On my drive to work each morning, I pass a middle school. This morning as I passed I saw two people crossing the street, near the crosswalk. A mother walking her daughter to school, I assumed, then instantly questioned my assumption. That girl can't be in middle school--look at her. She was a big girl, tall and chunky, wearing a backpack. She looks way too old! And why does she still need her mother to walk her? And instantly I felt ashamed of myself.
I flashed back in time to my own prepubescent years. I was a chubby girl, though not especially tall (that came later), and I was often perceived to be older than I was. I had friends, older by several months, but very small-framed, who had the opposite problem. "You can't come into this PG movie--there's no way you're 13!" (I guess adolescence sucks for everyone!)
The most humiliating experience of this sort for me was the summer before I turned 12 (my birthday's in the fall). My aunt would occasionally pick up my younger sister and me and drop us off at the town swimming pool for the afternoon, along with our younger cousins, who we were in charge of watching. In exchange, she'd pay our way into the pool, and give us money for snacks. She generally counted it out--just enough for each of us, and no extra, so the younger girls would know there could be no begging for additional candy. There was a price break for kids under 12, and that's the amount we each were allotted. The lifeguards were all generally boys in their late teens/early twenties and they took turns doing the different tasks--sitting in the chair, assigning baskets for our clothes, taking the money at the door. Well, this day the door guy was an ass. We handed over our money, as usual, and started inside. "Wait--you!" I turned--me? "Come back here! You didn't pay enough." Yes, I did. I gave you the same amount everyone else did. "There's NO WAY you're under 12." I was mortified. I was very shy, HATED any sort of negative attention or being pointed out for being different in any way, and he was practically yelling. People could HEAR him! They were staring! I wanted to die. I'll be twelve in September, but I'm only 11 now. "I don't believe it. Look how big she is--does she look 11 to you?!" I was very near bursting into tears--I didn't know what to do. I didn't have enough money to pay the adult price. Why was he doing this to me? Fortunately my aunt was lingering in her car until we were safely inside, and noticed something was up. She came marching over, demanding to know the problem, and then read the guy the riot act. He clearly didn't believe her, but wasn't up to dealing with an irate adult (only man enough to pick on little girls, apparently), so we were allowed in, and by the end of the afternoon I was mostly having a good time. But I never forgot it, or the way he made me feel.
What kind of person does something like that to an insecure young girl? Someone young and full of himself, I suppose, and probably riddled with his own insecurities. Or maybe he was just an ass then, and is an ass now, wherever he is. I like thinking that he's old and pasty and flabby and unhappy, drinking Coors on the sagging couch in his rundown trailer, after getting home from work at his low-paying, unfulfilling job, before going to bed to dream of that summer he was a lifeguard--all young and tanned and muscled. Wasn't that the best of times?
So I remembered that this morning, when for a brief second I thought "that girl can't be in middle school." And then my heart ached for her, for having to be that girl. And I wished I could pull her aside and tell her that in just a few years, looking a bit older will be an advantage. I started to going to bars with my friends in college when I was 19 and never ONCE got carded! Who's laughing now? Hee! And public school will be behind you and there's a whole world out there where you're free to choose the people you associate with, for the most part, and that world can be your motherfuckin' oyster!
Well, until you start to get gray, and need reading glasses, and sometimes your hip hurts and your knees creak and....but that's a post for another time. Or not. Who cares about those things, really--I'm all young and fabulous and vital on the inside, right? Right? (I'm imagining a chorus of "hell yeahs" right now. Ha.) Thanks. That's what I thought.