A Back-to-School Story from Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Back-to-School Story from Chicken Soup for the Soul

You Gotta Be Cool in Middle School
By Susan M. Heim
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood

You can tell a child is growing up when he stops asking where he came from and starts refusing to tell where he is going.
~Author Unknown

When you’re in middle school, the need to look “cool” outweighs any desire to get good grades or please your parents. Social status is everything! So when my son, Dylan, asked to ride his bike to school, rather than be dropped off by his apparently “uncool” mom, I tried to consider his new status as a middle-schooler.

On the one hand, I was terrified of sending him off to school alone. I’d always been there to drop him off and watch him safely enter the school building. If he rode his bike, I wouldn’t have that reassurance that he’d arrived safe and sound. What if he got hit by a car or accosted by a stranger? There was also bad weather to consider. Fortunately, middle school started at 9:00 a.m., so at least he wouldn’t be riding in the dark.

On the other hand, I knew that I couldn’t baby my son forever. He was a typical boy for his age, seeking independence and separation from his mother. At some point, I had to learn to “let go” and give him his wings, despite my fears for his safety. Besides, neither of us wanted him to be “that kid” whose mother was constantly hovering over him. Definitely not cool.

So, with fingers crossed and prayers said, I reluctantly told my son he could ride his bicycle to school. That gave me the title of “cool mom” — at least for a day or so. Everything went well until the day that Dylan temporarily lost his coolness. . . .

As he described the scene to me later, he was just leaving the school on his bike at day’s end when he was apparently distracted by the crowd around him. Other kids were streaming out of the school; cars were everywhere; people were shouting and laughing. Naturally, Dylan was checking out the sights around him instead of the path ahead. Suddenly — BAM! — he rode his bicycle straight into the side of a big metal newspaper box, knocking him to the ground!

Sheepishly, Dylan looked around to see if anyone had seen his misfortune. Due to the chaos, it appeared that his tumble hadn’t been noticed by too many people. But it wasn’t over yet. As he began to rise to his feet, Dylan spotted a police car parked on the other side of the street. The police officer in the car was looking right at Dylan. And then he raised his megaphone to his mouth:

“Are you all right, young man?” he bellowed across the street.

Hundreds of heads suddenly turned to see Dylan rising from his fallen bike, which had clearly had a collision with the newspaper box. Dylan’s face turned red. He gave the officer a terse nod and the “okay” sign with his fingers, and then quickly hopped on his battered bike and rode as fast as the wind, never looking back.

“I was so embarrassed, Mom,” my son told me that evening. “I’ll definitely be watching where I go from now on!” Lesson learned.

And I learned a lesson, too. My son would most assuredly get into some scrapes as he traveled the road to independence, but he would get through it on his own. And, as often happens in middle school, Dylan’s uncool incident was soon old talk as other kids managed to embarrass themselves in various ways. Thankfully, Dylan and I both survived middle school!

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