Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breaking away

It's transition time. Not just for Earbaby either. This is transition time for all of us.

EB is in love with her new school. Even with all the homework, the chaos of changing classes and navigating a high-school atmosphere in a seventh-grade world, not to mention the 5:30 a.m. wakeup call to get to a 6:20 a.m. bus for the ride to school, things are coming together nicely. We couldn't ask for a smoother time.

Except ...

This is the first time in EB's life I don't know who her friends are. That whole roots and wings thing comes up quicker than you think. Suddenly you have to take on faith that your guidance has sneaked in between the sullen silences and eye rolling. And there's that delicate balance, that tightrope we walk to glean information about her day.

We all recently had a nice dinner with friends who have a son a year older. He and EB have been friends since they were toddlers, although there was a two-year stretch where we didn't see them and he managed to shoot up to almost six feet tall. She was intimidated a little bit by that, but as they've talked and texted over the past year, they've become friends again. We also used to all go to the same church, but they attend another one now. So it was good to get together, and compare notes on having teenagers and pre-teens.

We are not alone. The other mom said that this year they decided that their son's friends had to have names. There were no names last year, except for the ones they knew before he started at his new school (he also goes to an exam school). I felt better, although EB had just given a first name here or there (and sometimes, she didn't even know the name of a newfound friend), she hasn't been reluctant about sharing the first names. Yet.

We as parents have always prided ourselves on knowing not just the kids, but the parents of just about every friend our children have had. When you drop off and pick up your kid in the schoolyard, volunteer for cafeteria, or some other duty at school, or go to any of the family-oriented school functions, you not only put names and faces of families together, you become friends with some of them in your own right. The kids come to your house to study, or sleep over, your child goes to theirs for parties and what is cringingly called "playdates," and all is right with your world.

And then they break away. The friends now are names getting on and off a bus, faces you wouldn't recognize if you pass them on the street, automobiles dropping off early in the morning just as dawn is breaking. They are now, and probably will be, strangers from here on out.

Now I understand those programs about parents not knowing who their kids' friends are. Before that made no sense. Our rule was that there would be no playdates anywhere, including at my house, before I met the parent. I wanted them to know me and me to know them. I wanted to both give and receive assurances. 

But in the blink of an eye that has changed. EB will make her own friends, as usual, but already she has decided who will remain her friend. One new acquaintance started out really nice, but quickly turned rude around other friends, and tried to take advantage of EB's generosity. But I didn't raise a shrinking violet (which is a miracle, because I remember being one myself). She decided she didn't like the way she was being treated and dismissed her. She's going to a much bigger school now, there are a lot of fish in the sea, and she's no longer at the mercy of a group of 10 or 11 for friendship.

So far, the initial breaking away has been OK. She sighs when we ask, daily, how her day went, what she had for lunch, who she sat with (even on the first day when she knew no one, she didn't sit alone), and who she rode with on the bus. But it's our way of staying connected to this new phase of her life. The information comes in dribs and drabs, a story here, a comment there, sometimes to me, other times to her dad. He and I have to make sure we pass each other these nuggets of information to get a fuller picture of her day -- and her life.

She's breaking away, even as she cuddles, hugs and kisses us goodbye before school. She's going to be more than all right. Us? Well, I'm not so sure.

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