When I was around 12 years old, my family went on a camping trip “out west.” Among other things, we stopped at Four Corners, where four states (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) come together in one place. I remember feeling strangely powerful, like I had accomplished something, when I stretched out arms and legs to be in all four states at once. But it also made me think about how intensely small my place in the world was. I was a speck, tinier than a grain of sand.
Twelve-ish is a time for feeling both big and small, isn’t it? Last week I went to a middle school celebration ceremony (the students had completed their Drug Abuse Resistance Education program). During the evening, each 6th grader was presented with a certificate. As the kids crossed the stage, I marveled at the variety of shapes and sizes and types I saw. Some looked like they should be back in elementary school, some looked like they could drive themselves home! Sneakers and haphazard ponytails shared the stage with high heels and make up. The dichotomy of this time of life – you are little, and you are big – swirled around me. It was beautiful.
Pianist Paul Sullivan composed an emotional song that captures this tricky time, called Clara’s Dance. He was inspired to write it when his young son’s babysitter was in this season of life. Give it a listen – your heart will tug.
The dance of the pre-teen played out before my eyes again after a recent trip to the mailbox yielded two magazines for the 11-year-old in my home. The American Girl doll catalog, and Teen Vogue (both came unsolicited). I peered over my daughter’s shoulder at the cover of Teen Vogue and pinched my lips together as I read the teaser “Bad Trip – the real deal with the new It drugs.”
Yikes! I am so not ready for this, I thought. But apparently, neither was the 11-year-old. She brushed both magazines aside, but later asked me, “Where is Kit [her American Girl doll], anyway?” The next day, while gathering up laundry I saw something I hadn’t in years:
And my heart was glad.
Most of us remember this particular stage of life, when you are both little and big, with some tinge of poignancy. We want to reach back in time and say to ourselves: don’t hurry! It’s not as great as you think over here!
Perhaps that’s why coming-of-age stories are perennial favorites. We can relive that time through someone else’s lens, distant enough to not feel all that pain, but close enough to realize we aren’t the only speck out there, and that it’s a pretty nice beach to be on after all.