Bear had a rough start to junior high last year. In elementary school, her circle of friends had mostly been her Girl Scout troop and whoever was in her class that year. When sixth grade began, most of her friends went out for school sports and friendship groups began to form along the lines of who played on what team.
Bear had given sports a fair whirl for a few years and emerged with nothing more than two black eyes and a terror of balls. She declared herself "not a sporty girl" and decided not to go out for any of the junior high sports. Since she was already taking four dance classes a week and music lessons, that suited me just fine, too.
But at school, she began to feel left out of lunchroom conversation, a lot of which centered around the sports teams. She began to notice that she wasn't being included in group invitations to the movies or to hang out at someone's house.
"Mom, I'm not good at anything," she told me in a quiet, heartbroken voice.
"Of course you are!" I replied, "You're smart, you're creative, you're musical and a dancer, and you have an amazing sense of humor!"
"But, Mom," she said patiently, "None of those things count in junior high."
And my heart broke into tiny little pieces. Because I remembered that feeling, the feeling of suddenly finding yourself cast out of a group and wanting desperately just to belong again, even if you have to completely reinvent yourself to do it.
"Bear," I told her firmly, "Your only problem is that you haven't found your people yet. You are going to find friends who share your interests. And when you find them, you'll discover that you don't have to try to be something you're not for these friends. They're going to like you just the way you are, and you will feel more at ease and alive than when you're trying to fake interest in something just to belong."
We talked about how friend groups splinter and re-form many times throughout junior and senior high. When I told her that she might have two, three, or more different best friends between now and 12th grade, she gawped at me in disbelief. And I remembered how at twelve, there is only now, and it feels like things will be this way forever.
But, miraculously, within the first few weeks of school, I began to hear new names: S. from Band, A. from her accelerated science class, and L. from ballet. And within a month, I had my happy, self-confident Bear back. And miracle of miracles, she found that even though she didn't share as much in common as she once did with her old friends, they were still lots of fun to talk to at lunch or in the halls between classes.
Yesterday, a year after her self-confidence meltdown, I got to sit and listen to Bear play four classical pieces at her recital. She looked cool and composed as she mounted the stage and sat gracefully in her chair as she played her oboe. I was so proud of her.
This summer she's going to a one-week sleep-a-way music camp at one of the state universities. She is , and when her father and I gave the permission and wrote the deposit check, she told us excitedly,
"I can't wait to meet the other kids at camp. I just know that to want to go to a camp like this, they will be my kind of people."