Combination locks: A rite of passage
By Lisa Smartt
Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:01 pm
Our son came rushing in the front door from school registration carrying one of the dreaded symbols of the American middle school experience ... a combination lock. Chills immediately ran up my spine. Middle school flashbacks.
I loved elementary school. Recess. Watered down Kool-Aid™ at parties. But the best thing about elementary school? Cubby holes. A cubby hole is a nice little place with my name neatly printed on it. A happy place to keep my coat and lunch box. Elementary school was a place of emotional safety. One room. One teacher. One happy little cubby hole. But then it happened. Middle school.
Middle school is like the boot camp of life. It’s the emotional obstacle course of the human experience. Middle school is the marathon of the maturing process. And it all starts when you’re handed a combination lock and introduced to the world of lockers. I remember the first time I had a locker with a combination lock. I was in seventh grade and couldn’t seem to figure out the combination. Yes. The school handed me a piece of paper with the combination on it. Yes. The paper attempted to explain the mystery regarding combination locks. But the explanation was written by a math/engineering major.
When my son handed me his lock, I felt like someone had just given me a Rubix cube.
“Mom, can you open this?”
“Honestly, I doubt it, Son. I mean, I’ll try. It’s just that combination locks were never my specialty in middle school. I loved drama and English. When I tried to open my locker, I always wanted the school counselor nearby. But you’re not like me, Honey. You’re like Dad and I’m sure you’ll have no trouble at all.”
Determined to put the past behind me, I looked at the little piece of paper and attempted to open my son’s lock. Round One: Not quite. Round Two: Must be stuck. Round Three: This lock must be like a mood ring. It senses my mechanical insecurities. Round Four: There must be a factory defect here.
After unloading the car my husband entered the room and said, “Hey, ya want me to open your lock, Buddy?”
Ten seconds passed. Open lock. Happy son. And the rainbow of “middle school hope” began to shine brightly again. His dad spoke with enthusiasm, “Here, Son, I’m sure you can learn how to do it.” And he did. It took a few tries, but he learned. First middle school rite of passage: passed with flying colors.
Of course, the combination lock is just a concrete symbol of the anguish so common among middle schoolers. As my son experiences his first year in that realm, I find myself looking back at my own middle school years. I remember feeling odd and out of place. I remember great academic enthusiasm combined with bouts of emotional insecurity. I remember wondering if every middle schooler felt as I felt ... in the middle. No longer a child. Nowhere near an adult. Searching for a place to belong.
There’s one thing we continually remind our son, “Be kind.” If every middle schooler could remember to be kind, the middle school experience would be overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it would even be OK for the kids who can’t figure out their combination. Kids like me.
For more information about Lisa Smartt, visit her website lisasmartt.com.
Published in The Messenger 8.25.10