died out completely, due to the combination of school pressure, Son #1's continued professions of indifference, and the long winter break.

I hated middle school myself, and the vicarious walk down this particular stretch of memory lane is one I've been dreading for a while. I do feel my boys are having an easier time in middle school than I did, but the continual talk about the ungenerous ways people can behave to each other out of their own insecurities was making me feel pretty low. One day I posted a somewhat veiled status update on Facebook about Son #1's situation, and I was buoyed up by the response of my own friends, who sympathized, offered to kick some middle-school butt, and just generally showed me that I and Son #1 weren't alone.

Which brings me, in a sort of roundabout way, to the point of this post. A couple of weeks ago, two college friends of mine, Sree and Cameron, asked me if I would be willing to do a video chat interview with them for their new project. They invited me to look at the first video they had shot, of another friend from our college. My jaw dropped when I realized that the name of their site was I squashed down my first instinct, which was to tell them no, they really ought to go find someone who was actually awesome to interview. I feel pretty darn ordinary most days. But these are two people who have known me since I was eighteen, guys I consider dear friends, and they are each awesome in their own way. It would have been a cop-out to say no.

I had a great conversation with them last night. And I realized afterward that there's no reason to let middle school get me or my boys down. The true emotional antidote to jerky behavior or random dickishness is not pretending to be indifferent or psychoanalyzing your emotionally immature peers (though that can be amusing). It is choosing to spend your time with people you like and respect who think you're awesome, just the way you are. Whether they are friends who offer their support when you need it or who just want to talk to you because they enjoy it, they are the armor against the douchebaggery of the world.

So I invite anyone who's made it this far to check out Watch Cameron and Sree's interview with Mark Piane, or even mine. I may not have unlimited money; I may not be famous. But I am a rich woman, because I have friends, and my friends are awesome.

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