I had my first boyfriend in fifth grade. Saying we were “going out” meant not much more than talking on the phone and dedicating songs to each other on the radio. I remember skating together during couple’s skate at the school skate night to the song Lost in Your Eyes by Debbie Gibson. Or was that just something I imagined? It’s hard to tell. That was a long time ago.
Fifth grade was also my last year in the States before moving to Thailand, and all my friends knew it. At the end of the year, I said my goodbyes. My boyfriend actually threw a going away party for me at his house and invited all my closest friends. We played games and laughed and chatted and his mom made this huge platter of tacos which we never got around to eating. (I still kinda feel bad about those tacos.)
This year my daughter’s in fifth grade, and it seems that it hasn’t changed much. There are crushes and “couples” who last for a day or two and then break up. Instead of talking to friends on a phone attached to the kitchen wall like I did (the cord wrapped round and round my arm or stretched into the hallway so my mom wouldn’t overhear), my daughter and her friends text and Facetime on their iPads. Friends fight and make up. New friendships are made. Slumber parties and sleepovers are frequent. Boys are totally annoying and crush-worthy at the same time.
I am not sure how to help her navigate this time. At her age I was facing leaving my home country and all my friends to go be a missionary family across the globe. I could teach her how to pack for an international trip. I could give her tips on long plane rides. I could even give her advice on fitting in and being respectful in a foreign country. But can I teach her how to be ten years old?
At ten years old, I was the only kid in fifth grade who didn’t play kickball at recess. I was terrified of the ball. And of being embarrassed. I was also the only female trombone player in entire fifth/sixth grade band. And I was proud of that. At ten years old, I got passport pictures and choose which toys and books I wanted to take to Thailand with me. I played in the backyard with my brother and best friend from across the street, Allison. I cried to my parents that I was stressed (because I didn’t want to practice trombone and you know, I was about to move across the world). I listened to the radio and watched the movie Beaches at my friend’s house and read my Bible. I asked to give a speech at the end of the year awards assembly and the principal said yes. I got up in front of the entire K-6 student body and said thank you. Days later, I bawled when I had to say goodbye to Allison for the last time.
It seems like fifth graders are a mix of confidence and self-doubt, bravery and worry. I see this in my daughter, too. Maybe she is right where she is supposed to be. Learning to believe in herself even when it’s hard. Wanting to be different and to fit in at the same time. Taking a risk when she’s not sure of the outcome. I’m proud of her.
For now, I listen. We go out on the deck and chat in the evenings sometimes. I let her talk, and then I try to say something meaningful and wise, but it always comes out sounding floundering and flubbed. It’s okay, I tell myself. You’re listening. She’s talking to you. That has to mean something.
She will grow up differently than I did. I can’t decide if this is good or bad. Maybe a little of both. She’s not getting her first passport or putting her beloved toys in storage. But she’s still a lot like I was at her age: curious, outgoing, and independent. Eager to be her own person. Toeing the line between confidence and uncertainty. She’s beautiful, and I’m just watching that beauty unfold.