Ode to Middle School

So the adjustment to middle school is a little more than anyone anticipated. 

Part of it has to do with the challenging academics. 
The material is a little tougher. 
The expectations are higher, as they should be. 

But the real issue?  Organization. 
[Not my strong suit, by the way, which is no small irony, since I teach a course in study skills.  For a living.]

But it’s time to get our game faces on.
And we are getting really serious around our house.
About the agenda. 
About recording assignments.
About bringing home the right books at night.
About getting our work done.
About doing it well.
About putting that work back into the binder for tomorrow.
About turning it in.  On time.
About not cramming things down to the bottom of the locker.  
Or the backpack.  (Because while doing a clean-out the other day, one of my little darlings found a baggie of a-substance-formerly-known-as-grapes.  Fortunately for all of us, the Ziploc was intact.  I counted this as a blessing.  Really.)

And who's in charge of all this serious-ness?
I don’t even have to say it:
Mama has to wear her game face, too.
Gotta remember when to pick up the kids.
Gotta check that agenda.
Gotta confirm that what’s on the agenda matches what’s on the teacher websites.
Gotta make sure all the math problems get done.
All the permission forms get signed.
All the tests get studied for.
All the papers go back to the right spot.
All the half-eaten snacks get thrown away.

Plus provide yummy-but-healthy after-school-snacks.
Plus prepare something-that-resembles-a-nutritious-dinner.
Plus connect with my sweetheart husband when he gets home.
Plus make sure the dog gets taken outside.
Plus keep things moving, so we can get to evening activities.  On time.
Plus ignore the papers that are waiting to be graded.
After the homework is done.
After the dinner is eaten.
After the softball game has been won.  Or lost.
After the dishes are cleaned up.
After the kids are hugged on, sometimes prayed with, and sent to bed.

Every.  Single.  Afternoon.

With a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Well, not yesterday.
I was just concentrating on the serious part.
The stressed-out part.
The Mama’s-gonna-make-sure-it-all-gets-done-and-gets-done-right-no-matter-what-it-takes part.
There wasn’t a song to be heard.
Or a smile to be seen.
My own all-too-serious was silencing everything else.

Silencing the banter.
Silencing the “Mom, will you quiz me on this?” invitation.
Silencing the silliness that can make the work bearable.
Silencing our spirits.

Well, I knew it.

So I went outside.
Just to get a little taste of this delicious, pre-Fall weather. 
Just to catch a glimpse of the blue sky.

And I saw it.

Last summer, my son and I decided we wanted some home-grown vegetables.  So we made our purchase.  One tomato plant. (My family doesn’t even like tomatoes, but that’s another story.)

Not wanting to overwork ourselves, we did virtually nothing for this plant.
No fertilizer.
No special watering.
No prime spot in the sunlight.
We just put the pot on the back patio and left it there.

And—perhaps not wanting to overwork itself—our little plant gave us a grand total of maybe 5 cherry tomatoes.  Which was okay.  We laughed about our scant harvest and threw away the remains of our purchase in early November.

Here’s what we didn’t know:
Somehow, that not-so-fruitful plant left behind a seed.
And this particular seed is a determined little guy.
Because it decided to grow.
Right where it fell.
In the dark dirt underneath our patio steps.
Somehow, this little seed managed to sprout.
And the stalk from that seed has muscled its way through a crack in the concrete.
(It was hungry to see the sun.)
Over the course of the growing season, it created miracles.
Yellow blossoms.
Then fruit.
First like little green marbles.
Then bigger.
Then (finally) bright red, juicy cherry tomatoes.
More than I can use in my dinner salad.

But just enough for today.
Just enough to pop into my mouth on a not-so-great afternoon.
Just enough to remind me:   Don’t postpone joy.
Just enough to sing a quiet song: 
Right where you’ve been planted.
Stretch towards the sun from that spot.
That will be just enough.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

{Okay, here's a confession:  
Posting these words is like putting something precious in a handmade canoe and shoving it into the big, old ocean.  There's no way to know where--or whether--my boat made shore.  
If it did, though--if something here "landed" in your heart, gave you a glimmer of hope--I'd be seriously blessed if you'd say so in a comment.  You can think of it as sending a little canoe back in my direction.  :-)  }


  1. Thanks for sharing. Here is my little, poorly constructed canoe, floating back to your shore. Saw Tommy a few minutes ago and shared that I am not sure Pierce will live to graduate from high school because his approach to math and science is going to kill one of us. Pretty even odds right now on whether he or I go first. But your determined tomato seed gives me hope. Maybe somehow, somewhere, something will start to grow in that young heart and mind of his despite my horrible "farming" skills as a parent. I know that His plans are perfect, even if I am left scratching my head trying to figure out exactly how in the world I will ever see a harvest from this bleak soil called teenage wasteland.

  2. Thanks for reading, and for the canoe. Not sure why I like seeing them, but they sure are encouraging.

    I often wonder why it is that there is nothing like parenting to remind us of our shortcomings. I so agree with what you wrote, though: I guess we just press on and trust that our efforts will bear fruit. Not so much because we are especially effective, but because He is faithful, and our kids are His.

  3. This was so well-written and such a gratifying read for me...not that I'm grinning at your expense...but it's just a reminder that I am not alone. This past year has been a bit of a tough one in some of these same regards. I think we often have the tomatoes pop up to remind us that there are blessings in the midst of the chaos, but I have to take the time to go outside and see them. I am starting to be ok with the idea that I don't have to control it all...they really aren't mine to mess up, anyway. I'm getting used to the idea that I don't have to be the "tiger mom," or the "trying to keep up with other moms mom," or the "trying to keep up with other kids mom," or, the worst one, the "Power School daily checking mom" (confession: sometimes hourly...don't judge me). That my children would know and love the Lord is the cry of my heart. That they would be kind and humbly serve others in their world is my joy. That they would be able to do all of their math facts in no more than one minute and thirty seconds just isn't. That they would be the best on their athletic teams or the highest achievers in their class isn't either. Those things are bonuses if they give them opportunities to accomplish the first. By the way, I can top your unidentifiable food substance incident. Try going all summer with said substance in the backpack, only to discover it the night before the first day of school. True story.

  4. Shannon--
    Well, if this helped even just one other mom know that she's not the only one, then I suppose that I've accomplished some of my purpose in posting these blog entries. And your "bottom line" goal--for our children to love God--is mine, too. But I lose sight of it *far* too often. So I'm grateful for the reminder in your words.

    Thanks for reading. And commenting. :-)

  5. Anne, Here comes your canoe....(I LOVE that illustration! - you have such a way of making the small things apply to life and then writing it all in a way that reminds me of what really matters.)
    ....so yesterday, after I read your post, I accidentally dumped an entire new container of cherry tomatoes all over the floor. Yes, they rolled into the next room. And in that moment, (in front of my daughter) instead of coming unglued (Have you read the recent one by THAT title? Worth the read.) at my own clumsiness, I thought of your tomato seed and decided to let my tomato mess "stretch me toward the sun."

    It became a moment to chose to be thankful that I have enough cherry tomatoes to roll across the floor. One thankful thought led to another and I was grateful for the money to pay for them at the convenient well-stocked grocery store right across the street. I decided to be thankful that the floor had been at least wiped up in that spot only two days before from an even greater sticky mess caused again by yours truly. I was thankful I have running water to wash them off - again. And thankful that the little messes I make can be used of God to refine my sharp edges. Thankful for a friend who reminded me to look up - and out - and savor the blue sky, the forgotten tomato seed, the moment.

    Thanks for sending your canoe yesterday.... ~Katie C.

  6. Katie--

    I can't even begin to count how many opportunities I've been given to choose between gratitude or irritation. I wish I could say that I'm all that great at opting to be thankful.

    Thanks so much for commenting, sharing your story, and being a friend. :-)


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