Ava Pennington knew life was pretty good, until her parents had not one, but two family meetings to share news that she thought could be the end of her world. Find out what happens to Ava and how it turns out in this story from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School.

Written by Ava Pennington, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.
—Rod McKuen

My world was in a constant state of change and I was having trouble keeping up. Life with Mom, Dad and my sister, Linda, had always been comfortably predictable. My grades were good, and Linda and I got along fairly well. We played together and fought together, the way sisters do. As the older one, I was used to being told to set an example, which wasn't too difficult, since Linda was only two years younger, and she usually wanted to do anything I did, anyway. Life was pretty good.

Then the changes started coming.

First, Mom sat us down, a very serious look on her face. She said she had something very important to tell us. Soon, we were going to have a new little sister or brother. "A baby?" I thought. Instead of being the older of two girls, I would now be the oldest of three. Well, OK, this sounded like it wouldn't be too bad. After all, I already had experience in the big sister department. The baby was born that June, and I was thrilled that it was a girl — I didn't know anything about little boys. During the following year, I settled into the role of being big sis to my new baby sister.

Not only would I not be able to graduate elementary school with my friends, but I would have to start middle school with a class full of kids who had known each other, and bonded, since kindergarten.

Then came another family meeting with some additional news that would change my world even further. We were moving. Our new home would be across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in another borough of New York City. We were leaving the only home I had ever known. Even worse, it would occur right before the beginning of sixth grade. Not only would I not be able to graduate elementary school with my friends, but I would have to start middle school with a class full of kids who had known each other, and bonded, since kindergarten. Where would that leave me?

I spent the summer adjusting to a new neighborhood, literally being the new kid on the block. Making friends didn't come easily to me, and it didn't help being the eldest child of immigrant parents. I was different, and different is the last thing any middle schooler wants to be. The fear of starting a new school hung over me like a black cloud, tainting each summer day.

classroom of young students

The first day of school arrived way too quickly. I entered my new classroom trying very hard not to appear as scared as I felt, but it wasn't easy. Twenty-eight faces turned to look up at me as I followed the assistant principal into the room. They all looked so cool, and some of the girls even wore makeup. How would I ever fit in? I was out of touch in every way possible. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup or nail polish. I wore leotards instead of stockings, and much of my wardrobe was handmade, sewn by my mother and grandmother.

Mr. Bernstein welcomed me to the class and introduced me to the other students. He directed me to an empty desk in the back of the room, next to another girl. Her name was Janet and she was assigned to be my buddy for the day. I slowly walked across the room while 28 pairs of eyes stared at me as I took my seat.

There wasn't time for conversation before Mr. Bernstein began to rapidly detail the requirements for our class. I wrote as fast as possible, stealing occasional peeks at my seatmate. What was she like? Was she part of the in crowd? Did she resent being saddled with the new girl? I would find out the answers soon enough, during lunch period.

We walked to the cafeteria, sat together and opened our lunch bags. Between bites of our sandwiches, we began to ask each other questions. Her responses were not at all what I expected. Sisters? We both had two, although I was the oldest and she was the youngest. Home? It turned out that we lived about a 15-minute walk apart. Upbringing? Her parents were as strict as mine: no makeup, nail polish or stockings, and she also suffered similar early curfews and bedtimes.

I did know, however, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was going to be a good year after all.

The smiles on both our faces broadened with each new exchange. On this first day in a new school, I still didn't know if the in crowd would accept me. I did know, however, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was going to be a good year after all.

It has now been over 35 years. A lot has happened in both of our lives: graduations, college, marriages, divorce and children. I've since moved more than 1,000 miles away. But the friendship that began that first day of middle school is still going strong.

 *****

No matter what age you are, change can be tough. Despite Ava's constant worrying, it all turned out to be more than OK. Do you know a tween who's nervous about heading to middle school? Pass this story along and give a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School to him or her! For a full list of all our teen and tween titles, visit www.chickensoup.com.

Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC © 2008. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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