For the past two years, my girls have been in different schools -- one in middle, one in elementary. And, without making too big a drama out of it, I have to tell you that it has been a huge pain for my husband and me. We've had to deal with getting kids on two different buses, being home for two different dismissal times, and even cooking two different breakfasts (no, we weren't enabling, just sympathizing with the fifth grader whose bus didn't come for over an hour after her sister's arrived before dawn -- literally).
Now, for one year, and one year only, I'm breathing a sigh of relief -- my girls will be in the same school, riding the same bus, coming home at the same time, and eating the same breakfast.
I'm not sure it's fair for it to be all about me.
When my older daughter started middle school, she felt really special. The school had been rebuilt from the ground up the previous year, and her class was the first to benefit from what was now a state-of-the-art building. Her group of sixth graders took enormous pride in their very cool school. My daughter came home every day and bragged about the science lab, and the library, and even the salad bar in the cafeteria (who knew she liked salads?). We tried to tone down the rhetoric a bit, but we were thrilled and relieved that the middle school transition had been so positive for a kid who -- let's face it -- isn't all that crazy about transitions.
Luckily, as her older sister's sixth grade year progressed, my younger daughter had the kind of self-confidence and thick skin that allowed her to give her sister the satisfaction of being -- at least in sixth-grade eyes -- older and cooler. But a lot of that acceptance derived, I think, from the fact that she was really loving being a big fish in the small pond of her elementary school. She had it going on, and she was noticed -- and notable -- for skills totally different from her sister's: French horn playing in the Mardi Gras band, rug weaving on the school's loom, library book reading at a record pace. Her sister was a distant memory around the place. My little one could rule the school. And she did.
But now, my little one is about to infringe on my big one's space. And my big one is not going to be able to say anymore how much cooler the salad bar is than the elementary hot lunch. Meanwhile, my little one is going to feel lost, I'm sure, in the hugeness that is the middle school, while my big one knows the drill inside and out.
Now, I know what you're going to say. You're going to tell me that the eighth grade sister will help the sixth grader get her bearings. She'll show her how to find the very best cherry tomatoes in the salad bar pile. She'll point out the secret nook in the library, and she'll rat out the sixth-grade teachers' idiosyncracies so that my little one is at the ready for flying chalk and pop quizzes.
If this is what you think is going to happen, then you do not have two middle schoolers. OK, you do not have my two middle schoolers.
Because what I think is going to happen is this: I think the big one is going to want to hold on tight, tight, tight to her turf, turf, turf. Even if she'd rather die than say so, I think she's going to be afraid -- probably already is -- that her little sis is going to steal her big-kid thunder. And I think the little one is going to be too proud to ask her big sister for help -- she's going to want to march into that middle school under her own steam, head held high, with no help from the cockily more experienced, even if that means that she has to figure out this huge, scary school on her own.
Part of my heart aches when I think about what that first bus ride is going to be like. Are they going to sit together, share a seat? Is the big one going to make a point of kicking back with her eighth-grade friends, leaving the little one to sit alone, twiddling her brand new personalized pencils (yep, I'm THAT kind of mom)? Is the little one going to be hurt such that she marches right by her big sister in the hallway on the way to gym? Is this "same school" thing going to tear them apart more than it brings them together?
Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it will be sweet, a tale to tell them years from now when one is the maid of honor at the other's wedding. Maybe my big, brave eighth grader will say, "Here, sit with me and let's trade pencils!" as they ride to school before dawn, their hastily-made bagels with cream cheese in hand. Maybe my younger daughter will lean into her big sister's shoulder for a quick, barely noticeable pat before she descends the school bus steps and walks into the school, past the dozens of bicycle racks and the sculpture of the school mascot. Maybe their eyes will meet over the salad bar, and one will push a bright orange baby carrot the other's way.
And maybe I'll never know which scenario takes place.
That's because -- who can believe it? -- I have two middle schoolers.