"Like baseball, childhood has its early, middle, and late innings. Each period requires its unique strategy to meet its particular needs."
-Jack Petrash, Covering Home
Regardless of whether you are a baseball fan, we can all relate to the idea of Petrash’s “middle innings.” If you’ve ever been to a baseball game, or any other athletic event, concert or theatrical performance, most of the excitement occurs at the onset and then again near the conclusion. We all enjoy the opening ceremony and pre-game hoopla associated with a baseball game, and the crescendo—the ninth inning—is oftentimes dramatic and exciting.
Yet, many can argue that the middle innings are actually the most significant part of a baseball game. It’s when the momentum of a game is established. It’s when the starting pitcher shows dominance or inferiority. It’s when the most hot dogs and peanuts are sold. In short, it is a unique and important time of the game that deserves as much attention as the beginning and the end.
In regards to childhood, the pre-teens and early adolescent years are comparable to the middle innings. These years are unique, significant and serve as the foundation for young adulthood. They are incredibly exciting and emerging independence allows children to explore beyond the traditional boundaries of their homes and classrooms. The middle innings in a child’s life can also be confusing and frustrating, as physical and emotional changes disrupt the innocence of childhood. The following poem, The Garden, by Amanda Crafts (written when she was a middle school student and published in “In the Middle”) encapsulates this dichotomy:
It’s a garden of roses--
Throwing their buds toward the sun,
Growing up, growing stronger,
Climbing up the supportive wall.
A little bud blooms
Throwing off its old petals
And leaving the wall.
It’s a garden of thorns--
Slowly overtaking the delicate rose.
And as the rose climbs…
So climb the thorns.
Every so often
A thorn grows
Too close to the rose
Causing a tear…
A ruined petal.
It’s a garden of roses--It’s a garden of thorns.
The middle years of childhood are indeed the formative years. It is during these years that children are wondering, observing, asking, doubting, worrying and anticipating. They are searching for independence, yet longing for the comforts of home. They demand more power in decision-making, yet their brains are physically not able to make sound decisions on a consistent basis. It is a unique age that requires a unique approach—sometimes we must nurture and guide, while at other times we must let go and trust.
With patience and resilience as parents, mentors and teachers, we can indeed concoct the right formula that allows pre-teens to grow in healthy ways. Balanced, morally sound guidance and a supportive environment at this age provide confidence for later stages of childhood. These are significant years in a child’s development, so make sure that your trip to the hot dog stand in the middle innings is short—you don’t want to miss this truly unique time of the game.
Enjoy the remainder of the summer with family and friends. Watch the middle innings of a baseball game, enjoy one final summer read, and set aside special time between you and your tween. See you after Labor Day!
"Covering Home: Lessons on the Art of Fathering from the Game of Baseball" by Jack Petrash