During the summer before 7th grade, my mother informed me that I would be going to
a new school. I didn’t have a say in this decision as I was going to the school where my older sister was a junior. I remember feeling both hyper-excited and extremely nervous, fairly normal emotions for a 12-year-old.
The night before my first day, I laid out my new uniform, and the next morning, unable to eat breakfast knowing the food would have a short tenure in my stomach, I left for this excellent adventure. I walked into a large, sterile homeroom filled with about 60 girls, all supremely cool, and all -- every single one -- coupled with not only a best friend, but also an entire tribe of perfectly coiffed and uniformly put together preadolescents. Everyone, or so it seemed, had someone with whom they could eat, play, and hang out with all day and weekend long.
My arms grew longer, my blushing face felt ready to burst forward in scarlet blotches signaling my presence, my hair seemed particularly dull and lifeless, and I felt thinner, more gangly, and more awkward than anyone in the room. The locker room ordeal that followed did not help. In my memory, it was a very scary place. As I was changing for gym under a tent of my clothes, I realized that I was standing next to a curvy 10th grader who was also changing and announcing that she was wearing her “board bra” as it made her appear flat chested. I was not sure what I should have called my Hanes undershirt.
Ultimately, gym was not so bad, and I did find a friend during that first part of the year, a woman who is still very dear to me to this day. We have rarely seen one another in the many, many years since graduation, but together we have rejoiced in our joys and mourned our deep and profound sorrows -- the births and marriages of our children, the death of her young husband, the death of my stepson. During those first lonely days of school, we were cleaved together and found nooks and crannies in which to hang out. A favorite spot was a bathroom where we sat on the windowsill, talking non stop. Her family took me to a Penn vs. Princeton football game and there celebrated my 12th birthday. I had a friend and would soon have more.
Yes, I remember these moments. They are sometimes hard and painful, but I found that while not everyone had friends from the start and not everyone was sophisticated or glamorous, we all found our group. I did benefit from a mother who was a bit removed from my day-to-day life, and that wasn’t all bad. The struggle taught me how to rely on myself and my own resourcefulness.
With my own children, I toggled from my “Mrs. Cleaver” moments to my “figure it out for yourself” moments. I always found time, however, to blame myself for working long hours or not sharing the Mounds Bar that I would sneak into the bathroom to eat by myself. I was imperfect, lurching between attention and benign neglect, and while I was there for the emergencies, both real and occasionally imagined, my job did sometimes preclude me from making the midday salvation road trip with forgotten sneakers/homework/lunch. To this day, my children are prone to basking in the moments of their own solutions.
No one is a perfect parent. And there truly is no manual nor book that will give you the answers. Watching our children struggle is hard to bear, which makes it important to make home a respite, not another place to fret. Laugh long and out loud with your children. Be silly sometimes. Apologize when you are wrong, but hold them accountable.
When things are difficult, please share them with us. Let us be a sounding board, but allow your daughter to “suffer” a little. Her memories will make great stories for her own children who might also need to feel a little less awkward and a little less alone.