Saturday morning, my daughter said, “Mom, J___’s mother told her you were the star of the dance floor last night.” She and her sisters are unsurprised but wary, steeling themselves for any other reports they might receive. It was a fundraising cruise. There is no end to the eye-witnesses whose children are connected via social media to my own.
I did dance all night, and I don’t regret it, especially because, living with three teenaged girls, I am often reminded of the times in my life I couldn’t imagine just letting loose like that. Sometimes, as I watch my daughters navigate adolescence I can’t help but recall that miserable young teenager I was, setting the table every night once I’d fed the calves and done my homework and trying not to think about how quiet the phone was and convinced that everyone else was doing something much more fun.
Because other kids scrawled names of their favorite clothing brands or musical bands on their book covers, I tried it, too. I wrote: K2, the skis I’d borrowed the one time I’d tried downhill, Hotel California, because I’d heard someone else playing it from their boom box on the way home from an away football game. When a well-meaning boy turned around during American Studies one day and read what I’d printed, he said: So, you like Pousette Dart (my friend’s brother’s favorite band), and I nodded dumbly, praying he wouldn’t ask me to name my favorite song. Beyond my absolute ignorance of cool music, I also found it very hard to speak to someone of the opposite sex – even someone as pimply as I was.
I was, for a long time, too skinny to find Levis. The only real pair of jeans that fit me were called Hex. My mother and I found them at Hit or Miss. I wore them with a smock that I hoped covered the pocket that didn’t have the red flag waving off it. I completed my outfit with the same Tretorns everyone else plodded around in.
I did have thick curls, though no one else I knew did which made me feel like a freak. My mother insisted that hair like mine should be cut short. Like Florence Henderson, she said. Which I tried. Then like Dorothy Hamill, she said, which I also tried. Later on, in a vain attempt at the feathered look, I blew my hair dry which resulted in upping the volume considerably. Maybe, I thought, grimacing into the mirror, it will distract people from the size of my nose. Then I donned a dickie beneath my Northern Isles yoked sweater and headed grimly off to junior high.
I survived, of course, partial evidence of which could be spotted on the dance floor this past weekend. But just because you’re a veteran of certain wars doesn’t mean you can help the new recruits out. In fact, as in the case of my mother’s insistence on a shag, sometimes you’re better off keeping your mouth shut. When things get tough for my own kids, I do not suggest a haircut. Instead, I pull out the story of my absolute nadir – the day I went to get photographed for my first license. I had chosen a Las Vegas t-shirt emblazoned with dice for the occasion. I had gotten contact lenses and smeared my face every night with Retin A which peeled several layers of my skin off, but which also left me blemish-free. I handed the DMV worker my paperwork and smiled. Big day, right? Time for a celebration! Then he said. “Great. Now just step right over here to the camera, young man.”