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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy March 18, 2013 07:00 AM
My 12-year-old went to her first middle school dance on Friday. They've been having them all year, but either Natasha had a swim practice she couldn't miss, or she didn't want to go. This time she didn't have practice--and she wanted to go.
She had a great time. She didn't want to leave. And it made me so happy.
My 22-year-old daughter, a student at Northeastern, came home for the evening to get some things she needed and have dinner with us. Michaela helped Natasha pick out clothes, did her hair and was with me when we dropped her off at the dance. "I wish I could be a chaperone," said Michaela. "Look at all the boys! And those girls--look at what they are wearing!" I reassured her that there were lots of chaperones. "Yeah, but they don't know the stuff I do," she said. "I've been to these dances."
We waited in the car at the curb until Natasha got inside. "She's growing up," said Michaela. "I don't like it."
I don't either--but I do, too. It's complicated.
Natasha is the fourth of my children to go through adolescence. I've been through this before. I've been through the angst. I've grieved the loss of the little kid years. I've worried, and wished I could turn back time, or at least slow it down.
But we can't. Time moves forward, no matter how we feel about it. Our children grow up. There's nothing we can do to change it.
Instead, we have to concentrate on helping them grow, on giving and teaching them what they need to manage in the world. And when they do something without us, and it goes well (and it's all legal), it's great. Because it's a good sign.
A middle school dance may not seem like such a big deal. And it isn't, really. But it's not a gimme that it will go well. The dances are loud, hot, crowded and overwhelming. There is nearly always social drama. Navigating a middle school dance takes a certain amount of confidence and social skills--and as a pediatrician and parent, I know that neither is to be taken for granted.
That's just it: we can't take anything for granted. We don't know that our children will be confident, or have social skills, or be able to think clearly in an emergency. We don't know how they will handle responsibility--or money. We don't know if they will work hard--or look for shortcuts. We don't know how they will weather the storms of love, or betrayal. We can teach them all we want, but the truth is, we just don't know.
So every success--a good grade, an honor won, a kindness shown, a successful middle school dance--matters. Not that it promises anything; life doesn't work that way. But it gives us hope.
And hope, when it comes to those we love most in this world, is a really good thing.
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