She comes to me crying. She's eleven and tender-hearted. There's a lot of crying these days.
"I-I am not . . . COOL!," she sobs.
Oh, middle school, how we've longed for your arrival.
You would think being the uncool, awkward student that I once was would help me soothe her, but I find that I am really very dreadful at the job. I try to offer her my experiences, my sympathies, but I find she doesn't want them any more than I wanted them from my mother when I was in sixth grade.
She begins the laundry list of why she isn't cool enough: she doesn't have a cell phone, she doesn't have her own computer, she doesn't get to stay up late and watch prime time television, she can't listen to music by certain popular artists.
It's hard to hear that our decisions for her cause her to feel left out, but those decisions remain firm. There is no way in hell that I would encourage my child to listen to the lyrics of some of these songs.
She calls me strict. So strict, in fact, that I could run a military school. She says I treat her like a baby.
I tell her that she is no baby, but she is still my baby. She is still my baby, I will do my very best to keep the trashiest parts of the world away from her.
Because here's the deal: the trashiest parts of the world are out there and they are gunning for her. The world will come no matter what, but before it does I want her to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she is loved, she is cherished, she belongs to something greater and bigger than her classroom, she is better than the trashiest parts of the world.
She cries that even the eight year old next door listens to this music and stays up until 10 pm. I trot out the tired, old parental line: "Well, I am not her parent. I can only do what I think is best for my own kids."
It doesn't make her feel better.
I mention the alternatives I have held out to her before: a different school, home school. But she is wise enough to know that the grass always seems greener, no matter where you are standing.
I am on my way out the door, and our conversation veers into yelling and hard, hurt feelings, and before I can get home and apologize, she has gone to sleep.
Before she slept, though, she had a long, calm talk with her father. Her beloved, calm, even-keeled dad, and I thank God for the thousandth time for giving my children this father.
(Because NEWS FLASH, WORLD: Kids NEED dads! Just ask my daughter.)
In the morning, she finds me in my room and we stumble to each other and apologize and cling and whisper before school.
I send her out the door happy, but I wonder for how long. And I know that this is really just the beginning in many ways. We are both being schooled.