Slow Dancing in Middle School

Friday: 9:00 p.m. I walk into the middle school, 80s-themed dance to pick up my guys. My I-don’t-talk-to-girls seventh grader is hidden in a clump of other seventh graders wearing neon. I can’t see who he is dancing with, but one of the teacher-chaperones reports over the music that while he may not talk to girls, he does dance with them.

In a small crowd of eighth graders, I see mine slow dancing, his hands on her hips, her hands on his shoulders. Lots of sunshine between them (had they been dancing outside). Step. Step. Step. Eyes darting around the room. Barely talking even though they have been good friends since kindergarten.

As one of the girls supposedly reported to her mom later, what happened to those six weeks of Cotillion? Should I give my guys some direction, or enjoy their awkwardness for another year?

At least they were willing to talk after.

Post-Dance with the Seventh Grader

“Who did you dance with?”

“Can’t remember.” Then he listed three different girls. “But seriously, mom, middle school dances? I don’t think they should have them. A lot of kids aren’t ready.” He described a classmate who stood in the corner all night with his GoPro filming for his YouTube channel. “And a bunch of my friends didn’t even go.”

“But did you have fun?”

“It wasn’t bad.”

Post-Dance with the Eighth Grader

“The girls were dressed weird.” While the boys all chose their shabbiest, I-am-not-trying-to-impress-you clothes, the more spirited girls were in theme – 80s Footloose style.

“And the seventh graders slow dance wrong. It drove me crazy!” I barely stifled a guffaw. “You’re supposed to put your hands on their hips, not their shoulders.”

As I was saying, a little guidance before the graduation dance may be in order. A spin. A graceful twirl. A slow tango through the crowd.

His First Dance

My seventh grader constantly surprises me. I assume I know him well enough to guess how he will react to situations as he navigates adolescence, but I do him a disservice. I underestimate his willingness to try new things, his resilience, his humor and the joy he gets out of his friends. I assume setbacks will set him back.

I am usually wrong.

He is his own man at 13. And I am trying to let go of worrying that he is too introverted, reserved, doesn’t fit the mold. The mold he is creating for himself is better, completely original and, so far, perfectly happy.

He chose to play the baritone horn because he liked the low tone and no one else was playing it. He joined the soccer team even though he had never played. He loves performing on the stage. His teachers tell me how he always makes them laugh. The other night, the boy I thought would never leave home, suggested that he and his brother go on the school’s summer language immersion trip to Costa Rica. He wants to travel.

But the biggest surprise so far was his first dance. Last night.

I worried all day. I told my friends he was anxious about it. I waited for the teary “come get me phone call.”

The phone never rang.

And when he returned from his first dance, his hair damp with sweat and an ear-to-ear smile, he said, “I am never going to sleep tonight. There are too many fun things to remember.”

The seventh graders danced together in a big group jumping up in the air and bumping into each other. During the one slow dance, they kept switching partners, never, it seems, an awkward moment.

“Did you slow dance?” teased his younger brother.

“Well, duh, of course I did!” he said with the bravado of a survivor.