You are about to embark on life clinging to the lowest rung of a well-organized social food chain. A 9th grade boy occupies the bottom spot in a pecking order that was established many generations ago. You will inevitably rise from this spot. But do not be in too much of a hurry, there is much to be learned as a basement dweller.
1. Learn to be one of the good guys.
There are good guys and bad guys and it can be easier to distinguish between them when you don’t travel amongst them. Watch the older boys, see how they treat each other, their teachers and the girls in their grade. See how they treat you, someone who has nothing to offer them. Remember the guys for which you have disdain: the braggarts, the cynics, the disrespectful. Remember those who you admired and why. One day when you are a senior astride the high school like a colossus, how will you use your social power? Ninth grade is when you start to figure out who you will be then.
2. Learn to find your best.
I know you think you worked really hard in middle school, and you did. But 9th grade and all of high school is the place where many of us find out what we are made of. In truth, I learned that I never push myself hard enough, that every time I stop well short of the best I can do. In high school, I watched kids who approached every challenge – social, athletic, academic – as if it was the one thing they needed to do in their lives. Those kids brought their approach into the real world and I don’t need to tell you how well that worked out. Habits of a lifetime are formed in high school, beware.
3. Learn what a mother’s love looks like.
One day soon you will hate me. Before we finish with the next four years, you will despise me and I do not use that word lightly. I am going to stand between you and a whole lot of fun. It will be me trying to blockade the threshold to drug use, binge drinking, unprotected sex and general bad behavior. I will, at times, ground you, withhold the car keys and scream at you in a tone that will make your head rattle. I will impose rules that to you seem unfair. At times, I promise, you will hate me.
This will give me great pains and even second thoughts, misgivings on whether I am being too tough. But in the end, I will stay my course. I will do this because this is what moms are paid to do, it’s like labor pains or sleepless nights. Saying “no” to your 15-year-old comes with the job description. I hold out hope that on the day that your good judgement catches up with your age, it will be clear to you why I made myself so loathsome.
4. Learn not lie to either me or your teachers.
Both of our lives will be immersed in misery if you do not tell the truth to those who trust you. Do not cheat at home or at school. This will land you in your own personal hell. If you get caught at school I will punish you right along side whatever your school dishes out. If you don’t get caught and I find out, I will punish you for two. You don’t want to make me do this.
5. Learn Not to Be Unkind.
Being unkind does not make you a cool or popular kid. It makes you a jerk. Don’t be selfish and think only of yourself, it just makes you a bigger jerk. Starting in ninth grade, high school is where you learn to be the very best version of yourself and I will be reminding you of this more than a few times.
6. Learn to keep yourself safe.
There was a time when I held your hand in the cross walk and put on your seat belt. So for the next few years I will nag you and you will fume. I will very briefly feel some sympathy for you and then I will carry on nagging. Why will I do this? Because you can be a danger to yourself and it is my job to deliver you safely into adulthood. I will nag you so that for the rest of time when you start to change lanes you will hear my voice asking if you have looked over your shoulder or when you go out a night you will think twice about going alone. Someday I will not be here, but that voice in your head will be there forever.
As you set off for high school, you begin to create the adult that you will be. Over these four years my grip on your life will ease as your independence grows. This process may not always be smooth and, in our very worst moments, I ask you to try and tell yourself one thing…she must really love me to be this awful.