DEAR AMY: I'm 11 and about to enter middle school.
There's a problem: I'm scared to death of middle school.
I've talked to my family and my friends, but nothing they've said helps at all. I'm not afraid of bullying, but it's everything else.
I'm worried about getting up early, doing all the homework and having alternating schedules.
It's all so scary. Even actual middle school students, who tell me how much fun it is, don't help.
Time is running out. Please help me, Amy. No one else can.
— Eleven and Scared
DEAR SCARED: I've started and restarted so many new things that I know this butterfly-in-the-gut feeling very well.
Starting at a new school (or new job) is almost always scary, but here's what I do: I tell myself, "All I have to do is show up." Then I tell myself, "I just have to make it until lunch." Then I think, "The end of the first day isn't too far off. I know I can make it."
What I'm saying is that this will be easier if you take it in stages. Once you figure out where your locker and the bathrooms are, you'll be well on your way.
Middle school teachers know how kids feel during that first week of school. That's why they make sure that every student knows where to go and what to do.
Find a buddy that first day. Going through the process with another student who also has questions and might also be a little nervous will help both of you.
A book you will find helpful is, "Too Old for This, Too Young for That!: Your Survival Guide for the Middle-School Years," by Harriet S. Mosatche and Karen Unger (2005, Free Spirit Publishing).
DEAR AMY: I am a widower and have started dating again.
I met a wonderful woman, "Barbara," and we now live together.
We both like the arrangement, and we have no plans for marriage.
I'm confused, though. When we meet people, how do I introduce her?
"Girlfriend" does not really work for me — we are in our 60s.
— Wondering Widower
DEAR WONDERING: This is a common concern for anyone too old to enjoy "High School Musical 3."
There is no "right" answer.
You can't go wrong, however, if you introduce your companion as "Barbara," because, well, that's her (fictitious) name.
People meeting the two of you will know by your body language and mutual affection that you are a couple.
Otherwise, you can say, "I'd like you to meet my sweetheart/companion/partner-in-crime."
One correction: Please don't say you have started dating again. If you are living with someone, one would hope you have stopped dating.
DEAR AMY: My husband is a performer and I assist him at gigs.
The performance usually happens during, before or after a meal.
Usually the person who helped organize the function offers us food.
We mention that we ate beforehand, but the person will insist, so we fix a modest plate and eat.
I can't help but notice the other faces scowling and the offended looks we receive when we do eat.
Even though we've eaten beforehand, we eat for two reasons: the client insisted and because it's a good way to visit with the client and other non-scowling guests.
Unfortunately, I'm to the point where I'd rather not eat.
Do you have any suggestions on how to tactfully decline without offending anyone?
— Performer's Assistant
DEAR ASSISTANT: Part of your burden as public performers is to be cheerfully oblivious when members of your audience have sour looks on their faces. Ideally, you would find a way to turn this to your advantage in order to continue to entertain professionally.
If you really don't want to eat, say, "We never eat after a performance, but we'd be happy to mingle a little bit and meet your guests before we pack up, if you'd like."
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