When I used to work with kids on their writing, my favorites were always the eighth grade boys. They didn't even pretend to like to write. "I'm a terrible writer," each would say. Even though that was rarely ever true.
Eighth grade boys would sit at my dining room table and do almost anything to avoid writing. They'd stretch their long limbs. They'd take apart pens. They'd wage bets. One boy always wanted to bet on word meanings. He knew he could kill extra time by offering to get the dictionary from the next room and then feign difficulty looking it up.
Eighth grade boys often make words up, using a logic and understanding of language that was never evident in their horrendous seventh grade selves.
Is there anyone more hubrant than an eighth grade boy?
That's the type of sentence they'd write.
"Hubrant?" I'd say.
"Yeah. It means: a person who has a lot of hubris."
Not even, "I think it means..." During this small moment of their lives, eighth grade boys are absolutely sure about everything.
I love eighth grade boys. (Although not in a creepy way.)
Because they are at once impossibly full of themselves and catastrophically insecure. Because you can finally start to see the young men they'll eventually become. Because they're quick and irreverent. But mostly because they are usually very, very funny.
A friend once forwarded me this email, written by her eighth grade son to his science teacher:
"Here is my frankly extraordinary project. Filled not only with fantastic revelations of elements but also how, in an ecclesiastical way, [they] correlate to our humble beginnings as stated in the Judeo-Christian book of prayer. This is an epiphany I realized only after trawling though thousands of gigabytes of information as well as after participating in a confirmation retreat, which explains the slight tardiness. But the quality obviously makes up for the time. Did Italy ask Michelangelo, 'Why haven't you finished the Sistine Chapel? I told you to do it Monday!' This is because Italy knew that with quality comes deep soul searching that cannot be bound by social or time constraints. So considering this project is pretty much the scientific equivalent of the Sistine Chapel and it was emailed to you by the correct date, I think that it is superfluous for you to read it and much more economical and health conscious just to give me 100 percent. I say health conscious because I am worried about the long-term effects when this paper blows your mind. Furthermore, I have a clay model that you will see on your desk before first period starts. And if you consider the diagram technically late, remember that in Italy it would basically be the day before, so in Italy, the home country, this paper is on time."
His mother pointed out, "It's full of inaccuracies, such as the fact that Italy is ahead of us time-wise, not behind us, and Michelangelo was constantly pestered to get the Sistine chapel done. Luckily his teacher seems to have a sense of humor."
Eighth grade boys can see most of what's ludicrous about the world and when they put those notions through their middle school meat grinder of a brain, brilliance comes out the other end.
One boy used to come in and plunk down a five-page literary analysis that was due the following day.
"Is this bad?" he'd say as he pushed his paper toward me across the dark oak table.
I'd pick it up and start to read.
"Is it bad?" he'd ask again.
"I'm not even through the first paragraph."
"I know, but is it bad?"
And then, a moment later, he'd grab the pages back from me, flip to the end and announce, "I feel a bit of genius coming on," as he'd start to scribble a new conclusion.
The other night I was trying to finalize the title of the book I was editing, helping the author choose between three decent options. I decided to take it to my son and his friends, curious how a roomful of eighth grade boys would approach the decision. I briefly explained the idea and content of the book, what it was apparently about and what it was more deeply about. Then I gave them the title choices, explaining that one title (the author's favorite) also already happened to be the title of a different book.
"That doesn't seem to matter though," I told them.
"You're saying it's okay to give the book a title that's already being used by another book?" asked one eighth grade boy.
"Yes, different books can have the same title," I said.
"Then I would just call the book Harry Potter," he said.
What must it be like inside that eighth-grade head?
I imagine it as that magical middle school moment of being the biggest ... the oldest ... the top of the heap, when your wit and intellect suddenly converge and you become one part boy and three parts awesome. Maybe the sweetness is due to how fleeting that moment is. How, once you step out of middle school, you land in that vat of social and academic muck called high school, a stew that you need to wade through for years before finding your balance again. Maybe it's because you don't see that pure, unadulterated self-possession in young men until after they've survived something -- something worse than middle school, that is.
My son graduated eighth grade last night, and although I feel completely done with middle school, I'm a little sad. Because there truly is no one as hubrant as an eighth grade boy.
Gone is the detritus of your children's lives scattered here and there, carelessly flung about and forgotten. Your bathroom towels will stay hung neatly on their bars, the dishes are placed in the dishwasher instead of left to sit next to the sink. Beds remain made, floors remain clean, clothes are neatly put away. Mystery spills vanish, and you never wake up to a mess. Who knew it could be like this?
Some couples decide that it's time to separate and move on, others remember why it was they fell in love in the first place -- or find new reasons and ways to connect to each other. Without your kids, you become each other's only companion when you're at home. It can't be overstated how much of a distraction our kids are while they are growing up. This is probably the most jolting part of the empty nest -- when you look at each other and think, "Oh wow, it's just us now." For better or worse, it will happen.
No longer are you waiting for the sound of a key in the door, or the porch light to be turned off upon your children's safe return from another night out. No longer are you part of the day-to-day ups and downs of your children's lives ... no matter how often they may text/call/email/facebook message/tweet you. Their mental and physical well-being, though still hugely important to you, are their responsibilities now, and you no longer have the minutiae of their daily lives to think about like you did when they lived at home.
If your kids are in college, or even if they're not, you may still be paying for them to eat. But it's nice to go to the grocery store and come home with the things you want, and not have to buy all the things they want, things that you really don't want in your house.
Initially, this may be disturbing or difficult for you to deal with. You may want to do things you've missed -- museums, movies, theater, travel or you may not want to do much of anything at all. Whatever your thing is, there's now time to do it ... a lot of time.
No longer do you have to socialize with other parents because of your children's connections. No more booster club barbecues or committee meetings, making small talk with people you most likely never would have crossed paths with if it weren't for the fact that your children were on the same team/in the same class/part of the same group of friends.
Your children leave home and, for better or worse, they have to grow up, no matter how much help you may be giving them financially OR emotionally. There are just too many daily things to manage, too many random people to deal with, too many bumps and blips that they have to encounter on their own that leads to them, inevitably and sometimes painfully, growing up. It can be liberating when kids take over, driving or planning or explaining -- giving up some authority is in many ways a big relief.
There's nothing quite as wonderful as seeing your kids after weeks or months apart, especially when they first go away to college. Their faces are familiar and beautiful, their smiles just for you, their laundry ready to be washed...it's such a thrill to have them home for holidays, or summers, or a weekend visit. Within minutes of their return, it's as though they never left. You love having them home for a while, but then...
Remember before kids, when you would dream and plan for the rest of your life? Remember when it was wide open, and you had no idea what would happen next? Well, you can do that again, now that you're an empty-nester. No longer do you have to worry about childcare, or kids missing school, or whether they'll like the place you pick to go on vacation -- your time, your future, and your life is yours to create. Always wanted to travel? Now you can. Go back to school? Now's the time. Write a book? Get cracking. You have your life to live, just as they have theirs. Go do it!
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