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Finding your middle school mojo

Rebels are taking over Libya. Hurricane Irene is breathing down our neck. And my youngest daughter is starting middle school.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

I had a good blubber on I-95 North yesterday after watching my baby disappear in my rear-view mirror as she wandered into her first day of middle school, her older sister storming off ahead of her as if she carried a contagious, deadly disease.

I think it's called "6th grade."

Apparently when you're 12 years old, it's not cool to be associated with anyone immediately younger, even if you did just spend the entire summer with her.

The rules are definitely different – and unbending – here. I was reminded of Middle School Rule #1 all the way to school Monday morning: Moms do not get out of the car on the 1st day. Ever.

Those who insist on walking their kids in, holding hands or -- gasp -- filming the experience do so at the risk of raining ridicule on their kid for the next 3 years. (Middle schoolers can't remember their locker combinations, what they read this summer or the school dress code, but they never, ever forget a mom escort in the hallway on the 1st day of school.)

How'z a kid supposed to know? Last weekend, when my 7th-grader acknowledged my 6th-grader's existence, she did impart a few bits of advice. So, for the sake of all 6th-graders everywhere (and their moms), I pass them on:

* The only first-day-of-school photos to be taken will be done so at home. Once you get within a 500 meter radius of school, all parent-owned cameras, cell phones and video cams must be kept from view.

* Wear Converse sneakers. The brighter, the better. Laces should also be bright and contrast with the shoe as jarringly as possible.

* Avoid using school bathrooms at all costs. They're gross.

* Lunch boxes can make or break you, but they're tricky. You never know if you'll be able to carry off that Smurfs one that made you laugh over the summer. Neoprene in solid colors or patterns is a safe bet.

* You don't have to eat the brown-orange squares on the lunch tray, but duck if they come flying at you.

* Don't worry about decorating your locker. Nobody uses them. (Too small and too far away to get to between classes.)

* Use the planner they give you and write down all your homework assignments and test dates.

* Wear a bra, even if you don't need one. (You'll know why the first day you have to change for PE.)

* A hoodie is essential.

* Lots of bracelets and hair bands on your wrist are cool; so are feathers and colored hair extensions.

* Long hair on guys is hot. Don't worry if you can't tell if the kid sitting next to you in art class is a boy or girl; you'll find out when his voice starts changing.

* Even if the geeky math teacher seems friendly, do not get into a heated conversation with him about Pokémon Minecraft Mod in front of other students.

* Even though block scheduling means you have two days to get homework done, do it the first night because it piles up.

* Don't grow up too fast!

(OK, I slipped that last one in.)