Posts Tagged 'childhood'

Disguised

A post over on The Girl Who is asking for commenters’ favorite childhood Halloween costumes. Here’s mine:

The year after my mom died (this is shaping up to be a horribly depressing comment but I promise it really isn’t) I was 11 and I tried my hand at homemade Halloween-costume-making, because she had made our costumes for as long as I remembered so how hard could it really be, right? For whatever reason – I had a really weird sense of humor as a sixth-grader – I decided to go as Brunhilde, i.e. the Wagnerian “it’s not over ’til the fat lady sings” opera Viking lady. My dad and I managed to stitch together a long plain dress out of red jersey material without too many problems, and then for a breastplate I cut some shiny silver fabric and glued it to the dress. The best part, though, were the boobs – at a newly-pubescent 11, I didn’t have anything like what I needed to pull off a convincing portly Valkyrie – so we made broad cones out of posterboard, covered them with the silver fabric, and glued them to the front of the breastplate. (We did something similar for a hat with horns.)

So on the day of the school Halloween parade, when all the students dressed up in their costumes and marched laps through the school hallways, I secluded myself in a bathroom stall, wrapped myself in cotton batting, pulled the dress down over it, bobby-pinned the hat to my hair, and strode back to my classroom to join my other costumed classmates, readying myself for their gasps of approval and admiration.

That was when I realized that all the other sixth graders were waaay too cool to dress up for Halloween, that was apparently little kid stuff. Ah well. I adjusted my cotton flab, pointed my shiny conical boobs, and – as the oldest student in the parade – led the little kids around the hallways, like a Viking princess with her minions. It was pretty awesome.

What was your favorite Halloween costume? Were your costumes store-bought or handmade?

Something old, nothing new

My adorably-pregnant sister-in-law teaches high school, and because she was to chaperone at prom this weekend we went to the mall to find her some shoes, which is how we found ourselves in the prom shoe aisle at Payless surrounded by a bunch of seventeen-year-old girls. It was an odd feeling, not unlike the time I had to climb into the McDonald’s playland to rescue a treed Noah and all the other preschoolers stared at me in wide-eyed awe and revulsion – “A grownup,” they all murmured. (In my head they’re all saying this in unison, like the squeaky-toy aliens from Toy Story.) “There’s a grownup in the playplace!” This same feeling translated seamlessly into prom-shoe-shopping – we were clearly out of place as Emily tried on Dyeables with her cutely pregnant belly and I watched from behind Peter’s stroller, and we left feeling acutely aware that we’re not seventeen anymore.

We struck out on shoes – heels that seemed to be a reasonable height for dancing when we were seventeen now loom threateningly when paired with a second-trimester bulge – so we wandered into Claire’s. If shoe-shopping amongst high-school students was awkward, accessories-shopping with preadolescents was surreal. “It’s like stepping back into 1988,” Emily breathed as she fingered a piano-keyboard-print belt.

“Are these earrings…Lisa Frank?” I asked, eying a display of butterfly jewelry.

The teenager behind the counter was chipper. “Yeah, isn’t this stuff, like, sooo cute?” she enthused. “It’s all so retro and stuff!”

“Retro,” I said. “The eighties aren’t retro, they’re tragic. They were woefully ill-advised the first time – bringing them back would just be foolish, and –”

“They have jelly shoes!” Emily called from the back of the store.

“The thing is,” I whispered to Emily as we examined rainbow hair clips and neon plastic bangles, “if all the twelve-year-olds are sincerely wearing leg warmers and side ponytails, that means we can’t wear them ironically anymore. Every time New Kids on the Block gets back together or they try to remake 90210, that’s one more thing we can’t be smug about having survived. If the teenyboppers have –”

“Hey, did you see we have slap bracelets?” called the teenybopper at the counter.

Emily’s and my heads swiveled toward her in unison. “You DO?”

“Those things used to be banned from my elementary school,” I reminisced.

“I used to buy them from the quarter machine at the grocery store,” reflected Emily.

“These are just $3.50!” gushed the teenybopper.

“Just think,” said Emily, “if I’d saved all those slap bracelets I bought when I was 8, I could be selling them now at a 1400% markup.”

“The past doesn’t belong to us; we simply market it to our children,” I said. Then we clutched our walkers and shuffled off to catch the early bird special at the Golden Corral.

Ten years later

I’ve been reminiscing this week – partly because my firstborn turned six over the weekend, which is quite a head trip; and partly because my baby brother went to his high school prom last week and it got me thinking about my own senior year of high school, ten years ago. If I’d been a normal high school student, I’d now be worrying about an upcoming ten-year class reunion. Instead I’m thinking back to my awkward, awkward prom and graduation with a bunch of students I’d never met before. If ever there was a time in my life I felt like a complete outsider, the last few weeks of high school were it.

(Okay, let’s be honest: I spend nearly all my time feeling like a total outsider. I’m pretty sure if I ever started feeling comfortable the unexpectedness of it would make me so uncomfortable I’d fall out of my chair.)

I went to a private Christian school for my freshman and sophomore years of high school, but then got too big for my britches and decided to enroll in a postsecondary program at a local university – a program through which smart, nerdy high schoolers like me could attend college classes for high school AND college credit, on the state’s dime. For me, the decision was a no-brainer – I’d leave high school, where I was geeky and bored and pretty sure I was smarter than most of my teachers, altogether and take all my classes at the university. If I played my cards right, my classes would meet all for my high school requirements but also put me well on my way to finishing my bachelor’s degree two years after I graduated high school.

We hit a snag when we announced this plan to the high school administration – they insisted that I still take classes at the high school for half the day, and by the way they’d need us to keep paying full private school tuition. No way! we said and promptly enrolled me in the public high school instead. For the two years I “attended” that school I only ever set foot on campus twice, for meetings with the guidance counselor to make sure I was meeting my course requirements.

Leaving high school early to become a full-time college student at fifteen was a huge adjustment, but I thrived. There was a community of us, I discovered, a dozen or so high-school students who were doing the same thing I was; we laid claim to a group of ratty armchairs in the student center and hung out there between classes, sipping coffee and feeling like conquerors. The other college students regarded us with the same reverent resentment our high-school peers had held for us; but at the university there was a grudging respect for us younger students who were at the top of our classes, instead of the contempt and bullying we’d experienced in high school.

But suddenly I was facing the end of what would have been my senior year of high school – in fact my sophomore year of college – and I was longing for the things my would-be classmates were doing. In the student center, the other postsecondary kids were still making denigrating remarks about our high-school peers; but I was dreaming about prom and graduation, fancy dresses and stretch limos and throwing my mortarboard cap into the air with the rest of the class of ’99.

I did my best to talk myself into attending. I was still a high school student, I reasoned; I had just as much right as any of the other students to attend prom and graduation. It was a milestone, one I’d worked hard to earn – harder than my classmates, in fact; if anything I deserved it more than they did – and think of my parents! I was their firstborn; I had a duty, a responsibility, to give them all the standard end-of-high-school photo-ops.

So I bought two tickets to the prom and got fitted for a graduation robe. I bought a shiny dress, and my boyfriend of two years – a cute sophomore at a college 300 miles away – came home and rented a tux. My best friend’s mom styled my hair and I fantasized about being the Cinderella of the high school prom, the beautiful, enigmatic girl nobody recognized but everyone instantly revered.

promI got over my delusions when I arrived at the prom and nobody noticed that I was there – or, the kids who did notice me gave me odd, unwelcoming looks – which I should’ve predicted, seeing as how I was a stranger elbowing my way into a party where everyone else had spent the past four years together becoming bosom friends. Another girl was wearing the same dress as me, and she looked cuter in it. And my cute college boyfriend, it turned out, hated crowds and didn’t like to dance.

But we danced anyway, because I’d paid $40 for those tickets and I wasn’t about to let a little awkwardness stop me from making the most of my only normal-high-schooler experience. And a few days later I accepted my diploma in front of the same crowd of strangers, and nobody clapped except my parents and my cute college boyfriend. My parents took a lot of pictures, and I smiled and thought about my student-center friends and how much I’d rather have spent the afternoon with them than with strangers in tasseled hats.

A year after prom, I dropped out of college: unsurprisingly, the major I’d chosen when I was fifteen wasn’t a good fit, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A year after that I married the cute college boy who’d chivalrously taken me to a prom full of strangers; two years after that we had a baby boy whose sixth birthday we celebrated this weekend.

By the way, I may actually go back to school this fall, after a nine-year hiatus; stay tuned. If I do, do you suppose there will still be a group of haughty 16-year-old geeks hanging out in the student center? Do you think they’d let me sit with them?


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