Monday, February 8, 2010

Same As It Ever Was

Another weekend, another happy and blurry two-and-a-half days of non-stop action: birthday party, in-laws in town, Annie ski lesson, parents here for lunch, date night at Founder's, interview at a polo school, running at the gym, church and Sunday School, brunch at Rose's, family trip to the ballet. Whew. Just writing it makes me a little exhausted. My favorite moment was our foursome in the booth for brunch, sharing Jemma's waffle, teaching the girls to play Twenty Questions, and Jemma's dramatic assertion that she was "starving for caramel corn!" at the end of the meal.

While Jason and I were drinking pints of porter on Saturday night and beloved Miss Kelly was here painting toenails and doing the bath-story-bed routine with the girls, we got to talking about what's in our future, kids-growing-up wise. Jason, no surprise, is awfully laid-back and non-plussed by it all. "It's just part of being a kid. Kids are mean sometimes. And if you have kids, they're either going to be on the giving end or the receiving end of it for a lot of years. It happens in Alaska, it happens in New York City, it happened in Wayland, and it will happen here."

And I know that's true, but I think that I remember, more vividly than he does, how difficult those growing-up days were, and even though Annie's only gone in the mornings, next year she'll EAT LUNCH AT SCHOOL, and every year she'll be more a part of that world, less a part of me.

"It starts in about third grade, fourth if you're lucky, maybe fifth if they're really clueless at picking up social cues. Which of course you don't really want them to be," I told Jason. I told him how a few other girls and I had formed a club in fifth grade. We called ourselves The Flamingoes, and we each had a special pen that someone had procured from The Model Drug Store on 8th Street in Holland and given to every member of the group. To be in the club, you had to have a pair of Guess jeans, and you had to wear them on Fridays. The club met on the playground, daily, surely ostracizing many other fifth-grade girls who were not "in the club."

I cringe to think of it. I die a little inside to think of Annie and Jemma going through it, in the club, out of the club, either way.

So Sunday afternoon, after brunch but before the ballet, when the girls were having quiet time, when I should have been writing my post-interview article (part of being a writer is actually sitting down and getting off e-mail and WRITING, huh, which I got around to at around 8:00 last night), I dug around in the basement and found one of my old journals from high school. And I read it. And was horrified.

Oh, the drama. The exclamation points!
"Excuse me, am I supposed to ignore my true inner feelings and go out with him for a while because everyone thinks we should or because I feel guilty about it????!!!! I wish today was over with and I had never let them talk me into going out with him! I knew it wasn't going to work out!"
I expected that.

But, oh, the self-loathing. The repeated vows to "pay better attention in chemistry," "be especially friendly," "eat healthier so I can have a great body this summer!!!," "be nicer to my family," "study harder," and my favorite, "stop worrying and try to be a good example of happiness." No pressure.

And then there was the one problem above all other problems: getting a boyfriend. The fact that, in my group of close friends, three out of five girls had serious boyfriends at this time almost completely overshadows everything else in the journal. I wrote that I felt inferior, lonely, dumb, rejected, guilty, and like my life was meaningless - these are the actual words I used. I was sixteen. I was an A student, Student Council President, on homecoming court and the track team. I had close friends, a dog, a job, a car, and a family that loved me. And on January 29, 1994, I wrote, "I hate my life. The funny thing is, I don't think anyone would ever guess."

One thing I can conclude from reading this is that Jason is right. Growing up is hard, and writing teenage angst in a journal is part and parcel of being sixteen, no matter how good your grades or how supportive your family. I hate that I pinned so many hopes for happiness on finding the right boyfriend, and at the same time I know that Annie and Jemma will probably do that, too; either that, or they'll worry and obsess about something else. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. As proof, here's the beginning of the first entry on the first page of this particular journal:

"My first page of a new journal! I can't believe I'm keeping up this habit! By the time I'm 30, I'll probably have a room-ful of little notebooks chronicling all my problems since age 14! But it's as if writing out all my problems and feelings lets them out of my head so that I can relax and go right to sleep - when I don't write, I tend to keep myself awake thinking and analyzing."

Oh, 16-year-old Stephanie. You will not have a "room-ful of little notebooks;" you'll have a blog. And yes, you will still be an insomniac.


  1. Wow, this is poetic.

    I hate the thought of Anna going through it all, I DREAD her being "in" or "out" or with a boyfriend or not, because each has its difficulties. It can keep me up at night, thinking of all the angst and wishing that somehow she won't feel that..and Blake somehow is nonchalant about it all!

    Sounds like we could have been friends in high school...although maybe not, because we might have been too similar (you know how teenagers are!). Lots of self-loathing and boyfriend-pining in my journals as well.

    Your ability to put down feelings, stories, and LIFE continues to inspire and amaze me. Love reading your blog!

  2. I read through my high school journals a few months ago and it was EXCRUCIATING. So clueless about everything ("He hasn't called me, he won't talk to me, what does it MEAN?"), and so, so insecure. Here is something I think about every now and then -- are you going to keep your journals as your kids get older? What if they find them? (I was a really nosy kid.) Part of me feels like I should destroy them; part of me can't bear the thought.

    Great post -- made me think.

  3. This, my friend, could be your best post yet. I envision an Annie or a Jemma getting their hands on this little excerpt in your scrapbook in 2021. I have to say that I think they will get a LOT out of reading this. To see that YOUR mom is normal, had these feelings, was overly dramatic and real and insecure...they. will. love it.

    And just in case you were worried you were the only one who wrote ridiculous things in your journal, I have three words for you.

    "Boob size chart."
    For every girl in my class....
    you have to see it to believe it.

  4. I loved this entry so much. I can still remember that particular feeling of dread I'd sometimes get in my stomach in junior high... fearing those mean, popular girls. Not being kissed yet when other girls had. Always feeling somehow inferior, not good enough. And pinning feelings of self-worth on totally the wrong things.

    All I can say is that we survive, and life turns out OK (or much better than OK!). I think being able to really listen to our kids (especially daughters) when they bring these problems home is going to be key. My mom tried hard, but she usually just said things like "I think you're beautiful! Ignore what they say," which didn't really help. ;)

  5. oh diaper. this post is humorous and at the same time reminds me of the horrors of junior high and high school and let's go ahead and throw college in there. it's interesting to note that EVERYONE seems to have been insecure. it's also interesting that i still hold some grudges from those times. you know me. not a forgiver. this is something that i will try to instill in my kids. it's okay to forgive...your mom just won't forgive them :)

  6. Thankfully my high school journals are "lost", but you will be delighted that I kept a diary of sorts in elementary school (complete with Ramona Quimby on the cover)--kind of a fill-in-the-blank sort of thing. The Valentine's Day entry was, dare I say it, devoted to "Drew Wardwell" (yes, he was "Drew" back in 4th grade). Ah, thankfully we all change. I was certainly full of angst in high school...

    P.S. I'm making scalloped tomatoes tonight. Yum!