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Middle School Love: A Big Hunk O' Crazy

Sometimes, when I wish I was young again, I think back to middle school and the feeling goes away. My body may be drooping, my bills may be piling up, my husband may be driving me bananas, but I will never again experience the clumsy fustercluck of 6th-grade "love" (which negates every banana).

My daughter, Jillian, however, is deep in the quagmire. Although technology has changed the game from calling a boy's house and pretending you were a foreign tourist in an effort to get more information about who he liked in class (Is that not something all Belgium tourists would like to know?), the chaos is the same.

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Yesterday, she came home with a serious concern: "Mom, my life is ruined."

As this would be her fourth ruined life in one year, my give-a-crapper was barely registering. "Why?" I asked, paying more attention to the tomato I was mangling with a dull knife.

"Brian likes me."

"Who's Brian?"

"He's this guy in my class who has been really nice to me!" she wailed.

"Wow, that sounds awful," I sympathized, wiping tomato seeds off my cheek.

"Today he came up to our lunch table and said he has a crush on me. In front of everyone!"

She shrugged. "You can't help having a crush on someone, you know?"

OK, I admitted to myself, that is a little bizarre and uncomfortable, and my give-a-crapper was sitting up a little.

"Why would he do that?" I asked.

"Mom," she elucidated slowly, annoyed at my idiocy, "that's just how you date."

"But you haven't dated at all! Have you gone anywhere? No. Have you had any serious conversations? No. Have you kissed? No ... I hope."

"I know, but if you like someone, you claim them in the cafeteria. If that person says 'yes,' then you are boyfriend and girlfriend."

"You claim them?" I asked incredulously. "Like a goat or something?" My give-a-crapper was now on "high" and my tomato was in agony.

"Brian claimed me," she wailed.

"Jillian, you can't be claimed. You're a person and this is 2015 in a free country. What did you say?"

"I said "uuuuuh..."

"So you didn't say yes!" I shouted. "You're still a free woman."

"I don't know, I don't know!" she shouted.

"Do you like Brian?" I asked.

"He's nice to me, but I'm just too young to date!" she said.

I didn't know what to say. Should I congratulate her on refusing, because she's too young? Or admonish her for not being revolted that she's just been claimed? Should I tell her that she, technically, did not agree to the transfer of property and it would not stand up in a court of law? Did she have anything in writing? A receipt, maybe?

I tried a different approach. "So if you didn't do or say anything, why is your life ruined?"

"Because it's so embarrassing. I want to be home-schooled."

Oh please, God, no, I thought, thinking of my ability to multiply fractions, which was zero-over-zero times zero-over-zero.

"But this happened to you. You didn't do anything."

"I know, but everyone is teasing me."

"And are they teasing him?"

"Not really," she said.

"WHY NOT?" I demanded. This was blatant sexism. Who was in charge of the cafeteria, the Taliban?

"Well, aren't you mad at him?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"Why not?"

She shrugged. "You can't help having a crush on someone, you know?"

That was diabolical. I used those very same words when she told me she hated herself for having a crush on a "jock who is kind of a jerk." Now she was flinging them back at me, in defense of a man who had claimed her.

She was still my little girl, but my days were numbered. Was she listening? Not listening? Did my opinion even matter?

"Yes, but you can choose whether to act on it." I said. "How do other kids handle this auction business?"

"Well, Mark offered Elizabeth a year's supply of Pringles if she would be his girlfriend."

"What?" I cried. "He tried to buy her with potato chips? Where was he planning to get all of these Pringles?" I demanded, thinking of the cost of Pringles, only slightly realizing that this was beside the point.

"He said he'd steal them from home."

"Oh, that's great, just great," I said, banging my knife down on the red splotch of blood on the counter that now looked like it should be surrounded with yellow tape. "What did she say?"

"She said, 'Well, I do love Pringles, but I have a reputation to uphold.'"

"Good for her," I shouted. "You should never allow yourself to be sold for Pringles. He should have tried Skittles," I joked, waving my knife around.

"What? Mom, seriously," she said, backing away. "Remember your blood circle."

"Did everyone tease her?"

"No, she's 'pop-u-lar,'" she said, doing the imaginary hair-flip she reserves for the word "pop-u-lar."

"I see."

"Madison and Jason are boyfriend and girlfriend," she announced.

"Oh?" I said. "What did she sell herself for?"

"Nothing. They just decided they have a crush on each other."

"How romantic ... wait. You told me Jason has a crush on you."

"He does," she said, exasperated, "but he also has a crush on Kaitlyn, Haley, Blake and Riley. I think I'm third or fourth."

"Where's Madison?" I asked.

"Maybe second. He likes Kaitlyn best, but she said she wasn't ready to be serious."

"What does serious even mean in the 6th grade, Jillian? Does he let her cut in line on the way to art? Does he agree not to throw balls at her during P.E.?"

"Well, they went to her house and asked if they could date."

"Whoa," I exclaimed, impressed by their gumption. "Asking her father's permission like the old days, huh? What happened?"

"Madison's mom dragged her into the house, said she couldn't date until 7th grade and shut the door on him."

Excellent. Mom handled that business like a boss.

In 7th grade, you'll all be in a new school with kids from five other schools, and they won't even remember each other. In fact, that's probably what her mom is banking on," I added too quickly, realizing with horror the classified info I had just divulged. Fortunately, she wasn't listening to me. Sometimes that works in my favor.

"So now Jason just eats at our lunch table with Madison. They said they won't let their parents break them up."

"Oh, are they going to drink poison like Romeo and Juliet?" I said.

What?"

"You know, Shakespeare, they all die at the ... hold on a minute. Jason sits at the same table with you, Madison, Kaitlyn, Haley, Blake and Riley?"

"Yes, but he's Madison's boyfriend."

"NO," I shrieked. "HE'S A PLAYER! YOU CAN SEE THAT, RIGHT?"

She threw her palms up in defense and backed away even more.

"OK, OK," I said, simmering down. "I really think this Brian thing is going to blow over. You're just the shiny new thing to the class right now. Pretty soon, someone else will do something wacko and they'll all latch onto that."

"So you don't care that my life is ruined?"

Fortunately, because my mothering skills weren't cutting it, Mother Nature took the wheel. She unleashed three days of school-closing snow down upon the children of the land.

Jillian bounced home from her first day back as if nothing had ever happened.

"How was your day?" I asked casually, as if I hadn't been impatiently waiting for her report.

"Fine," she said. "Can I have a cookie?"

"You can have a cookie after you tell me about your reputation," I said.

"What? Oh. Everyone forgot about that. Have you seen my blue notebook?"

"I told you," I said triumphantly, waiting for my validation. "I told you everyone would forget."

"I already knew that would happen."

"Oh," I said. Of course she did

"Honey," I said. "It's really great that you know everything, but middle school is just nuts. You've got hormones shooting every which way. Nothing makes any sense, and it probably won't for a little while."

"Here it is," she said, extricating a ratty notebook out of a backpack that looked and smelled like a city dumpster.

Over the next few weeks, her deepest emotions were stirred only by her math homework.

And then one day, while driving her to her music lesson, she said, "What do you think of Brian?"

"Who?" I said.

"BRIAN," she said, rolling her eyes. "Geez, mom."

"Oh, right. I've never met him."

She growled, clearly peeved with me.

"Why?" I asked, "Do you like him?"

"I don¹t know," she said. "Maybe. But don't get mad. I know I can't date until 7th grade."

"I never said you could date in the 7th grade," I yelled, braking a little too hard.

"He gave me a pencil today," she said.

Oh, so that's his currency, I thought.

"But I only like him in the middle," she continued. "Like, I like him as a friend, but I wouldn't want to kiss him."

"You can have a cookie after you tell me about your reputation," I said.

"Jillian," I said earnestly, "if he has a crush on you, nothing feels worse than being liked back in the middle." So just let him be and stop taking his pencils."

"Actually, the thought of kissing any boy in my class kind of grosses me out," she mused to herself, silently counting on her fingers.

I sighed. She was still my little girl, but my days were numbered. Was she listening? Not listening? Did my opinion even matter? Was I getting through? Did she even know I was in the car?

The next few years are going to be a wild ride. There is nothing to do but get in her car and hold on while she tries to drive at 13, ignoring my pleas to slow down and obey traffic laws, while she snorts at me with derision.

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But I had to stay with her. I had to guide her without letting her think that I was guiding her. I had glimmers of hope. The very fact that she could fling my own words back at me was proof that some things were seeping in.

Remember that teen driving movie "Red Asphalt?" It's really for the parents.

Image by Laurel Dalrymple

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