My oldest niece is in middle school now ("oh my gosh stop it Eli no way you look so young" "omg stop you guys!"). This means that she is transitioning from school activities and performances for which there is a direct correlation between cute and disaster to activities and performances that showcase legit talent. I think this is because by the time you hit middle school you can't rely on being cute anymore to get you through these things.

Because puberty.

Puberty is not cute, you guys.

OBVIOUSLY I'm not talking about your kid. Your middle schooler is obviously the exception and is oh my gosh so cute srsly.

But all of the other kids in the world that are in middle school: no more relying on their Gerber Baby faces. They have to start putting up something of value or they'll get eaten up by this monster of a world the rest of us created for them.

So tonight I attended my niece's middle school choir concert. To be clear, my niece is a perfect being of wonder and light and she has never and will never do anything wrong and if I knew how to work a camera, I would have been pushing parents out of the way at the front of the auditorium tonight to get an HD video of her breathing during tonight's performance. This niece was born on my birthday (OMG today (Wednesday)! Hashtag cake! Hashtag hard to know when it's my birthday because always cake!).

And because she was born on my birthday, she shall always be my favorite. Not just my favorite niece. Favorite. That includes, literally everything. I value her above the freaking Magna Carta. And in 10 years when I'm too old to take care of myself anymore, I will select her as the one who will change my diapers. (Until then I'm having the plant lady at the office do this).

But as I sat for eleventy hundred hours tonight and watched 200 different combinations of middle school kids perform 6,725 songs, I was assaulted with the horrors of puberty. Those awkward children stared at us with terror in their eyes and "awkward" written all over their faces (besides your very specific child and my perfect niece, obviously). And suddenly I had a 3-year-long flashback run through my mind in exactly ten seconds.

I saw my awkward 12-year-old self standing one foot shorter than nearly every girl in my class. I relived dances wherein all the girls stood in an uncomfortable gaggle in the middle and the boys played tag around the perimeter. I could smell the toxic onslaught of whatever was our version of Axe Body Spray back in 1997.

And it hit me.

These are the true heroes.

The 13-year-old kids who face this cruel world every day with smiles on their faces that currently don't fit their bodies. Or any body at all.

And they don't just face the world--they embrace it. They get up on a stage and sing their changing voices out. They befriend one another, they laugh, they enjoy things.

You guys. If a 13-year-old can make it through a day, so can you.

Now please. Tell me something you remember about middle school.

~It Just Gets Stranger