Whenever we take a road trip, I have a family member who loves to stop at the odd, hole-in-the-wall type of roadside attractions. We’ve seen Butterfly Bonanza, The Snake Den, and The Undiscovered Cave (I know…oxymoron, right?). So when he made us stop at The Rock Farm, none of us was surprised.

We entered through the shop door, paying five dollars per person. Then we were ushered out back to the “farm” where a variety of rocks were strewn around. We were allowed to “harvest” one for ourselves. They all looked pretty much like clods of dirt to me; how to select one over another, I wondered. None of them looked very promising.  But when we took our choices back into the shop, the guy placed each into a rock polisher. You may recall having seen polished stones on key chains, geodes I think they’re called. Anyway, he dropped our rocks into the polisher and what ensued sounded approximately equivalent to putting two sets of silverware through the disposer. Yikes, what a racket! Then, voila! Out the bottom came a lovely polished stone, suitable for. . .  whatever you do with polished stones!

I propose that middle school is the rock polisher of Life.

We take our little lumps of dirt, 11, 12 or 13 year olds, and drop them off at middle school. If we’re honest, they don’t look all that promising. Then, we hear a shocking, often heart-wrenching grinding going on. . . for years. When finally, out the other end comes, voila, a more polished, almost-lovely, edges-worn-smoother teenager.

In my world, hardly a week goes by that a parent doesn’t contact me, hoping to ease or spare their middle school kid some anguish or another. Too many friends, too few; no texts from pals, nasty texts from pals, 111 texts this week from pals; too fat, too dumb, too “fast,” too tall; made the team/band/play. .. or didn’t make it. The litany is unending. And always, a loving, tender-hearted parent hoping to spare their kid the rock polisher.

I don’t want to discount the anguish or be critical of loving parents. . . having been one myself and having anguished over each of my kids in middle school. BUT, hundreds of kids into this work, I can say, the ones who managed to avoid the middle school rock polisher. . . those kids have had to undergo pretty tough times, getting polished later, by Life

If we were to assume that a bit of social polishing is a positive thing in middle school, if we were to assume that our kid isn’t perfect and in fact may benefit from some less-than-gentle reminders of sociability, what’s a parent to do? Our darling girl comes home to report that she didn’t get included in the sleep over. . . or worse yet, she doesn’t even hear about it but we do. Or, our happy guy is delighted to be invited to go to the game with an almost-cool-kid, only to be abandoned at the ticket gate so the other guy can sit with the in-crowd.

With the rock tumbler humming in the background, how can we help?

* we listen to our kid’s report;

* we help them feel welcome at home;

* we empathize;

* we encourage;

* we might even inquire what their options are and which one they think they’ll take.

But we do our best to allow them to “own” the situation. . . we have, after all presumably survived 7th grade ourselves. AND we express our confidence that they will be okay; they will figure it out. Maybe not great, maybe not right away. But just to hear mom or dad say, “This will work out okay,” goes a long way to surviving another day until maturity. Plus, another day, we’ll be surprised at the social polish they acquire. . . it looks like empathy, kindness, resilience, standing up for someone else. Most of us know, deep in our hearts, that the rock tumbler taught us some of Life’s most important lessons. It can do that for our kids too.