Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waiting to graduate from hell

The book of Revelations has always been a little confusing to me so I'm not sure if hell is one big place or if there are personal hells devised to torture us in much more unique and painful ways than fire and brimstone. I'm not planning to ever have first hand knowledge of that one.

But for me, if hell was personal, mine would be middle school. More specifically, I would be stuck in middle school while AC/DC played an endless loop of The Little Drummer Boy. But mostly, it is that awkward, hormonal, mean, and confusing time between 12-15 that makes my skin crawl.

I grew up in small town Montana (there aren't a lot of other options in MT). This meant for the most part I went from kindergarten through high school graduation with the same girls. Girls I considered my friends in elementary school who magically grew breasts and simultaneously forgot that they knew me over the summer between sixth and seventh-grade. My breasts did not get the memo that they should appear until about 4 years later, and even then, it was a meager showing.

What I lacked in breasts I made up for with my good grades,  a talent for playing saxophone, braces, glasses, and a pretty impressive case of acne.


Oh wait, in seventh-grade I also learned to play the clarinet. Surprisingly, that did not raise my stock.

As you can imagine, I was quite a catch. Unfortunately, not many people were fishing for my particular species.

But it wasn't the middle school boys or their lack of interest that made my early teenage years unbearable. Probably because most of the boys were just as awkward as I was. Voice changes, carrying their Trapper Keeper in front of them while walking through the hall (I didn't understand why until college).  Not too many boys hit their stride at 13. Plus, I was pretty sure I was going to marry Kirk Cameron.

No, it was the girls who bloomed early, teased their bangs, put on the blue eye shadow and grew mean streaks. The girls who constantly made me feel like less of a person because I didn't wear designer jeans, have a boyfriend, or drink peach schnapps on Friday nights.  I feared the girls who played sports and got a tan while I did science fair projects and wrote short stories.

As I watched 13 Going on 30 today I was transported back to East Junior High. I was sitting in my backyard, wishing or maybe even praying, that I would magically be sixteen I never wanted to be 30. Even back then, 30 seemed old. But sixteen, sixteen seemed perfect. For crying out loud, they call it sweet sixteen for a reason. Probably because when you are sixteen you are done with middle school. But I had no magic wish dust that swooped me past my middle school years unscathed.

I did something even better.

I survived.

Not only did I survive, I survived while staying true to the girl in the mirror, even if I did hate how she looked most of the time. I didn't stuff my bra, beg my mom for Z-Cavaricci jeans (oh yeah, they were hot), drop out of band or try to be someone I wasn't. Instead of trading in my elementary school friends, we bonded together.  I think maybe we figured it was harder to pick us off if we were in a group.

In fact, my only good memories about middle school involve this amazing little group of girl friends.  The kind that weren't willing to change who they were either. We passed notes, giggled and talked about boys we would never be brave enough to actually meet.  We stayed up all night at sleepovers using Ouija boards to predict our future (don't judge) and eating Cool Ranch Doritos and raw cookie dough straight out of the package (again, don't judge).

Most importantly, we accepted each other.  No strings attached. Those girls, those amazing girls, gave me the confidence I needed to survive my little hell, because they never asked me to be anything.....but me.

There are still times when my insecurities get the best of me. I walk into a room of PTA moms who all know each other or start a new women's Bible study, and I am all of the sudden 13 again, only this time it is my wrinkles and weight that I'm self conscious about. I worry that I talk too much, am too sarcastic, and still don't own designer...well anything.  In an instant I forget that I am a smart, successful, fun woman who married an incredibly handsome man. Every time one of those gals whispers to another, I'm sure they are listing my glaring faults in great detail.

What I have learned over the last two decades is that most women feel exactly the same way. Even the ones with perfectly manicured nails, no stretch marks, and who only wear yoga pants when they are actually doing yoga have some buried insecurities that rise to the surface on occasion.

And just like middle school, this is one of the most important reasons we need friends. Not acquaintances. Not work friends. Not Facebook friends.

Real friends. Friends who love us exactly like we are. Who can laugh with us about our wrinkles, cry with us when our life falls apart, freak out with is as our kids grow into teenagers themselves. Friends who know exactly what kind of person we are, and love us anyway.

Because even though the door you walk through today might be to your office or even to your own house instead of home room, all of us have a middle school day once in a while. And on those days, we are just trying to survive.

So be nice. That girl you really hate, she may be having a middle school day herself.

And when you are lucky enough to find true friends, the kind that stick with you through middle school and beyond, cherish them. Whether they live next door or across the country in Chicago, they will be the reason you survive.

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