The other night my family sat at a large table with my parents and had a great dinner. We laughed and talked about our upcoming move to Florida. We talked about all the craziness going on in the news and just had a really good time.
We said our goodbyes and got in the car. As we buckled up my wife turned to me and said, “I love your parents.” And I looked back and said “Me too. I’m going to miss this when we move.”
I am by nature a nostalgic person. I often look back over my life and think about all the good and bad. I can hear a song and recall a specific time I heard it or look at a picture and know exactly when and where it was taken. And because I’m naturally that way as our time in Wentzville comes to a close I have started looking back on not just the past seven years we lived here this time but my time growing up in this amazing community. And there are many things that I would love to be able to say to my childhood self. There are things that I wish I would have known growing up, things that I wouldn’t take for granted now that I’m an adult.
So as I close one chapter and open another I would like to share with you a series of Dear Joe letters I’ve written to myself at different stages in life.
Wow! I can’t believe you made it through elementary school! Look at you. It seems just like yesterday that you started school and pretty soon you’ll be starting middle school.
You’ve done so well making new friends, playing sports and keeping up in school. I love that you not only continued to play sports but expanded your interests into music. Keep that up–you’re gonna love what you get to do with that in High School, but that’s in a different letter. You stayed strong with those choir bells even when you got picked to play the smallest ones, aka Tinker Bells. Learning to read music will come in handy soon and don’t worry about what those other kids said. They said them from inside a classroom while you and the others were leaving!
But I want to tell you a few things about what’s going to happen in middle school. Unfortunately it won’t be so kind to you. Everything will work out in the end but it’s not going to be an easy ride. You are going to learn some really hard lessons and you’ll do it the hard way.
The first thing you need to know is that a lot of the people you thought were your friends aren’t. Those kids you played kickball with through elementary school will be too concerned about being cool in middle school to hang with you. You're just not going to be cool enough.
I still don’t know. At some point in the summer someone will randomly come up with criteria for what’s cool and what’s not. The really crappy thing is that you will never get to see this “list” or what’s on it. But you will be judged by it. So just be ready for that.
And because of where you live and who knows what else you will be on the bottom rungs of the popularity ladder. Which means that some of your “friends” will talk bad about you and make fun of you when you're not around. The meaner ones will do it to your face. You are going to experience some real pain in your life that you haven’t before. You’ll experience rejection and humiliation. You’ll face your fears in the form of a bully. You’ll see how cruel some kids can be.
Oh and don’t forget how much harder the school work is. Add to that the fact that the teachers expect you to be much more responsible and you’ve got the beginnings of academic pressures coming at you. You need to get a planner and keep track of what you need to do! And for pete’s sake, stop procrastinating! And it’s in this arena that you’ll begin to really understand that sometimes no matter what you do, life is just unfair.
You’re going to have a teacher that doesn’t like you. Yes, you talk too much in class and you goof off while they are teaching but you didn’t do anything bad. You just rubbed that particular teacher the wrong way. And it won’t matter how hard you try, they will never like you. You just keep working hard and keep your nose clean. You’ll transfer out soon and then you’ll really start to take off.
Sixth grade doesn’t sound like much fun, huh?
Well, here’s the good news. You will truly understand what it feels like to be left out and that serves you tremendously in the future. You will be told that you can’t do something and instead of that being a discouragement you will use that for fuel to propel you to future successes. Because you were bullied early on and learned to stand up for yourself you won’t be a pushover later in life. You will stand up for the little guy even if it means you pay in the process. You understand that some things in life are worth the sacrifice. You make some very real friends during this time, kids that aren’t interested in your social status but in who you are. And it’s those friends that help carry your through the bad times.
But one thing that you will honestly see for the first time is how much your parents really do love you. You’ll come home many days down from what’s happened in sixth grade and your mom will be there to hug and love on you. Your dad will come home from work and play catch or wrestle or whatever you want to do. They will be there day in and day out with advice and hugs and basketball and cookies and baseball and hot meals and Saturday day trips (you’ll act like you hate them but secretly you won’t mind) and fishing and youth group and Friday night movie nights and new toys and . . .
Even though you’re a preteen coming into your tumultuous teen years you will always know that no matter what happens your parents are going to be there, even when you don’t want them to be. And you will be glad for that.
Joe, I’m not going to lie to you. Middle school is going to be difficult for you. The things your family values do not match with a consumeristic culture and because of that you will feel inferior much of the time. Take comfort though because while it may be rough for a little bit, the lessons you learn now will make you a better person later. And if you don’t go through these things now, who knows where you’ll end up.
I’ll talk to you soon little man. Hang in there! You’re gonna be just fine.
P.s. Hey–ease up on the girls, man. They will do nothing but cause you heartache and trouble. Oh. and when you get older they’ll cost you a lot of money. Just sayin’.