Tomorrow my niece, Nikole, has her first day of seventh grade. And for her, that means her first day in a new building . . . the high school. She's spending her first day of seventh grade in the exact same building as I spent mine, which makes the nostalgia all the more easy . . . and all the more indigestion-inducing. There is no great revelation here that my time in junior high was, shall we say, unpleasant for the most part. I was a nerd, I had horrible self-esteem, I was "meaty," and I had social anxiety. It doesn't take AP Math to understand that the answer to this equation is bad . . . very, very bad.
Starting something new has always been a tremendously difficult chore for me when it comes to things that are nerve-wracking. Every single year I would spend the last week of summer vacation not only being depressed that the break was about to end, but also fretting over homework, impromptu math problems on the chalk board, what to get in the lunch line (yes, I actually worried about this in junior high), and making friends/keeping friends/understanding the fickle follies of my friends. I might as well not have even had that last day of vacation because the entire time I had an outer body experience, with my mind floating somewhere over Impressionism paintings of large crowds and the maze of staircases in Labyrinth.
I recall the night before the start of seventh grade being a particularly scary event. I was terrified. And as was common for me, I was so nervous that I made myself sick. I inherited from my mom the inability to sleep the night before a first day of school. I used to also have this problem the night before my first day at a new job too, but now that I seem to have transitioned into the old-fart-I'm tired all the time-can I PLEASE just take a little nap phase of adulthood, I don't seem to have this trouble anymore. Back in the day though, I would ask my mom to lay down in bed with me until I fell asleep. Unfortunately for my mom, that sometimes meant a couple hours or more.
When I talked to Nikole earlier this week I asked how she was -- whether or not she was nervous. I already knew the answer before I asked because I know my niece. And my niece is a lot like me in many ways. While I usually love that, in this case, I wish she were different, for the simple fact that I don't want her to have to go through the same feelings I did. Kevin and I talked to her briefly tonight also to let her know that we'd be thinking about her and praying for her. I asked again how she was doing. I could hear the shake in her voice when she responded quietly, "I'm so nervous!" I let her know that I've been there and understand what she's going through. And then I told her that it was going to be just fine and she would be okay. Whether or not that did anything to help her, I'm not sure. If she's indeed like me, it didn't. I'm a person who is not easily influenced, and that also means that I'm not easily comforted either. That latter part of which rather sucks.
I wish so much that I could take away her fears and anxiety -- that I could make life just a little bit easier for her. Obviously that's impossible. But even more than that, if I did take it away I would also be taking away an opportunity for her to grow and become stronger. Despite hating the feelings I experienced during these moments of debilitating fears and stomach-churning nerves, they allowed me to become more adaptable and thicken my skin. It took an awful lot of those moments to make a substantial amount of progress in those areas, but it was all worth it. Yes, even the times I got made fun of for being too quiet and the times I got lost wandering in the hallways, searching for my first class. So if Nikole must be cursed/blessed with the anxiety gene, then I hope that her moments will be worth it in the end too. I hope that eventually she'll be able to use them like proteins building her emotional muscles. I hope that they will be obstacles transformed into wisdom. But first, I just hope that she remembers her locker combination and manages to eat a decent lunch. Love you, Nikole . . . you'll make it through.