We’ve officially entered into middle school drama. In the first week of school, my daughter, who spent the last three years being homeschooled (with outside classes two days a week), reentered the land of the ” public schooled” with a trip to the principal’s office for a discussion about “a friendship book” as well as negotiating being in the middle of her two closest friends whose relationship with each other could be described as “on again, off again” friends.
Helping my daughter navigate relationship dynamics in middle school takes me back to my middle school years which can be best summarized as deviant, adventurous, and unthinking. In some instances, I caused great pain to classmates by my secret groups, promised friendships “if only you will (a dare), then I can be your friend,” and nicknames. I destroyed insecure teachers with organizing timed “sit ins” (at the strike of 11:15, turning our desks over, sitting on the floor and refusing do anything the teacher said). I acted impulsively and never really thought about consequences.
Looking back, I feel gratitude for the ways my character has changed. It would’ve been very easy to continue relating in ways that were self-serving — made me look better, feel better. But when I was sixteen I gave my life over to Jesus in a way that made me change who I was. I changed how I related to others, how I talked, how I behaved and who I wanted to become. It didn’t happen overnight and it still hasn’t completely happened. I have lots of self-serving unconscious thoughts and feelings that can rule me when I don’t know I’m being ruled but something changed then. I I finally got I didn’t have to do life alone, like I was feeling I had to do (even though I had parents and brothers – I felt desperately alone and confused). It was at this time I finally got that I had a Heavenly Father who created the universe but knew every hair on my head, every tear that fell from my eyes, would be with me always for as long as I believed in Him and was, is, a God who tells me explicitly that EVERYTHING/ ALL THINGS happen to those who believe in Him (Romans 8:28..”And we know that IN ALL THINGS…”). I don’t have a special pass on devastating circumstances and I think before sixteen, I was like, “well God, I still feel depressed and lonely and I believe in you. What’s the use? You are no good.”
My mom gave me the passage of Psalm 37: 3-7 when I was at one of my lowest moments and feeling suicidal. What stood out to me as I read it was God’s offer of companionship and company. I think what stuck was that I finally had company in my soul, which had been so desperately empty. Now, I wasn’t suddenly healed. I still wore depression and suicidal ideation like a familiar coat — until I was 27 actually when I finally cleared enough cobwebs and space and spent enough money to buy a plot of land on therapy so that I knew I never needed to use suicidal ideation as a coping strategy again. I still got competitive with others, with myself. I still envied and wanted to be envied. And I’m sure somewhere in my psyche those things still linger. But what had shifted then, and continues to stay with me, was a genuine desire to love others and to have others love me, as well as an awareness of just how much I needed God and my friends to survive.
Recently, I came across a description that reminded me of how bad I could’ve been if I’d continued on the path of relating out of places of envy, competition, control, emptiness, and power. The book, Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship, described with accuracy feelings I experienced as driving me during those troubled middle school years. It was me. Unredeemed. I could have been “The Queen Mother.” She’s driven by feelings of emptiness. “She holds on to what is hers, taking more than she can use, in case it might be taken away prematurely,” (p. 103). Even in my redeemed state, I have these compulsions to gather up items that I will need. EVENTUALLY. At one time, I had big bins of soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste (probably all purchased on sale), not registering that each one can take months to go through OR even that if I needed something I could run to the store. 5 minutes away. At any time I’d be awake to get it.
Looking back now, I’m so grateful I didn’t live in the city until I was disciplined with my money. Where I grew up, the nearest mall was 90 miles away. There was no online shopping. Catalogs were a bad enough temptation. I could imagine a younger me at the mall, being unable to control compulsions to buy objects of my desire. Even now, I can turn down buying something because I’ve already used the allotted amount on clothing but my mind can’t walk away. It will think about it over and over again until it is either replaced by a different object of desire or I make a return trip once my budget allows. I also think it’s important to mention, that I do not frequent malls often. It’s too tempting and overwhelming not to mention my “wanter” is activated so very easily and honestly, there are so many other things of value to fill my mind with, I’d just rather not have to battle it.
The author also describes how the Queen borderline lacks the experience of feeling special and that was certainly true for me. Even after my conversion at 16, I strove to be special and recognized but instead of going against parents or authority figures, I became special through my accomplishments. Being special through performance and accomplishing is an empty endeavor in and of itself. I was only as good as my last performance. I couldn’t rest in knowing that I was indeed special just as much as everyone is special and worthy of love and generous verbal affection. My specialness was linked to what I produced. Over time, production became a living hell because at the end of the day, I was still empty and I’d been at the top. I’d performed amazingly. I was valedictorian in high school. In college I received the top psychology student award. I also graduated as the top female scholar-athlete of my class in both high school and college. Yet, emptiness still followed me. It doesn’t now. I’m no longer linked to my performance. I also know I’m special. But in my specialness, I recognize there is enough specialness to go around to every human being on this earth and it doesn’t take away from my specialness. Praise God! Truly. I’m not a hamster on the wheel needing to find specialness to take the place of emptiness any longer. (Though like all our psychological challenges, I’m sure remnants linger…)
There are many characteristics of the Queen, and in most of them, I saw a piece of myself. Sometimes, growth is tricky. It’s so slow and for the most part mundane, it’s hard to capture. But recognizing myself in the Queen Mother, gave me a serious window into what I may have been like, what I’m still like, and where I could go should I return to the place of isolation and emptiness. Middle School. It’s tough. Confusing. Joyous. Liberating. Telling of who we’re becoming. I’m grateful for the opportunity to walk through it with my daughter, especially because she’s most like her dad, who would never have dreamed up “sit-ins,” secret groups, or stealing. Now my son….I’m not sure there will be an experience of gratitude for walking through his middle school years.