But this week Puddin’ started 5th grade. There has been so much else going on this year that I haven’t really sat down and thought about that until now. 5th Freakin’ grade.
A grade I actually remember details about. Not just who my teacher was or who was in my class but actual details, schoolwork, books I read, boys who were cute, girls who were mean.
5th grade changed everything. 5th grade was the year I sort of geeked out when the rest of the world suddenly became cool. A girl named Hope literally said to my face that “no one likes you you know” A girl named Jodi literally said to me that my school picture was going to “ruin the class page in the yearbook.” I remember it as clear as if it were on video tape. I wore glasses, I got braces, and I had no hope of ever getting boobs.
But 5th grade was also the year I really, truly discovered books. The first chapter of our reading book that year was an excerpt from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. From there I was hooked. It was also the year I discovered Judy Bloom. Iggie and Sally, and Margaret and Deannie, and then there was Forever. My one small moment of coolness the entire year came when my mother inadvertently let me buy Forever. Being the girl with a book that has kissing and blow jobs will do that for you in 5th grade.
It was also the year I discovered Saturday Night Live. I remember staying up late at night and watching it on my small black & white TV with the sound turned down long after I was supposed to be asleep. I laughed when Dan called Jane an ignorant slut. I knew what it meant, and why it was funny in the context in which it was said. I began my life long crush on Steve Martin and asked for and received both his comedy albums and then proceeded to memorize every. single. line. I understood the irony of the Let’s Get Small routine and to this day I can sing Grandma’s song. The thought that Puddin’ would even begin to understand that kind of humor.. impossible.
My brother had graduated high school the year before, and left home. I was latch key before latch key was a thing. I let myself in after school, I fed myself, I did (or didn’t do) my homework on my own. No one considered this strange. After all I was in 5th grade now.
And there is another element. While all that went on, my mother disappeared. First emotionally, then physically. It’s something I never talk about, but it happened. And it happened in 5th grade.
I turned into a dorky kid who had her head buried in a book and quoted age inappropriate comedy routines. My mother clearly did not inspect my wardrobe. I became a loner.
5th grade was the year let go of childhood and became a new me. Like The Doctor regenerating, I became a new Melissa in 5th grade. It would happen again at 19 and then again at 27 and if I’m honest it’s happening again right now but that is a story for a different day.
So how is it I am here at 5th grade without seeing it coming once again.
I feel like I should suddenly be in a panic, panic that Puddin’ is standing at the edge of major turning points – in personality, in socialization, in life. Up till now the Mom stuff has for the most part been easy, sometimes exhausting, but mostly easy. Feed her, cloth her, take her to Sunday School – talk about the Golden Rule, make sure she eats breakfast, drinks milk and brushes her teeth. Kiss boo boos, practice spelling words, learn multiplication tables.
But I’m starting to get the notion that this, this precipice, is where the real “parenting:” starts. Where the moldable parts of the person who she will be begin to take form. Where the things I do or don’t do as her mother will have ripple effects for years to come.
And it’s the worst possible time for that to start mattering. My head has not been in the game for the last 8 months. I’ve been on auto-pilot. The Thing has been a distraction and while that won’t stop, it’s got to be managed. Because she’s in 5th grade, The year that changed me. The year that changed everything. And I don’t want a new Puddin’. Not yet anyway.
I’m on a mission to not let it change her. 5th grade will not take the toll on her that it took on me if I can help it.
And yet I also worry that hyper-vigilance on my part will also cause it’s own consequence. There is a part of me that knows I have survived the last 8 months in large part due to the strength 5th grade required of me then. There is a sword and crucible metaphor there that I don’t care to indulge in at the moment but you get the general idea. In 5th grade I learned I was the strongest person I would ever need.
So I walk a line. I watch and try not to hover. Coach and lead but try not to manage. I will let her fall, but I will also dust her off. I let her wear the shirt I’m quite certain will get her made fun of, because she well and truly loves it. But I will also throw in few Aeropostale and Abercrombie logos because nothing staves off the mean girl fashonista wannabees like a few blatant labels. I will listen to my inner Tina Fey and see the value in a good long rough patch. But I will also make her play Lacrosse and go to Swim Team because team sports, by their very nature, help you learn to fit in. I will find balance.
Because strength like that shouldn’t have to be built in one year. It costs too much that way. And I won’t require that price of her.