If someone rang my doorbell with one of those huge cardboard checks for a million dollars (accompanied, of course, with an actual, cashable check for a million dollars – am I the only one who wonders whether that’s ever a scam? Like, once the picture is taken of the winner with the really smiley, big-toothed guy holding the huge check, does the big-toothed guy ever drive off and “forget” to hand over the real thing? I’ll bet this happens, every once in a while. It’s the big nasty secret of the sweepstakes industry…)
Wait. Where was I?
Right – if someone rang my doorbell and gave me a huge cardboard check (accompanied by a regular-sized, legitimate check) for a million dollars, and the one stipulation was that I would have to go back in time and relive junior high, I would laugh and laugh and then slam the door in his face. No, thank you. No million dollars for me. You could not pay me enough to do that again. And I don’t even mean, like, the entire two or three years. I don’t think I’d take a million to relive just a week. It was that bad.
Now, the (albeit small, but it is actually there) rational, non-ranty part of me knows that compared to many others, my junior high experience was positively blissful. I wasn’t abused, wasn’t bullied too intensely, had a stable home, no money worries, no drug addictions, no excessive acne, and had even gotten over the New Kids on the Block by that point in life. (My hair, however…without exaggeration, I can say that I had to be in the running for worst hair of the school. The pictures still make me shudder.)
But here’s the thing – even my relatively well-adjusted, non-“ABC-Afterschool-Special” (remember those??) junior high life was still, to me, a very traumatic, hideous time that no amount of money could make me want to relive.
Got it? Good.
But, as usual, God is hilarious. And thus, middle school has come right back around to bite me in the derriere, without so much as a regular-sized check for five lousy bucks…..through my children. Yes, we have now battled through the bleary newborn years, the circular arguments of toddlerhood, the inane repetition of preschool, the blossoming independence (and the accursed PROJECTS – don’t get me started…) of elementary, to land here, my friends. I now have three children in middle school. AND THEY ARE ALL GIRLS.
Let that sink in a moment. Oh yes. I’m glad I can help you feel better about your life. Yes, please do have a glass of wine for me. Or a bottle. Whatever.
Now, as a hormonal adolescent, I was convinced (like most hormonal adolescents) that my parents had not only forgotten everything that happened to them before the age of 30, but may indeed have never actually been younger than 30. And in that horrendous phase of my life, I made a solemn vow to myself that when I had children, I would remember what this had all been like, and how utterly awful junior high truly was. I would be so compassionate to my sweet offspring, offering gentle, understanding guidance that would never cross the line to condescending, unwanted advice. I’d be the perfect mix of cool, hanging-out, still-trendy mom and staying-out-of-the-way, call-me-when-you-need-more-ice-cream mom. I knew how it would all work. I had all the answers.
You guys, I was 14, and a genius. Obviously.
I would insert an apology here to my parents, but there’s really no need. Karma, as they say, is not the sweetest of women. My mother is probably laughing herself to sleep every night.
The thing is…I DO remember. I remember the horrible mood swings, and being asked what’s wrong, and not even knowing how to put into words the big knot of emotions in my stomach.
I remember feeling like everyone was watching me, all of the time, ready to laugh at my every misstep.
I remember being so jealous of the girls who were more “developed” than me and were already wearing makeup and somehow had figured out how to keep their hair perfectly coiffed (which, at the time, included really high bangs, curled into a near donut shape, half up and half down, sprayed with half a can of Aquanet), and feeling like a complete female failure next to them. (And yes, other women’s hair can still make me feel this way…)
I remember both liking boys and being terrified of talking to them.
I remember the burning in my cheeks when a boy told me I’d make a good mother one day because of my “wide hips” (SERIOUSLY? What 14-year-old boy has the cojones to make that kind of remark??)
I remember how some girlfriends could be, almost simultaneously, the lifeboat I clung to in the shark-infested waters, and also the sharks themselves, biting the raft and taking me down. And then there were those precious few who I could count on through it all – the ones whose sentences I could finish, whose homes we rotated to for sleepovers every weekend – the ones I was heartbroken to move away from, the summer after my eighth grade year.
And so I’m trying, SO VERY HARD, to think back to that 14-year-old self, who perhaps did have a little bit of wisdom, and to remember. I try to take a breath, when our three beautiful girls go flying by me, each carried along in her own car on the hormone roller coaster, and I try to remember that it truly is a ride over which they have very little control.
Those crazy emotional highs and lows are both thrilling and terrifying. The lack of control is both frustrating and comforting. Like so much of life (even grown-up, somewhat stable life), it’s more about the ride itself than the destination -- the ride, and the fellow riders. I need to remember this.
And on those days when remembering is overtaken by sheer, banging-my-head-against-a-wall frustration…there is always wine.