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I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on this last school year, my daughter's first official year in middle school, while thinking about the year that lies ahead. Sixth grade is kind of a big deal. I'm still freaking out over that myself. We're going to sixth grade!
There are some things I want to tell my daughter, even at the risk of her rolling her eyes whilst saying "moooom" or me turning into a puddle of tears. Knowing that I will only be able to hold her attention for so long, I'm starting with 10 things.
And so, for my dear daughter, here are some lessons I hope you learn during the upcoming school year. (Truth be told, I'll be learning some of these myself, right along side you.)
Right now at this moment there are things that you love to do and areas in which you excel. There are things that we know without a doubt are your gifts. But these gifts aren't the only gifts you possess. They aren't the only gifts meant to be shared with the world. We all have gifts and many of them lay dormant inside of us waiting to be found. I hope that you continue to discover your gifts and that you use them once you do. I hope that you choose to surround yourself with people who will not only help you see your gifts but champion you as you unwrap them. I hope you will do the same for them. Sometimes it will be exciting, scary or even both, but our gifts are meant to be used, shared and celebrated.
2.You don't have to strive to be(completely) independent
Recently I listened to an audio book about independence. I couldn't help but wonder if I had gotten it wrong. The world tells us parents that we are supposed to raise our kids to be independent. But true independence might suggest you don't need anyone when in all actuality we do need one another. We aren't meant to go through life alone. So maybe interdependence is what we are after. Because in so many ways, we are depending on one another. Sharing our gifts, resources and time while others do the same, sort of like how your baby sister depends on you to give her a bite of your apple and you depend on her to always ask for two cookies, one for her and one for you.
3.There's no need to sprint
You don't have to sprint through the next few years, even if it feels like everyone else is running right past you.
If you look around you might begin to think that you're not moving quite fast enough. Sometimes middle school mirrors a race. Everyone is in such a hurry to get to the next thing and the next stage. The magic of childhood loses some of its sparkle, a sparkle that won't return until adulthood when you will long to be a kid again. Believe me when I tell you, that these are the days. You don't have to sprint through the next few years, even if it feels like everyone else is running right past you. But if you must run, pace yourself. This is but a mere mile in your marathon. Right now, you've got time. Also worth noting: Your true friends won't push you to move faster than your head and heart tell you to (and you won't do the same to them). They'll champion you at whatever pace you choose to go, encourage you to keep going and help you realize that you're forging your own path.
The lives of many adults would be so different if only we took the time to ask for help, even at the risk of appearing less qualified or capable. Maybe this ties in to that whole interdependence thing. There is no shame in not knowing the answer or needing support as you seek to accomplish the task at hand. Raise your hand, walk to your teacher's desk, reach out to a trusted friend, come here and sit beside me. Don't be afraid to seek help, guidance or refuge. Just be mindful of where it is you're seeking it. (When in doubt, ask mom or dad.)
5. Teachers are human, too
They are capable of making mistakes just like the rest of us. Despite their human state, from time to time you may get so lucky as to have one that seems super-human. They will take the time to get to know their students, to see what is beyond the surface of labels and piles of paperwork. They realize the honor it is to teach and guide the future generation, and they put their heart and souls into doing such. They possess the power to change your perspective—even your life—for the better. I've had a few heroic teachers myself. Respect all of your teachers but cherish these.
6. Take pride in what you do
Your name graces each assignment you do. As you grow you will see that your name is important. Everything you put your name on should be something that you are proud of. It doesn't have to be perfect, but what it should be is something you can stand behind and is hopefully your best (not necessarily your best ever but the best you could do then). When people hear your name, if they know you, it is likely that a memory will come to mind. So when in doubt be kind, extend grace and by all means stand up for yourself and for what is right.
7. The process is just as important as the outcome
Sometimes it's more important. Sometimes we get pretty hung up on grades, but grades aren't the only "measure" of success. The lessons you learn throughout the process will stay with you long after your final grade has been entered on your report card. Now is when you learn that success can mean different things for different people. What does it mean to you? Is success an A on a book report or discovering a new book that reignites your passion for reading and desire to make a difference in the world? Maybe it's both.
8. Comparison will rob you of your joy
If you weren't you, then we wouldn't be us. And I love us.
Don't spend so much time longing for the accomplishments of others that you forget and fail to see your own successes. Celebrate the achievements of others (and celebrate yours). But understand that your story is still being written and it's not meant to be a replica of someone else's. Everyone's journey is different. If you weren't you, then we wouldn't be us. And I love us.
You've reached that time in life where it feels like everything is changing, including you. Some days I see you linger in front of the mirror just a little longer than the days before, or I listen intently as you share how someone made a comment about your hair texture or a joke about your cocoa brown skin. In those moments, there are so many things I could say to you and yet I know that they will mean very little if you aren't able to see what I see when I look at you. Still, I will say these things anyway and often because my hope is that it will become a part of your inner narrative, a story about a girl who was handpicked by God to be my daughter, a girl who is growing and blossoming before my eyes. You were meant to be and you are beautiful.
There will be subjects, moments and relationships that feel effortless and there will be some that challenge you. I want you to know that you can do hard things. Even really (really) hard things. I may not be in the classroom with you each day or standing beside you as you navigate friendships and crowded hallways, but you and me (and daddy and even your little sister) are in this together.