April 26, 2011
It strikes me, tonight, when I ask my 12-year-old son (he’s in 6th grade this year – middle school in our school district) if he wants to see my middle school yearbook. “Ok, sure,” he says, already starting to develop that preteen complete disinterest in anything a parental figure has to say. He glances through it and finds my picture, and says, “You know, Mom, you were kind of a dork.”
Ahh, the sympathetic tone of youth! I just shrug and agree with him. Yes, I was a dork. But didn’t know it, and didn’t have enough parental interest in my life to actually tell me that I was a dork. I just went on in my blissfully oblivious dorky way … well, not so oblivious, because I still remember the kids that taunted me and picked on me for being (pick one) too skinny, too flat-chested, buck-toothed, four-eyed, a brain. Not sure you hear those same insults today, but I’m sure there are others to take their place.
And I find myself wondering, how in the hell did I get here? I’m almost 48 and yet there are times when I remember my early 20’s as though they were yesterday, and then I wonder what in the hell happened in between. For those of you who are religious or sensitive to cussing, I apologize in advance – this blog post will most likely contain a lot of swear words or varieties of taking the Lord’s name in vain. For myself, having not been formally raised in a church, baptised, or really even taken into a house of worship other than on the occasional Easter service (and even then I was convinced that the assistant minister was a child molester – think of me as Stewie Griffin in female form back then), I think this sort of gives me carte blanche to say what I want. For me, swearing isn’t taking anyone’s name in vain – it’s just a more colorful way of expressing myself.
But back to the point. This evening I ended up chatting briefly with a friend on Facebook, a guy I knew from high school. Who I had a crush on for probably most of high school as well, but who was also someone I thought was unattainable, one of the jocks who got to hang out with the “soch” crowd of jocks, cheerleaders, student body presidents, and the like. Me? I was just a skinny, underdeveloped nerd. I didn’t hit puberty until I was almost 16. By my senior year, I was starting to look pretty good, but of course all the guys I liked all remembered me and probably thought of me as the way I was the year before, or the year before that. Plus nobody likes a girl who gets all the answers right, unless you want to copy off her paper during a test, of course.
But I find myself wondering, where has the learning gone to? What one generation passes on to the next? Is it even happening anymore? Or are our kids all convinced that our parents are morons and all of their technology was so passe anyway (no cell phones? what the hell? and they played Pac-Man or Pong? GMAFB) that they should be hanging out with the special kids on the short bus? I think the religious/existential/metaphysical learnings are passed on. But what about the other stuff? The parts about how to deal with the kids that pick on you? About relationships and dating and boyfriends/girlfriends, crushes, love, heartbreak? All the stupid stuff that you thought mattered in high school, and then when you get into the real world, you realize it doesn’t matter worth a rat’s ass?
Yeah, that. I don’t remember my Mom ever giving me a single piece of useful advice back in my junior high and high school days. I saw my Dad only a couple hours every two weeks at that point, so he was kind of a non-entity. If it didn’t involve cars, the Padres, or the Chargers as a topic of discussion, he wasn’t interested anyway. I developed an interest in all three until probably the last decade, when I finally acknowledged that the latter two suck and have always sucked. As for the first topic, I drive a terrific car that my dad would have simultaneously envied and condemed, if that makes sense. For him it would have. He would have loved the engine, the performance, the ride, and the handling, but would have been in a tizzy over the gas mileage or lack thereof. That was my Dad. My Mom, when I asked her for advice on how to deal with the girls who were stealing the better parts of my lunch out of our shared high school locker, proceeded to give me some pop psychology “fight or flight” lecture. Yeah, that’s what I really needed to hear when the cholo girls were stealing my Ding-Dong every day, and I was tempted to lace the Hostess goodies with strychnine just to see what would happen. Like I was going to actually confront them and get my skinny white ass beaten up in the school parking lot by a chicano gang with a tire iron. Pass.
I resolved the lunch issue by carrying my lunch around with me for a few weeks and looking like even more of a dork, until such time as I was well enough acquainted with another freshman girl and she asked me if I wanted to share her locker. This advice, of course, would be lost on my son now because his junior high has no lockers. I’m sure his high school doesn’t either. And I will sound antiquated bringing up the subject to him because I lived back in the days when kids weren’t stupid enough to bring drugs or guns or God-knows-what to school and stick it in their lockers. By the time my kids are in college (or maybe even high school), they will probably have the ability to just carry around a pad of paper and an iPad, or maybe just the latter, and read all of their textbooks on the iPad rather than carrying around 20 lbs of books. For the sake of their spines, I hope so.
So I ask myself what useful advice I could impart to my two sons. Advice on how to deal with bullies? Maybe. But it’s different for a girl vs. a boy. Guys end up having to punch each other out to resolve things. Or get beat up and learn how to run faster. Girls just go home and cry, and get told by their Mom that they’re overreacting. Looking back, I’m not sure how I dealt with the shitty kids in junior high, either. I do recall thinking that no matter what, school was always better than home. And maybe that’s what kept me going. I’m not sure if I’d like to pull some manic-depressive psychotic mom route on my kids just to save on the utilities and have them move out the minute they finish high school.
My son will be 13 on Saturday.. I used to think as a kid that adults knew everything. That there was some mysterious rite of passage into adulthood that occurred when you were 18, or maybe at 21, and that you would suddenly just KNOW how to be a grown-up. The older I got, the older that age limit became. Maybe at 25, I thought. Maybe when I get married. Or maybe when I have kids. I’ll be 49 in July and truth be told, I’m still waiting.
People never seem to understand why I’m so lacking in self-confidence. I’m not really, not always, but even I wonder when the childhood self will grow up at last. I ran across some photos of myself the other day, from almost 24 years ago, back in my post-college days when I was earning some extra money by doing modeling for photography classes. Circa 1988, there were such things as “glamour photography” workshops, or lingerie photography classes. If amateur guys wanted to get quality home whacking material (pretty much what I always figured they used it for), they couldn’t just shoot a couple hundred shots and toss the bad ones like you can now, with digital. You had to actually learn how to compose a shot and not waste all your film, because that shit was expensive, especially developing it. My first trip to Europe in 1985, I shot 13 rolls of film (24 to 36 shots per roll) in three weeks and it cost me over $130 to develop it all. You could buy a whole camera for that now.
Anyway, back to the point. One of the photographers I occasionally worked for gave me some prints from one of the sessions he did of me. I’m wearing this black bustier with garters, mostly sheer lace with some deep blue ribbon accents, really a sexy little number now that I think about it. I still have it somewhere, I think. It was always one of my favorites, although I doubt it will ever fit again. And that’s okay. I used to mourn that notion, but after a couple dozen years, I finally recognize that gravity does shift things around a bit, even if I could ever get back down to the weight I was then (probably 115 lbs), the distribution of matter isn’t the same. Wait, does this mean I’m a grown up? Acceptance of reality? Ha. I wish. I scanned the photos and saved them on my computer, and took a good look at them again the next day. Huh. I really was a hot little number back in the day … and yet why in the hell couldn’t I see it in the mirror? How can I teach my own children how to have the self-confidence I never had? Still don’t have?
I always feel like I’m faking it, being an adult. Sure that someone will call me out, ask me for my papers, my credentials, something showing that I really know what I’m doing. Yet I have to admit, on the rare occasions I actually watch the news or take the time to read beyond the top 5 headlines, I find no shortage of stories on people who have no fucking clue how to be adults, how to raise kids, how to hold down a job, how to even function as human beings, for that matter. People who sit on a toilet for two years and get stuck there. People who lock their kids in a closet for days on end, or adopt 50 cats even and live in a urine-soaked shithole. People who repeatedly get busted for drunk driving and don’t stop until they finally end up in jail, usually after they’ve killed someone else. Wow. At least I’m not THAT dysfunctional, I think. My kids seem to be more or less okay, they still like me and neither of them has taken a run at me with a kitchen knife yet. They’re both good students and very bright and creative boys. They’re observant, intuitive, well-spoken, and witty enough to be a comedy act at times. Maybe parental influence does make a difference along the way …
Which brings me to probably the one cohesive thing I can say about being a grownup – at the end of the day, you have to trust yourself. I don’t recall ruminating over my day when I was a child and wondering what I should have done different, or whether I did the right thing in such-and-such situation. I do remember always deferring to everyone else, though. My mom, my brother, the few friends I had in school – everyone else was right, everyone else knew more than I did. Yet along the way, things started to turn. Perhaps earlier for me than most average US kids, perhaps not – I don’t have a broad base of exposure to compare to, since I had so few school friends (moving at least once a year and always being the new kid in school tends to make peer bonding a little tough) to talk to. By the time I was 12 or so, I was doing my Mom’s taxes and balancing her checkbook down to the penny every month. When she wanted to buy a townhouse when I was in high school, I was the one who told her she couldn’t afford the payments, even with the mortgage deductions – let alone whether or not she would even qualify for a loan with her shitty credit. And I had to remind her that I did still have a tendency to sleepwalk, and I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of falling down a flight of stairs and breaking my neck in a two-story townhouse, something she really hadn’t taken into consideration. Or maybe she had. We weren’t exactly the best of buddies those days, although I recall still telling her I loved her every night at bedtime. And most of the time I meant it. It wasn’t until years later that I told her to fuck off, and probably not until a couple decades later that I decided she most likely had borderline personality disorder, untreated and unrecognized, and so destructive to everyone who cared about her.