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on middle schoolers: what they carry

A couple of weeks ago, I took my favorite 13-year-old to a workshop about “writing your story” – the book The Things They Carried  (Tim O’Brien), a memoir about the Vietnam War, was to be her jumping off point.

She has written quite a lot of fiction, and it’s really very good. But this. This is the real stuff, the things our kiddos are grappling with every day.

This grabbed me by the heart.


“They carry library books, notebooks, pens, paper. They carried heavy backpacks in the morning and string ones during the day.

Earbuds blasting music, they carried the assigned textbooks and the knowledge required for the test next period. They carry iPads and binders and their precious smart phones with them to every class.

Everyone carried the secret anxiety of failing a test or forgetting an assignment, losing a paper or having to present something they hadn’t finished.

Some carried Sharpies to draw with – either on their arms or on their papers – during the dull parts of class. Others had fancy watches, bracelets, necklaces which are never removed. Some considered these items lucky, other just liked the way they looked.

After class they carried their complaints. Madison complained of all the makeup work she had to do, and Delaney hated that she had to bring four separate binders to school. Some, like Isabella, fretted that they had already almost finished their book, but wouldn’t have their class’s library day until the end of the week.

They carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress.

They carry the anxiety of growing up, feeling like high school is coming too soon, too fast.

They carry confusion, about why they are being told to pick a college and a career path already.

They carry the thin boundary between childhood and adulthood, never knowing what to do.

They carry too much, but not nearly enough at the same time.”


I remember when my own kids were this age and sometimes so mouthy and sometimes crying for no reason and sometimes tormenting each other and sometimes being so sweet with each other I could hardly stand it.

I see all this in her now, veiled as it is sometimes by the way it manifests, and I ache for her and am so proud of her all at the same time.

But I’d forgotten, you see, my own 13-year-old pain. Yes, this world is is a different one than the one I grew up in, but the feelings are the same. Pressure is pressure, anxiety is anxiety and confusion is confusion. She helped me to realize that despite our age difference, despite our completely different 13-year-old worlds, despite technology and politics and everything going on now that wasn’t happening then, the heart cry of a 13-year-old remains the same.

And honestly, some of the cries of our heart never change. We still carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress. We still feel like we carry too much and not enough.

If we can remember, we can give grace even as we correct and instruct these young ones in these hard, hard years. We can remember to understand what it feels like. We can identify with them, and tell them we get it, and maybe, just maybe, we can help them carry the weight of right now as they move toward crossing that thin boundary between child and adult.

I love the transparency of this piece of writing – I love that she can use words to express her world. I love that she is willing to let it out, out into this big big world.

When I asked her if I could guest post her here, she hesitated, then said: “But why would your readers want to hear from ME? I’m just a kid.”

Why indeed.

Because no matter what stage of life we’re in, we can remember. And when we remember, we can relate to this messy age, and maybe love them just a little bit better because of it.



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  1. Seeking Serenity Seeking Serenity

    Very beautifully written, both of you. And, yes, this reader very much enjoyed hearing what this 13-year-old "kid" had to say. Hearkened me back to the days when I had dreams where I showed up at school in my pajamas. Or, does that qualify as a nightmare??!!!

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