I'm never ready for summer to be over, but this year, my melancholy is worse than ever as we approach back to school time. In just a couple short weeks, my daughter Isabella will start a brand new chapter of her education -- one that apparently requires a chandelier for her new locker! Yes, at only 10 years old, she's heading to the local middle school.
Wait, did she skip a grade or something?
Nope -- that's just how it works in my town, for some reason. We have four small elementary schools for kindergarten through fourth grade, and then all those kids head to the one big middle school for fifth through eighth grades.
I know, I know ... she's still only going to be in fifth grade. But it's just such a big transition to leave her sweet little elementary school. Everything there is so familiar and comforting, from the decorations in the hallways to the handprint "garden" painting with Isabella's chubby little purple print that still hangs in her kindergarten teacher's classroom. Tucked into a residential street, it feels safe and cozy; it smells like crayons and paint and glue sticks.
By contrast, the middle school is in the center of our town, right next to town hall and the library. There are multiple entrances, and when school lets out, it feels like hordes of tweens and young teens fill the area, many of them walking home on their own, or lingering in town to go to the deli, or hanging out in the municipal parking lot behind the ice cream place. The scene is such a contrast to the experience of waiting for dismissal at the elementary school, with teachers standing carefully at the door, making sure everyone goes home with the right grown-up.
Come September, even though she'll only be in fifth grade, Isabella will have a locker (well decorated!), and a homeroom teacher, and, yes, a cellphone (something I'd prefer to delay for a few years but, given the scene above, want her to have). Her grade level social circle will multiply by a factor of four. She'll have choices to make at lunchtime in the cafeteria. She'll change classes and be expected to keep track of her schedule. She'll have to find her way around much bigger complex of several buildings. She'll be rubbing elbows with kids who have already turned into actual teenagers.
I know she's perfectly capable of navigating all of this; in fact, one thing I'm grateful for is how excited she is for the first day of school. Isabella doesn't seem to have any fear or nervousness at all, and I take that as a great sign of how well prepared she is. It seems like a big, exciting adventure to her, and that outlook makes me feel good about her sense of self-confidence and security in the world.
But my daughter is thrilled about all these things that make me anxious, because they're markers of something that I'm not quite ready for yet: Independence. Instead of being one of the "big" kids for another couple of years, all of a sudden she's going to be one of the littlest. She'll see examples of older, more independent kids everywhere she goes: Kids who are allowed to walk home alone, stop into the drugstore after school, use Facebook and Instagram on their phones ... The list goes on and on, and I know that it's going to be up to us to be firm with the boundaries we set.
I know that it's inevitable that we will have to cross all these bridges. I know that it's right and good that my daughter grow up, and learn to be strong and independent from us. But it really feels like this is all happening too soon.
Do you think fifth grade is too young for middle school? How does it work in your town?