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A Letter to My 5th Grader

Photograph by Getty Images

To My Dear 5th Grader,

How can you be graduating from elementary school already? It wasn't that long ago that I dressed you in a size 5 polo shirt and Velcro sneakers and walked you down the street to the public school, where your kindergarten teacher assured 20 sets of nervous parents that you'd all be OK on her watch.

I came to the classroom every Thursday morning, under the guise of stuffing folders and reading with other students, but really to peek at you across the room. While I wasn't watching, you tasted your first Twinkie, a cute girl asked you to be her boyfriend (which you wisely declined) and you met your first friend that I didn't introduce you to.

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You'd think I would have relaxed when you went to 1st grade. But how could I rest easy knowing that you were now sharing a playground—and a bathroom—with the big kids, whom you excitedly came home to tell me had scrawled the "F" word on the walls? Then there was that time when I came to help in your class and saw you wandering around by yourself during recess.

But you survived at school, and eventually I entrusted your little brother to its care, as well. I loved walking the two of you down the street each morning, and loved even more seeing you both running out of your classrooms at the end of the day.

And you flourished. You overcame your fear of the cafeteria lady to buy nachos and pizza pockets. You learned how to play wall ball, and resolved conflicts with a game of rock-paper-scissors. You brought home enough certificates to wallpaper our entire house.

Older parents tell me the elementary school times are the golden years. I believe it. I'll admit: I'm bummed out when I ask you how your day was, and you just say "fine." But I'm so happy that you still tell me what's bothering you when you can't fall asleep. And I can barely stop myself from doing a happy dance when I overhear you telling your friends you aren't allowed to chat with strangers on video games.

I won't sugarcoat it—those are going to be some awkward years.

Especially because I know it won't always be this way.

Next fall, you'll be going to middle school. I won't sugarcoat it—those are going to be some awkward years. At the orientation, the vice principal warned us that you'll change overnight. Not just because your sneakers are now as big as mine, or because parents aren't supposed to hang out on campus. Those hormones that will surely cause you to shoot past 6 feet tall like your dad will also make you smelly and moody. You'll want to play games other than Minecraft, and you'll probably want your own iPhone, too. I'll try to convince you that I can give you some tips about Facebook and Twitter, but I'm just a mom, so what do I know?

Your friends—the ones you met on your own as well as the ones I carefully introduced you to—may also change. Some may start ignoring you in the halls or stop saving seats for you at lunch. Algebra might play tricks with your mind, or teachers might be unfair to you.

The uncertainty frightens me. After all, my people spent a decade cutting up hot dogs and researching brands of chemical-free sunscreens for your people. We arranged your playdates and requested your teachers.

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Don't let me get you down. Middle school isn't all pimples and drama. You'll make new friends and be reunited with kids you used to play with as a toddler. Maybe you'll discover you're really good at something—computer programming, student council or school newspaper—that might lead to a lifelong hobby or career. A cute girl might ask you to be her boyfriend, and you might actually think that's not icky.

We have been there. We have done that. Our video games weren't as fancy, and we were lucky if we had a phone with a cord long enough to pull into our bedrooms, but our clothes were cool the first time around (FYI, acid wash: just don't). It's happened to us all. I can only hope that the things we've talked about and the way your father and I live our lives will have rubbed off on you. I can't go with you to middle school, but I'll always be there for you.



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