I feel like I’ve been training for 6th grade since my daughter was born.
I’ve researched, studied, witnessed middle school through the eyes of parents and students in our youth ministries. I’ve been hoarding a stack of ideas, stockpiling what I’ve learned for the inevitable day our first born would walk through the halls of middle school. I was multi-tasking, getting ready, preparing myself for our own kids journey to adulthood. Secretly I poured my life into books and other peoples middle school kids because I wanted to be ready for mine. Even with all of that preparation, I had an issue.
The issue was that she wasn’t having any issues.
I thought she would have more issues.
Kirra is 9 weeks into her first year of 6th grade and she loves it.
She loves her friends, and is even starting to be nice to her 8 year old sister.
So I’m sitting at home now asking myself….
I wasn’t ready for her to be ready.
I had no clue she’d surprise us with balance and kindness and sometimes even a servant heart.
I was ready for the bomb.
But she was ready to step into her purpose.
I was ready for the roller coaster.
But she had already been on one.
I was looking for the disruption.
She was redefining what a disruption can be.
I feel like 5th grade was her melt down year. I didn’t know if I’d make it through the summer. She tested us and made us think we were crazy. She lost her mind in ways I didn’t know she could lose it. One of our friends has go-pro footage of a meltdown that will live on in history. So, I was ready for 6th grade. Praying every single day for the strength to endure it.
Which led us to a decision about whether or not to send her to the local Title 1 middle school that we are zoned for. My husband had zero issues sending her. We have always been neighborhood people. We have always wanted our kids to be in community with our community. But I was having reservations and I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t try to find a way for her to get into a private school at the last second. I did try! But even in trying I knew that it was wrong for us. I knew that all of the years telling other people’s parents that their kids are more resilient than they think was also applicable to me.
So we enrolled Kirra at Southwest Middle School, a school beloved by many, but not as highly esteemed as many of the newer private, magnet, and charter schools that have sprung up. I wanted to dive in but I wasn’t sure how our daughter would be able to cope …I wasn’t sure if I would be able to cope.
But I was wrong.
I was wrong about the strength of our family (you are always stronger than you think).
I was wrong about 6th grade because I had put a timeline on my daughters life that didn’t fit her DNA.
Every word I have researched and written is good–but I have to embrace that development and readiness happens differently for every kid.
Timelines are helpful points of reference but never the rule.
Since my daughter was 2 years old she has been telling me with her actions that she is STRONG.
She would fight us and others when there was a toy injustice at the YMCA. We laugh now, but it wasn’t funny then. I see it with different eyes today.
She tends to know what she wants and I’m learning to trust that. What I didn’t see in her life leading up to sixth grade was that the melt downs would work together to help her be the kind of person who could cope someday.
And someday turned into today–during that first week of 6th grade.
- When she showed up at school and there was no culinary teacher, she quit before the first day of school. (the one elective she was looking forward to most)
- When she realized that her school didn’t have the funds for quality athletic programs. (She loves volleyball and had looked forward to playing on a team.)
- When she walked out to the bike rack to find her bike completely crumpled by something or somebody. (We still don’t know how it happened).
- When she witnessed a kid get knocked out cold and another student getting sent to “juvi”.
I waited for her to break–to need help from a counselor–or extra support from a small group leader. But she didn’t. She came home every day and continues to come home saying how much she values her experience at school, how much she loves it, it’s like having an entirely different kid in my house.
She found beauty in her school full of potential.
She could see things I couldn’t see yet.
I was wrong about 6th grade when I assumed that 6th graders couldn’t see their own development from their ego centric view. Don’t get me wrong, she’s all about her 11 year old self on most days, but there is a switch that exists when given a chance, for kids to choose to see good things and do good things for others.
I know this because it wasn’t even one week into the school year when Kirra had the idea to start a volleyball club for students to learn how to play before try-outs.
This is the part where I get to participate differently than I thought.
I get to walk beside her as she dreams instead of dreaming for her.
I thought it would happen later, but she wanted it to happen now. I used to do this with other people’s kids but hadn’t realized that I would get to do it with my own. Cue the happy cry fest.
This is my life.
I was born to love middle school kids and now I have the privilege of loving the one in my house.
Now I can see it.
I am ready. I know what to do….I can lean into her lead, ask questions, offer advice, show up, be there in the difficult moments, point her to hope, and be available.
After all, I am her mom, and this gives me a different opportunity than I have had with others in the past. This gives me a front row seat and honestly it feels like flying.
- So we made posters.
- She found a teacher to sponsor the club (he happens to be the volleyball coach as well).
- She organized an announcement at school.
Over 30 girls showed up.
I swallowed really important tears while I watched them practice.
There were girls without with complete hearing loss playing (funds are available for them to have ASL translators during club), there were girls learning to speak English for the first time (girls helped each other translate), there were girls in jeans and with no athletic shoes (everyone was helping each other find what they needed), there were girls who are still waiting for forever families and being supported by Florida Baptist Children’s Home (we forget that there are more than babies in the foster care system), and there were girls who looked like volleyball all-stars decked out in kneepads but who had never played a day in their lives…and also my daughter, who I have never seen happier.
I became instantly willing to do anything for this crew…in that moment I couldn’t have felt more at peace with what the world has handed me in terms of experience. I know how to help groups grow and how to find backbone organizations to help. I know how to empower middle schoolers to follow their dreams for justice. This is who I am–and my daughter unknowingly re-introduced me to myself.
It’s been a miracle season and the season hasn’t even started.
When I arrived at the second club practice, I noticed that the girls are serving with four balls, two of which were soccer balls. Cue tears. Again.
I know what I’m supposed to do next.
Because every parent wants to do something more. Including me.
This can be my more.
Kirra doesn’t need my emotional support at the moment. I’m sure she will, but right now she needs me to connect dots and leverage influence and fast forward her friends futures.
I can do this–but I can’t do it alone.
So, I reached out to the teacher, started going to Title 1 meetings, took notes, dreamed up a plan, started talking to college volleyball players about volunteering their time.
Then the coolest stuff started happening. I found time I didn’t have and met people I didn’t know.
I thought I didn’t have much spare time but it’s amazing how much time you can find when something matters to you.
And this matters to me.
I may not be able to change the world tomorrow but I can change the environment of a bunch of girls who can.
I mentor some college age girls and after sharing what was going on in my life with my middle school daughter, a Southeastern University student talked to her head coach and provided 8 brand new volleyballs and a cart for the school to use. All of this happening because a 6th grader wasn’t afraid to ask a question.
“You can’t play volleyball without volleyballs mom, what are we going to do?.” -Kirra Lindsey
Another friend signed up to help coach the team. We are stepping up the steps. I can see what’s at the top but what I’m focused on right now is each step and who will share the burden of it with us.
Which brings me to a way you can get involved.
Maybe you have a heart for schools who have funds for special needs and low income families but have very limited funds for extra things like athletics and technology? Maybe you have a dream that diverse schools like the one my daughter attends would be premier schools again–places people want to send their kids and are proud to be alumni of. I have this dream that Southwest Middle School will be a school that every family would want to be a part of–because the students, teachers, staff, and families there are AMAZING and full of potential.
If we are going to be a people who teach our children the value of every person–we are going to have to back it up with our actions. We have to stop segregating ourselves from each other. And I’m speaking to my own issues here. I know it can seem far from us, like a lot of internal surgery or an undoing that needs to happen but it’s not to far from us friends. We can and will do brave things, especially when we let our kids lead the way.
- The first thing I knew we needed to do was to get volleyballs for the girls. We have a few thanks to the immediate response of the SEU volleyball team (they are legititmate super humans). They will need more but for now, they are playing.
- The second thing was to find a way for the program to be funded. I worked with the volleyball coach / ESL teacher Mr. Gallman to put together a donor program where friends of Southwest Middle School (and friends from everywhere) could be FOR these girls.
Will you be FOR middle school girls with me?
Today we created an opportunity with Dick’s Sporting Goods and Donor’s Choose to create a ripple effect and get donations for volleyballs, athletic shorts, knee pads, volleyball equipment for SWMS matched! Any donation given before October 5th can be matched.
Below is the letter from Mr. Gallman to all of you!
I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed, so I just created a request for my classroom at DonorsChoose.org: Serving Up Success for Girls.
Give to my classroom by October 5 and your donation will be doubled thanks to DonorsChoose.org. Just enter the code RIPPLE on the payment page and you’ll be matched dollar for dollar (up to $50).
If you chip in to help my students, you’ll get awesome photos and our heartfelt thanks.
Thanks so much,
P.S. If you know anyone who may want to help my classroom, please pass this along!
I’m excited to get to know the PTO, the principles vision, the teachers and do my best to support the value of the students of SWMS. I remember Ms. VanCamp, who many years ago, allowed me to share at FCA at SWMS while my girls were little. While she’s no longer a teacher there, I feel the baton pass and I know that every person’s gifts are important and eternally necessary.
I had no idea that this would be the middle school lunchroom where my own kids would find fuel for their futures. What if there is a school close to you that needs your investment, your yes, your heart and gifts?
I had no idea that 6th grade would be so beautiful.
And I would love for you to know how beautiful it is. If you don’t already know a 6th grader you should get to know one. Get a reference and a background check, go through the volunteer process and present your safe/ loving self to the kids who want and need you around. I promise it will change your definition of what smells good… and your ideas about what’s needed to change the world.
(What’s needed is you.)
Let’s be something brave together.