Dressing for the Dance

Daryl’s middle school has an end-of-year dance. A couple of days before the dance this year, he asked a girl at school to be his girlfriend. And then he asked her to the dance. The night before the dance, Daryl was rummaging through his clothing, looking for something to wear.

“Do you know where my Easter clothes are?” he asked me.

“I thought you hated your Easter clothes.”

“I do, but it’s a Hawaiian themed dance and we are supposed to wear Hawaiian shirts or bright colored clothes.”

His Easter clothes certainly would fit the bill. He didn’t want to go with me when I shopped for Easter clothing, telling me instead to “just pick something out for me. I don’t care.”

He cared once I got home. I had purchased a pair of bright turquoise blue shorts on clearance and a sorta-bright pastel yellow shirt. He was horrified! But now? Now he was looking for those hideous clothes. But they weren’t even the best choice he had.

“You should wear your Hawaiian shirt,” I said, pulling a dark blue and white flowered shirt out of his closet. A much more sartorially accomplished friend of Jane’s had handed it down to Daryl a couple of years earlier and Daryl had never worn it.

“I’m not wearing that.” He said it in his serious, no-nonsense voice, which I groaned at and then ignored.

“Seriously, Daryl, that shirt is perfect. It’s a Hawaiian dance and this is a Hawaiian shirt. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here, try it on.” I slipped it off the hanger and handed it to him.

He tried it on. I could tell it was right on the edge of being too small for him but he looked good and I said so. He headed to our bathroom to check it out and I followed. As soon as he could see himself in the mirror, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust and said, “No way!”

“Oh, come on!” I tried. But, no, the Hawaiian shirt would not be worn. He found his Easter clothes soon thereafter and tried to get me to iron them. I pointed out that the Hawaiian shirt didn’t need to be ironed. He pleaded. I told him I was exhausted (I was) and that he could iron them himself. He said he didn’t know how. I said it was a good time to learn. He didn’t iron them but also didn’t switch to the Hawaiian shirt.

The next day, on the drive home from work, I thought about the clothes that still needed to be ironed. Since I was in the car with the bluetooth connection to my phone, I called.

“Get the ironing board and iron out so we can iron those clothes as soon as I get home,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t need to. I took care of it.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “You ironed your clothes?” He must really like this girl, I thought to myself.

“No,” he said, “I’m not wearing those.” And this is where it got really good. I mean, really, really good.

“I’m wearing the Hawaiian shirt.”

My eyes went as big as saucers.

“Sally wants to match and she’s wearing blue so I’m going to wear that.”

A belly laugh began to work its way up to my throat. I forcefully shoved it back down and in the most neutral voice I could muster, said, “That’s wonderful dear. I’m glad you worked it out. I love you.” At this point, I was in severe danger of making it obvious I was laughing at the situation. “Good-bye,” I said, reaching quickly for the little red “hang up” button on my console.

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears rolled down my face. Mom couldn’t have threatened or rewarded him enough to get him to walk among his peers in that shirt. But a pretty young girl just had to say she wanted to match.

The hilarity continued when I got home and a hyper thirteen year old boy showed me how he had shaved. He fixed his hair (again and then again). He brushed his teeth. He took the toothpaste with him to freshen up after dinner. He checked his hair in the car’s mirror. In short, he acted like a completely different boy than I had been living with all this time.

When Cool Isn’t Cool

“You should really take a look at your son’s Instagram account.”

This came from my sophisticated, always-in-her-brother’s-business daughter, not from a fellow adult.

As he laughed, she continued: “I’m serious. It’s not funny, Daryl! His user name? Daryl69_420.”

“Wha-at?” he asked in a shrill voice as we gave him a disapproving (and surprised) look. “I saw it on a website. It’s what all the cool people use.”

“Do you know what 69 means?” I asked him.

“No,” he laughed, a little embarrassed. “I just know it’s cool.”

“69,” I said, leaning towards him, “is where the guy puts his mouth on the girl’s privates.” His face scrunched up in a disgusted expression but I continued, “And the girl puts her mouth on his penis.”

Pandemonium broke out as Hal called out in a sing-song, tattle-tale voice, “She said penis!” at the same time Daryl started fighting his sister for his phone. “Give it to me! Give it to me! Oh, gosh. That’s gross! That’s so gross! Give it to me now so I can change it! I didn’t know! I didn’t know!”

“That’s why you don’t use stuff that you don’t know what it means,” Jane lectured. “And 420 is about smoking weed.”

(She took great amusement in the fact that I didn’t know 420. I don’t find that part of the conversation important to include here at all but I know her and her dad well enough to know that they will comment on my selective editing of events so here you go. Full disclosure. I’m not all up-to-date on all the lingo and I’m ok with that.)

We are at the rather fun stage with Daryl where he’s essentially growing a mustache and maybe thinking about girls but not brave enough to act on the impulse and still hopelessly naive. One of his best friends went to the movies with a girl the same day we were having this conversation and his Destination Imagination team was waiting to pounce on him the next day. They are right on the threshold, teetering on the edge.

The transition from child to teenager holds many points of amusement for parents.

Instagram Drama

I don’t understand Middleschoolers.

I mean, really I don’t. It’s not that they speak a foreign language. No, it’s more like they migrated from a different planet and stealthily replaced our children in the middle of the night while we slept.

I periodically stalk Jane’s Instagram account. I can’t make sense of most of what is said. They talk in bastardized English and too-small-to-discern emogis (pictures – think of the basic yellow-faced smileys on steroids plus tons of tiny cliparts of knives, fingers in peace signs, middle fingers up, hearts, stars, etc). Even when I successfully parse something (“Bish whet?” means “Bitch, what?!”), I don’t have the context (some viral Vines video) to fully appreciate it.

And there’s so much room for misinterpretation. It was explained to me last night that a series of smileys that appeared to have water gushing from both eyes meant “that’s so funny, you are making me cry” – but – this didn’t mean the person who put them there enjoyed the humor of the post. No, it meant they were laughing at a person. I’m not sure who gets to make the emogi interpretation rules nor how they all know they see them the same.

Last night, she was furious and angrily thrusting her iPod in my face so I could see the cause of her ire. She pulled up a DM (direct message – private messaging protocol on Instagram).

“See, look,” she said, “he posted this picture and then look at all these things people are saying. It’s so mean! He’s mocking her – they all are!”

I tried to scroll up to see the picture but the picture was actually just the bottom edge of a picture.

“I can’t see the picture,” I said.

“It’s right there! And see what they are all saying?!”

“But I can’t see the picture. I can just see the bottom edge.”

“That’s because that’s all that’s here! But he posted a screenshot of her profile and then look what they all said!”

“But he didn’t post a picture of her profile page. It’s just the bottom edge. I don’t see what’s wrong with it.”

She exhaled dramatically and took the iPod back, left that DM, scrolled down an impossibly long list of DMs, selected another one and said, “Here. Here’s the picture. See?! He’s mocking her!”

I didn’t see. I was, quite simply, confused. Were we talking about this DM or the other one? Jane wasn’t in the mood to wait for me to catch up though. She had just seen a new offensive comment from the lad and was trying to grab the iPod back. I resisted.

“Give it back! I need to comment!”

“No, no you don’t. Give me a minute.”

“Are you taking my iPod away?!”

“No. I’m just trying to figure this out and I don’t think you need to comment while you are this hot. What are you wanting to say?”

“I need to respond to what he said! It was… uggh! It was mean!”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t remember.” (Seriously, this happened).

Eventually, I put together that there is a relatively new girl at school that many people don’t like. Actually, neither she nor her sister are particularly popular. Jane has grown increasingly frustrated with people making fun of them and being mean. From what I’ve been able to gather, the two girls are not innocent. They apparently manage to hurl their own insults, although Jane seems to feel it’s defensive retaliation.

Anyway, one of her friends had found the girl’s Instagram profile and his request to follow her had been accepted. He then took a screen shot of the profile page, which included some pictures, and sent it in a DM to a large number of people saying, “I found {blank}’s profile.” Several people then started making fun of the girl. Someone took a screen shot of the bottom edge of his picture plus the first few comments and started a new DM with a smaller group of people. Jane called him out for sharing the picture and an argument ensued on whether he had been mocking the girl or whether only the people commenting had.

Eventually, one girl requested that they all stop arguing and I convinced Jane that she needed to lay off. I later suggested to her that continuing to insist he was mocking when he insisted he wasn’t was futile. “It would have been better to simply say, ‘Ok. It looked to me like you were mocking her’ and then let it go.”

Jane had just recently decided to improve herself. She cleaned her room, did laundry, worked out stuff with her teachers to raise her grades, hung out with people who didn’t make her doubt herself, and decided to be nice to people. She’s done this before and I suggested to her that when she decides to become a better person, she then tends to become very intolerant of and impatient with those who don’t make the leap with her.

She didn’t see it that way. For one – to my surprise – she still considered the people she had been vehemently arguing with to be her friends. When I suggested she show compassion and patience and not be so hard on those friends, she said she thought she was showing a lot of compassion – by standing up for people who were being talked about behind their backs.

Maybe she’s right. It all seems exhausting to me, though.

Hair Revisited

I seriously do not remember talking about body hair this much when I was in Middle School. Certainly not with male friends. A different generation. A different time. A different girl. This post recounts another recent conversation Jane had with the two boys, Brad and Chris, who questioned her lack of arm shaving in Hair.

This time, it wasn’t her arms. It was her legs. When she started begging to shave so many years ago, I made the same argument that many moms make: Once you start, you have to keep doing it. You don’t get to stop. And you’ll get tired of it, trust me. Well, I was right on the last point, but dang it if she didn’t prove me wrong on the first point.

During home room, Jane placed her foot on the table so that she could retrieve a piece of paper she had tucked into one of her tall Nike socks. (Remember what I said about a different time? When I was young, the only people who wore tall black socks while wearing shorts were old men who completed the ensemble with sandals. Now, it’s the cool look.)

Anyway, as she extracted the paper, Brad exclaimed, “Oh, man, Jane! You’ve got REALLY hairy legs! You’ve got more hair on your legs than I do!”

“You know, Brad, that’s really not good,” she responded, referring to his apparent lack of manliness. “Seriously though, when you shave it grows back darker and thicker.”

“Uh-huh. Sure it does.”

Jane responded with a dismissive shrug.

Chris asked the inevitable follow-up question to their previous discussion: “I thought you said you shave your legs.”

“I do… On Sundays… Sometimes… If I feel like it… If I’m not being too lazy.” She shrugged again.

The boys continued to harass her, making every attempt to embarrass her or hurt her feelings. At this point, she was laughing so hard that she could barely speak.

“Seriously, guys. I couldn’t care less what you think about my legs. Seriously. I couldn’t. Care. Less.”

To be honest, I’m not sure what I was more proud of: her bold self-confidence or her proper use of “couldn’t care less” over the often-used “could care less.” The perfect mix of father and mother.

Hair

Jane’s Stardusters dance lessons started this week. She danced with a boy named James. The next day, a boy named Brad told her that James had told him that Jane had really hairy arms.

Jane looked dismissively at Brad and plucked at the hairs on her arms. “James is ridiculous. It’s just hair. Everyone has hair on their arms.”

“Why don’t you shave them?” asked Chris, the other boy she hangs out with in her home room.

“Nobody shaves their arms!”

“I thought girls were supposed to,” he said, starting to get a bit apprehensive.

“No! Girls aren’t supposed to shave anything. We just choose to.”

This reminded me of my best friend in middle school who hadn’t started shaving yet. One day, a boy approached her on the playground and asked why she didn’t shave her legs.

Without a bit of hesitation, she shot back, “Why don’t you?!”

The boy was taken aback and hurried away. I was always in awe of her for that. I would have melted in embarrassment and probably cried about it once I got home. I would have done the same thing in Jane’s scenario. But neither Jane nor my friend were the least bit embarrassed.

I thought about telling James’s mom about his comment. Not all girls are as resilient when it comes to these kinds of comments going through the ranks of boys. But, no. I’m fairly certain that that would embarrass Jane.

She’s Growing Up

Dear Papa Bill,

I was at work today, just sitting there writing a little program to collect statistics on CPU usage.  Nothing exciting at all, really, but I was content.  A small portion of my mind that wasn’t needed for focusing on the task at hand, that part dedicated to singing earworm songs and worrying about upcoming activities, was pondering how much Jane has grown up.

She made the school volleyball team and she’s really fired up about it.  She’s still playing the viola but I guess you were gone before she had even started that.  It’s hard to believe how much time has passed.  Now she’s in the band too, playing the flute.  It’s her favorite class.  She’s in all Pre-AP courses and working hard at them.  But it’s volleyball that I was thinking about as I toiled away at my keyboard.

When her Daddy took her to order her school-color workout clothes, she saw the letter jackets and was so very excited.  She can’t wait for the opportunity to letter in volleyball.  Then a couple of days ago, they poked their heads in the gym to watch the high school team play.  Each girl has a large poster with her picture on the wall of the gym.  Jane’s face lit up.  She’s already dreaming about being on one of those posters.

She works hard.  She’s not the best girl on the team but she’s big and strong and plays well.  We are anticipating traveling for games for many years to come.  And so it was that I was imagining mom and her boyfriend standing at the edge of the court, waiting to congratulate her on a game well-played.  Suddenly, it wasn’t Hugh standing next to mom; it was you.

I was immediately in tears.  My throat tightened up and hurt.  I turned my back to my cubicle door and grabbed a tissue.  I can’t even remember the last time I missed you so deeply; I thought I was well and truly past all that.

You would have been so proud of her.  You never showed a lot of emotion but in that little mental image, I saw the small smile that would have been on your face.  It felt so real.  So incredibly, achingly real.  You were special to her and I know she was to you as well, the first grandchild.  I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up.  And then once you were gone, after awhile, I never thought about what you were missing.  Until today.  When I sat sobbing over what will never be while running CPU statistics on my screen and hoping no one would notice.

Some people believe they know for sure that our departed loved ones are watching from above.  I don’t know that.  I hope, but I don’t know.  In that brief moment, though, you were there and you were smiling.  Thank you for making it to one of her games, even if only in my imagination.

I love you,

Your daughter