I fucking hated the years between 5 and 15. 16 to 25 were hit and miss. Now I’m 34 and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Maybe.
I had a few things working against me when I was growing up (who didn’t?). I was a tall, strong girl, from a poor family, who desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. These are all the ingredients for social pariahism. I was too “boyish” compared to many girls in my town, but I was still too much of a girl to hang with the boys. I envied the clean, stylish clothes of my peers when mine smelled of cigarettes and came from the discount store. Perhaps all of this could have been overcome if I didn’t desperately latch on to any peer that showed me the slightest bit of attention. Here’s a tip: that shit ain’t cool. Kids can smell fear and desperation better than a pack of wolves. The latter are also kinder.
Now, this isn’t a “poor me” post. This is a “let’s face this once and for all so I can stop cringing every time I think of certain decades in my life” post. You can come along if you like. I can’t guarantee your safety. Sorry, no refunds.
Aside from the smelly weirdness of me-as-usual, I liked to throw in a few wrenches once in a while just to see how fucking ostracized I could get from the grade school elite. I got a mullet in grade 7. Yeah, on purpose. I don’t know why I chose femulletdom, but I remember a classmate telling me my hair looked nice. A combination of confusion, pride, and an attention junkie rush filled my head. In retrospect, I’m guessing it was an insincere remark, but I was too shy and bewildered to doubt a cool kid’s motives. Then there was the time I stuffed my dress top with kleenex because by grade eight I still had no boobs. Thing about tissue is that it’s never convincing as boobs. It ALWAYS looks like crumpled up tissue stuffed into the place where a chest should be. Not even the dumbest people in my class were fooled. And they let me know. There was also the super tight special dress for the class trip to Phantom of the Opera that made me feel beautiful, but revealed every mid-pubescent detail of my nether regions when I bent over. I spent most of the trip self-consciously pulling the hem down. Or what about the time I wore a strapless bra to gym class (do I really need to say more?)…or the time I finally got off the bench in a basketball game and made a perfect pass to the referee…or when I went to the beach with boys I liked after hitting puberty, but well before I knew anything about taming a bikini line…and so on, ad nauseam.
The point is, unpopularity begets itself. Once the awkward train has left the station, it runs on it’s own unstoppable momentum. I felt out of place, which made me nervous, which made me do stupid things, which made me more unpopular… you get it.
I was unarmed in the savage world of children. My parents are amazing, but during my formative years, they had their own shit to sort out, and I suspect that raising confident kids was neither a priority nor a possibility. But this is not a “blame the parents” post either. They’re good people, and they did their best, under the circumstances.
Now, decades later, I watch kids I know navigate the same terrain as I. When a family can afford the “right” clothes and toys, it may help, but does not vaccinate against the horrors of childhood. Kids who are sociable, friendly, easy to get a long with, and fun-loving. Also eager-to-please, uncertain, sensitive, and fearful. And I have no idea how to protect them or how much to protect them. If I could, I’d shadow every kid and smack down any little arsehole that gave them a hard time. I’d teach them to fight. I’d give them superpowers. But I need to ask who am I really doing this for? The little humans asleep in their beds? Or am I trying to undo the past of the kid still stuck inside of me?
My years have brought a modicum of wisdom and perspective. I realize now that most kids my age were probably clueless and scared. They all had some issue at home or school or both. Self-doubt is a plague that spreads quietly and quickly though some kids have the resources to fashion masks against the miasma.
I don’t think complete inoculation against the worst parts of childhood is possible or even desirable. These early social games help us to prepare for later in life. I do think, however, that the keystones of love, security, and communication might trump a trip to the shopping mall. Which is good, because I hate shopping.