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school's out

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
School's out for summer...

Yes, the day has finally arrived, the day I both loathe and love. The last day of school.

The kids both go in for an hour today. An hour. I suppose the state requires a certain amount of teaching days to fill the calendar year, but an hour isn't really a day, is it? They get their report cards, find out who their teachers are next year and run around like chimps let loose from the experiment lab.

Natalie is done with seventh grade. In a few short months, she'll be an eighth grader, the top dog in the middle school.

Eighth grade. It's hard for me to reconcile these two things. Natalie:Eighth Grade. One year shy of high school. Man, do I feel old today.

DJ moves on to fifth grade, also becoming the top dog in the elementary school. Then he'll move on to the middle school which Natalie will be evacuating a year from now.

But that's a year from now, let's not rush too far into the future.

For the here and now, I become the nervous parent of a teenage daughter. As if I wasn't that already. But eighth grade...I've seen those eighth grade girls. I watched them carefully, trying to discern what my daughter was on the cusp of becoming. It frightens me.

Some time between seventh and eighth grade, a metamorphis takes place. Gone are the newly adolescent girls who giggle at boys and swoon over American Idol stars. At some point during their last middle school year, they are replaced by surly teenagers, the ones with the punk rock fascination and little black books with the phone numbers of every hot boy in their grade. The posters of pop idols come down, replaced with pictures of tattooed and body-pierced men with sneers on their faces.

The obscenities creep into their language. I hear them. They curse more than me, and that's saying something. They use the lingo of crude pirates as if it were a second language.

Out come the cigarettes and at some of the parties a 40 oz of the finest lite beer on the market gets passed around. Holding hands was "yucky" in seventh grade; I've seen the eighth grade girls press their boyfriends up against the school wall and kiss them full on, tongue and all.

That's not saying every eighth grade girl is like that. But there are enough of them around to make an impression on the girls who are still clinging to 13 like a well-used teddy bear. Those of us who hope against hope that our daughters will be the goody-two-shoes we never were are faced with a formidable foe. Popularity is of utmost importance at this age. What will one do to be popular? Hike your skirt up a little more? Steal your dad's Marlboros and hand them out to friends behind the gym?

I know what I was doing in eighth grade. Let's just say I chose to run around with the wrong crowd. Well, that's not exactly right. They were the only crowd around here. Everyone belonged to it. You were either with them or you didn't exist. And hell, they were my next door neighbors and the kids across the street. I haven't forgotten what it's like to be an eighth grader and dying to gain a foothold in the upper echelon of the in crowd before we headed to high school, where having been at the bottom of the eighth grade ladder meant you started high school as nothing more than a fungus on someone's sneaker. Who wants to be a fungus? It was much more fun and daring to be the sneaker.

I think having that kind of background and experience has made it easier for me to help Natalie survive the pitfalls of the social games that exist in her world. Yes, she is Pitfall Harry, swinging over drugs and alcohol and landing safely in the arms of the photography club.

It's going to be an interesting summer, starting tomorrow when she has thirty of her best friends over for a pool party. I know, sounds like I love pain and torture. But I know what I'm doing. I'll be scouting out her classmates, figuring out which ones are headed toward the path that says "Sluts and Crack Dealers Enter Here" and which ones are headed toward the path of Mathletes and Debate Club.

And then I'll gently, almost subliminally turn her towards the right path. Why don't you call that nice Alison girl instead of Claire?

Oh, god no. That will steer her right into the arms of Claire.

Well, I really can't pick her friends for her. Nor can I keep her from making mistakes and choosing the wrong options. I can only hope that I've laid the right groundwork, that I've given her the right ammuntion she needs to make the right choices. I'll let her walk the path on her own. It's about time I let the cord go a little.

But at night, when she's sound asleep, I'll sneak into her room and whisper into her ear, Alison, Alison, Alison, Alison.


You worry too much. She'll do fine. If for no other reason than you care enough.

I think the best parents are the ones who still remember (accurately) what they were like as a kid. They know all the tricks and all the crap to avoid.

It's funny, my daughter's got two friends: One is a little dorky and different, funny as hell, loves classic rock and Beatles. The other is dumber than a pile of Ann Coulter books, swears constantly, and is always getting her into trouble. Guess which one she likes to hang out with most? Grrrr.

Having had two go through that age bracket in the not-too-distant past, I would like to give you some advice.

But I don't have any. I'm still blundering along and feeling very lucky that both are pretty level-headed.

Lots of luck. I had three girls. The first one sailed right through adolesence. The second one became every mother's nightmare (sometimes still is, at 27). Drugs, abortion at 15, out of control, everything. The third one didn't give me too many problems, but she didn't know what the words birth control meant. Sigh.

The question is: What did I do right with the first one, sort of right with the third and all wrong with the second? Nothing. All you can do is the best you can, and the child will have to do the rest. I really feel for you.

Imperial Keeper

When I was around 14 years old, me and my dad went upstate. Just the two of us for the weekend. Dad had a beer. Being 14 I said dad, can I have a beer. And he looked at me for a long minute, obviously thinking. and he said you know what, you can. Take advantage of this one time opportunity. Tonight, and only tonight, you can drink as much beer as you want. And I drank 5 beers and puked my guts out. Learned a good lesson that night.

I was the goody-two-shoes girl, I guess. I had enough experience with the JD (juvenile delinquent) girls right at home with my sister. School was an escape from all that (we were enough apart in grades that we went to different schools, huzzah!). I was antisocial anyway. Smoke? Ugh -- my parents smoked Camels. Hang out with other kids? See antisocial. Boyfriends? Ugh -- bunch of dweebs they all were, and I had no intention of giving anyone my precious time. All I wanted to do was read books in my room. I guess I haven't really changed.

Bring her together with reasonable people older than her, maybe some younger friends of yours or so. Older is always coll at that age and she will listen to what they say instead of what you say, because mother can't be cool anyway.