The Dreaded 8th Grade Angst

It’s Saturday night and I’m home after a very busy day. I took my six youngest children with me to my parents house by the lake and we spent the day swimming. The kids had a great time. And the big bonus, they all got along well today. It helped that I only had the six. My four oldest, the teenagers, are all off having adventures of their own. 

My oldest is in Alaska and, as I write, she is embarking on a wilderness adventure that involves bush planes, isolated lakes, river rafting, and hiking. She will be off-grid for seven days. The people she’s adventuring with are close family friends and wilderness experts. I know she couldn’t be in better hands. But still. Moms can’t help worrying a little. 

The next three teens are on an inner-city missions trip in Buffalo, NY. This is their 4th year of going on this trip. They spend the time leading kids camps, being involved in a large food pantry, doing “intervention” where they visit low-income homes and see if they need basic furniture items like beds and then help deliver the furniture. They are moving from early in the morning till late at night. And my kids love it. Every year when we discuss the summer plans all the kids put the Buffalo Mission Trip as top priority. If I can only do one thing this summer, then I want to go to Buffalo. 

Right now I’m kind of basking in that “My teens are so awesome!” glow…Of course, it helps that they aren’t home to burst my little proud bubble. 

I’ve been thinking about my teens today and my mind drifted to the dreaded “8th grade year”. This is the year when all of my teens have lost it. It’s like they get all the way through 7th grade and then one day they wake up and think, Hey, wait a minute! I just realized I’m my own automonous person. I am not an attachment of my parents or my family at large. Maybe I should isolate myself in my bedroom while I figure this whole thing out. And  while I’m at it, maybe I should start testing my ability to be my own person. 

Of course, how that comes across to the rest of us is that our sweet family-oriented child suddenly doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of us and they have an attitude every time I ask them to participate in the chore and family times. 

Every family is different. I’ve talked to other friends of mine. Some of them have had all their children become problematic at the same age, but the age is different. Others have had each of their kids choose a different age or stage of development to become difficult. I haven’t talked to any parent yet who just skipped the whole process. If you are out there, don’t tell me. I might feel bad. Right now I take comfort in the fact that everyone seems to go through it with their teens. 

The benefit of having a large family is that you get a chance to learn from your mistakes. By the third child I had adopted the strategy of becoming very hands off. Here, I’ll slide a plate of food under the bedroom door occasionally. See you in a year when you start 9th grade. Just kidding…Kind of. 

Even my sweet, mild-mannered 4th child seems to be heading into the dreaded 8th grade angst. It’s rather shocking when your “good” kid starts to have attitude. Like someone just threw a bucket of cold water in your face. Et tu Brute? Of course, being one of those mild-mannered kids myself, I fully understand that under that sweet facade can lie deep depths of turmoil and anguish. So, I have grace even for my sweet kid to become moody. (No, I don’t have favorites, but I’m honest. Some kids are just programmed to be sweet while others aren’t!)

I don’t know what you are going through with your teen at the moment.  I just want to share with you parents who are still relatively new to the teen thing. Let you know that I too have struggled. And my kids are turning out ok despite it all. It’s not easy. It helps if you dredge up your old memories of being a teen and try to remember what it’s like. There are no magic formulas for parenting teens. Lots of grace. Lots of love. Lots of patience. Lots of prayer. And hopefully, they’re going to be ok. 

Psalm 139 and School Lockdowns

psalm139

When I started 8th grade, I was in the north of Haiti, attending a little mission school. At that time there were probably less than thirty students in the whole school. We had three classrooms, with 6th, 7th and 8th all sharing one classroom with one teacher. That year we had a new teacher that we had never met. She was a volunteer missionary teacher, probably in her late 50s. An American who had decided to take on the challenge of living in Haiti and teaching a small classroom of English-speaking students. I can’t remember her name. She was only my teacher for about a month and half before the country broke out in a war of sorts and all the Americans were evacuated to the States. But, despite the fact I knew her for such a little time, and probably wouldn’t even recognize her in a picture, she left me a humongous legacy. The first thing she had our class do was memorize Psalm 139. She didn’t give us very long to do so and after we were able to recite the whole Psalm in front of the class, she presented each of us with a brand new Bible. I remember it was a golden brown, hardback Bible with gold lettering. NIV. It was a beautiful Bible. But even more beautiful was having Psalm 139 become a part of my memory, a part of my thought process, a part of who I was. Over the years that Psalm has formed a foundation of how I see myself and how I see God. “Oh Lord, You have searched me and you know me.” I am known, fully, completely, by the living God. “You know when I sit and when I rise.” Nothing in my life is inconsequential to him. “You perceive my thoughts from afar.” God is listening to my thought processes and it doesn’t scare him off…I could go on through the whole Psalm, verse by verse, an amazing testimony to how loved I am, how cared for, how completely I am in his sight at all times.

This year I have been memorizing scripture with my kids on the drive to school every morning. We did 1 Corinthians 13 in the Fall and this Spring semester we have started on Psalm 139. Every morning I hear the verses, over and over again, and it is a wonderful way to start the day. It’s also very sobering. “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely Oh Lord.” Yikes. God is very aware that I yelled at my toddler today for spilling yogurt all over my jeans. Sorry Lord, please help me to be more patient! But, as I remind my children every day before they jump out of the car to go to school, God Knows You Completely, and He Loves You Completely!

These past two weeks we’ve been working on the verses, “If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” I’ve been pondering what that means today, and I realized it really ties into something that happened this past week.

On Friday, during the school day, I got a call from our kids’ high school. .They were informing us that due to rumours that had been going around about possible gun violence, they had decided to put the school on a soft lockdown. All authorities had been notified and they were taking care of the issue. Ok. Unfortunately, we have had this call several times. We live in a rough neighborhood and even if something potentially dangerous happens close to the school, they put the school on a soft lockdown. I texted my husband to keep him informed, said a prayer for safety, and then really didn’t think too much more about it. Then a while later my daughter texted me from school. She said that the school had been put into a hard lockdown and she was scared. Unfortunately, she was in a large classroom at the time with a substitute teacher who was not really equipped to handle the situation. The teacher did not inspire confidence and my daughter was feeling very nervous. I told to her follow the teacher’s directions and I was going to see what I could do. I called the main office, but of course, it was a hard lockdown so they weren’t answering phones. I then asked some friends of mine to please pray, and I texted a teacher I know at the school, explaining my daughter’s situation, asking if he could find a way to send someone over to that classroom to help out the substitute. I checked in with my daughter again, and she said that the class had calmed down and things were looking better.

In the meantime my son was with the high school forensic team at a competition at another high school. My husband had been volunteered by our son to drive the team to and from the other high school in our van, so he was there as well. They were being told that due to the situation at our high school, they could not drive the students back until everything had been resolved. They had been told that someone had fired a gun. Lots of rumours were flying all over the place. And I was sitting at home, clutching my phone, not sure what to do except pray. Long story shorter, everything got resolved before the end of the school day, no one was hurt, life continues on. Aside from a residual stress that lingered for a couple days, all is well.

Later, thinking back on it, I wondered, should I be more freaked out about this? I can’t seem to muster up any fear. Is that odd? I don’t think so. There is evil in this world, but evil doesn’t keep God from seeing, from being present, from having power to act. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you…” How can I be afraid when I know that God is intimately involved with every single detail of my life, of my children’s lives. “…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” How can I be afraid when God is in control? Does this mean that bad things will never happen to me and my loved ones? No. We live in a sinful world. Free will for me, means free will for those around me. There are no guarantees, except that God will always be with me, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” The only guarantee, the best guarantee we have is that God will never leave us. And if God, who loves me completely, is here, what else do I need?

Our family has been called to live here in this neighborhood. We have been called to put our kids in the public school system. We pray daily for safety and peace on the schools. We have been blessed greatly in our time here, the opportunities and experiences our children have been able to have so far have been amazing. Though the world is a dangerous place these days, we refuse to live in fear. “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

God is good.

 

P.S. Just to make sure this is real. Knowing God is in control, not living in fear; this doesn’t mean I don’t have my episodes of being afraid, and it doesn’t mean that crazy stuff doesn’t stress me out. It does. But, when I am afraid, when I’m feeling the stress, I can come back to scripture and remind myself of God’s presence, his love, his involvement in my life, and somehow, it rolls off my back, and I can keep going.