Today, my son picks up his class schedule for 7th grade. Seventh grade. Grade 7.
No, it doesn’t matter how I say it. Every which way, it makes me feel a little bit ill.
I was in 7th Grade the year I was 12. I have a summer birthday, so I was 12 that whole year.
It was quite a year.
I have said it before. I think everyone has a certain age in their life that they remember with greater clarity than others. For me, it was 12. Is it the same for everyone, or was this just a particularly momentous, transformative year for me?
I don’t know. I just know it makes me shudder to think that my son may be facing some of the same transformations this year. Feeling a bit ill again.
This is a list of some of the things that happened to me when I was 12.
- I was allowed to read anything I wanted in the library.
Back then, I was exposed to much less by the age of 12. Obviously, we didn’t have the internet or cable. In my hometown, we got three tv stations. On really clear days, we got a fourth — the public television station. But we did have access to a library. Well, at least if we drove to the next town over we did.
When I turned 12, my mom said I could start checking out anything I wanted, without limitation. Anything. And I read it all. I regularly checked out Harold Robbins with my Nancy Drew. I read The Exorcist. I read Judy Blume’s Forever. I read bodice rippers and War & Peace (at least I started it). I read The Fountainhead. I read the Life Cycle Library. I didn’t understand it all, but suddenly, I saw the world as a MUCH more complicated (and interesting) place.
- I had my first real boyfriend.
I grew up in a really small town. We started having boyfriends and girlfriends in kindergarten. It was just what you did. I pretty much always had a boyfriend, but it really didn’t mean much. Until I was 12. Then the kissing began. And the hanging out at each other’s lockers. And the holding hands in the hallway. And the going to the movies. This was a REAL boyfriend. Well, sort of.
- I discovered the joys and agonies of the French kiss.
When we were 12, my friends started to have “make-out parties.” Despite the name, they were really quite tame. They usually involved someone’s barn or garage. The lights were low. People were paired off, and there was lots of giggling, but not really much else. Just kissing.
The party usually ended at about 9 pm. We were only 12, after all. The rest of the time, all anyone ever talked about is if you had “Frenched” at one of these get-togethers. The regular kissing was quite a sloppy, clumsy affair, so you can imagine what “Frenching” might be like. Yuck. We were all repulsed and attracted to the idea at the same time. My boyfriend was on the shy side, so we did not leap into this, but I explained the whole idea to him. After all, I could read everything in the library. Anyway, we finally gingerly crossed the “Frenching” threshold. Phew. Now we could tell people that we had done it! And, we decided, France must be a strange and wonderful place. But we were not quite ready to go live there yet.
For the first time, I had to be responsible for someone who was more helpless than me, and this charge was not always cooperative. Taking care of someone else was hard! For the very first time (but not the last by a long shot) I started to see my mother’s life from her perspective. Well, just a glimmer of understanding. I was, after all, still a 12-year-old girl.
This was a big deal. I had just assumed that you had to be an adult to do something permanent like this. It was a long time ago, before the days when your server at Olive Garden might have a pierced tongue. I hadn’t even started to ask. One day, my mom and I were at Meijer’s Thrifty Acres (that is what is used to be called) and they were piercing people’s ears in the jewelry department. My mom said “You want to do it?” I said “Yes!” and we both took the plunge. Together. And it was permanent. I felt very grown up.
When I was younger, my cousin said to me “You know what happens when you are 12, right?” Of course I said “yes,” but I really had no idea what she was talking about. But she did give me the expectation that, on my 12th birthday, something pretty momentous would happen. Later, my mom cleared up the mystery and explained that it doesn’t necessarily happen when you are 12.
But, like clockwork, half way through my twelfth year, there I was, locked in the bathroom, screaming for my mom while my brothers pounded on the door to get in to get ready for school. I had to start carrying a purse. That was the tell-tale sign. Oh, and my mom took me out to lunch and celebrated by having a bloody mary. For the first time, I really felt like joining her.
This was also traumatic. It was at that stage where it was hard to know what was more embarrassing — wearing one, or not wearing one. And they weren’t like they are now. They weren’t cute, or really in any way designed for a middle school girl. They were industrial and terrifying.
To make it worse, when we were buying my first bra, my mom made me try it on over my clothes in the middle of the aforementioned Meijer. For those who don’t know, Meijer is sort of a midwestern Target or Walmart, carrying everything known to man. The perfect place to run in to people you know. While you are wearing a bra over your clothes. I don’t think she realized that her unwillingness to take the time to wait for a fitting room resulted in an experience that has scarred me for life.
- My family moved from Michigan to California.
I had lived my whole life assuming that I would live and die in my home town. Until one day my dad came home from work and said “How would you like to live in California?” What? Like the Beverly Hillbillies? Who wouldn’t? Well, we didn’t move to Beverly Hills. We moved to Fresno. But we did have a cee-ment pond.
Beyond that, my horizons opened dramatically. Suddenly, I saw a world beyond my small town, and the make-out parties, and the agonies of embarrassment to be found in the aisles of Meijer. For the first time, I saw my life as being more about what I thought about things rather than what everyone in town thought. Don’t get me wrong, I was your typical almost teenage girl. I was just as conscious of what people thought as anyone. But now I knew that the world was full of people, all with different ways of looking at things.
Now that I see my list, I realize that my son is very unlikely to experience most of these particular landmarks within the next year. And those he does experience, I don’t want to hear about. Feeling ill again…. Anyway, I guess his landmarks will be different ones.
But even more than this, my list makes me realize that, other than the try-on-bra-over-the-clothes thing, my mom was really something. She seemed to recognize my rites of passage and, for the most part, she stood back and let me go through them as I should – on my own two feet. Can I do this with my kids? I don’t know. I can look to her example and try.
My mom also taught me that sometimes a bloody mary doesn’t hurt.