Thursday, May 22, 2014
Are you there Mom? It's me, Andrea.
A wave of nostalgia hit me while I was in Barnes & Noble helping Ava pick out some books. As we browsed the shelves in the young adult section, there it was. The cover looks different now, updated, sleek font on a stark white background replacing the old "seventies" style pen and ink drawing of a sad girl looking over her shoulder, yellow black and purple. The outward appearance tweaked to appeal to kids of Ava's generation, but the contents inside unchanged. Judy Blume's coming of age books that revealed the secrets no kid wants to tell got me through the "tween" years that Ava is just embarking on. "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret", "Blubber", "Then again, maybe I won't". I can visualize all the cover art and remember the feelings I had when reading the worn paperbacks over and over again. After swimming in the pond near a friend's house, laying in my bed at night turning the printed pages, smelling the ink. Wishing I were not so chubby, that I had better hair, that I fit in, uncomfortable in my own skin.
I've been having lots of flashbacks, lately. I went to parent night at Morse Pond School (the middle school for 5th and 6th graders) last week. I was awkward in fourth grade but it all came to a head in fifth, my first year at Morse Pond. Mixed in with all the other former fourth graders from the three elementary schools across town, in a classroom with no real friends, cast aside by the group of popular girls. I was on the fringe. My "friend" (let's call her Jane) was in the popular clique. During the years between the ages when we were four to ten years old, our mothers created "play dates" for us on Saturdays. Most of the time I went to her house, her mother thinking I would keep her out of trouble. Instead, "Jane" bullied me into submission and tortured me to be silent and go along with her mischief. Once we arrived at Morse Pond, "Jane" knew that associating with me would mean her social death, so she ditched me. And she was mean. And I was fat and so totally uncool. I especially hated recess, the playground. A social free for all. That's when it's apparent that you have no one to hang out with. Could it have really been that bad? I must have had a few friends. It's hard to remember when you have spent most of your life blocking it out.
I look at Ava every day and I am thankful for her that she is beautiful, athletic, graceful. She has friends and likes recess. After lunch, she plays soccer and kickball. No one ever wanted me to be on their team. The boys would audibly groan when they got stuck with me. Most of the girls didn't care about winning. But I am also happy that Ava doesn't seem to hang out with those kids who intentionally exclude others. I know who they are. I observe them. I see them when I volunteer at school, while they walk down the hall. I am watching when they think no one is looking. I hope Ava stays away from them and continues to be the oblivious, happy, kind child I know she is. But these are my issues, I hope they will never be hers.
Ava reads as much as I did. She brings books everywhere, reads them in the car. Back then, my favorite time to read was after a summer day spent on the beach, laying on my bed, my clean, wet hair making a damp spot on my pillow. Ava does this, too. I like to think she has all and only the best parts of me. I wonder what she will think of "Margaret" and Judy Blume. Ava is more open with me than I was as a child at her age with Val. There are times I can sense when she doesn't want me to go to far, to push. I pull back and create some space for her privacy and secretly cross my fingers that she will confide in me when she needs to. For Val, it was like pulling teeth to get me to divulge any embarrassing and sad details from my daily life at school. My fifth grade self could never believe that she may have ever felt that way. To rehash the days events made it even more painful, burying it deep and trying to forget, praying I would wake up the next morning to be a different person with cooler clothes was a better solution in my eleven year old mind. I'm sure Val knew this. But how can a mother make it all better? At least when I got off the bus everyday, I could count on her being there. I could count on the square Tupperware container filled with chocolate chip cookies or some fresh brownies still in the pan. I could count on that one moment when I didn't have to worry if I was good enough, cool enough, or that I was wearing hand-me-downs instead of a new pair of Levi's cords and an Izod shirt. Perhaps the chocolate chip cookies and tall glass of milk added to my baby fat. That would probably be a concern for parents now, the ones that don't see the importance or what the whole thing represented to me. I still believe that a homemade cookie after school and the few uninterrupted minutes shared before homework, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, soccer practice, etc. can make everything all better at least for that moment. I think Ava does, too.