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Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret's Mom

For those of you who tune in regularly to hear me read my Caffeinated Ponderings essays, thank you, and I hope you’ll bear with me with this one. While I normally ponder that which is light and, hopefully, entertaining, this piece comes straight from my heart, from my soul, and from my blasted tear ducts.

It occurred to me to write this essay when I saw my oldest daughter had checked out the book Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret at the library. Just one look at the cover took me back to my own memories of feeling like Margaret, and made me come to terms with the reality that I am now raising some Margarets of my own. It occurred to me that someone ought to lend a voice to Margaret’s mom. So for all of you out there raising a Margaret of your own, I hope I have done her justice…

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Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret’s mom. I barely recognize my daughter these days. Please help me, God. One minute she wants to snuggle me and the next she spits “Mom” like it’s a swear word. It’s scary, God! Please make sure my Margaret doesn’t make the same mistakes I did as a teenager. If you could take away even a few of my worries, I’d probably stop aging like a two-term president. Thank you, God.

We’ve all been Margaret, Judy Blume’s main character in the most memorable novel of our youth, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, a book now old enough to reach a second generation of adolescent girls. In fact, we couldn’t possibly be in the role of raising a daughter of our own if we hadn’t faced the same issues ourselves. The trouble is, from our new vantage point, it’s twice as scary to raise a Margaret as it was to be one.

And that says an awful lot.

I distinctly remember the hushed but passionate whispers on the upper-grade playground at Grant Elementary School, where we girls discussed a story far more personal than anything our mothers would ever tell us. Sure, some of us had communicative mothers who shared a few clinical facts, or some ominous threats of hell and damnation, but nothing like Margaret’s confessions that spoke to the fears and longings we were afraid to utter ourselves.

So who could blame us for being mesmerized by Margaret? After all, her message about adolescence being “pretty rotten—between pimples and worrying about how you smell” was a great improvement from the grown-ups’ “church and state” explanation. I almost expected my mom to grab a pointer and a pull-down wall chart as she described the journey of an ovum traveling down the fallopian tube, through the uterus, and out the vagina. It sounded like something Weird Al Yankovic could have sung to “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.”

The part of Mom’s lesson that baffled me, though, was the fact that blood was suddenly deemed to be fine and normal, not something that should send me screaming to her and Dad for Band Aids and some TLC, as it always had before.

Yet despite all the disturbing details, I longed, just like Margaret, to have physical proof that I was a pad-carrying member of young womanhood. And while I was creating my secret wish list, I agreed with Margaret that it would be nice to not only have a bra, but something other than Charmin two-ply to stuff into it. Then maybe, just maybe, I’d be like every other sweater-filling girl in my class who made the boys blush when it was her turn at “Spin the Bottle.”

Fast forward nearly thirty years and I now understand that puberty is so much more than a tissue issue, where we gain some up north and shed a few down south. It has far more to do with the intangible things that hop aboard our psyche at the very same time. Welcome to middle school, where your grades really count, where you find out who your real friends are, where the same boys who pulled your hair in kindergarten are now asking you to the dance. It’s got to be enough to make our Margarets feel like they’re being speed-cooked in a convection oven, with all those powerful waves coming at them from every which way.

I understood this the first time I walked the halls of my daughter’s middle school, pan searing into my memory the date my opinions became secondary in her decision making. For the first time, my Margaret is making friends that she meets away from my watchful eye. Friends who don’t also happen to be the daughters of my close friends, whose parenting styles and values so closely mirror my own. Will these friends allow my Margaret to be her goofy, fun-loving self? Or will they take away her innocence eye roll by eye roll, cut down by cut down, with their own insecurities projecting outward at her? Will my Margaret buy into it enough to consider these girls the new authority on what is right and wrong, cool or un-cool, Paris-Hilton “hot” or not?

When will I know if we’ve laid enough groundwork for her to make the right choices for herself when it really matters? I’m not talking about the length of her skirts but rather the lengths my Margaret will go to in order to date her version of the novel’s Moose Freed, the naughty older boy at school. To be one of the popular kids on campus.

I know she’ll experiment. She’s supposed to. But will she be able to talk to me about things? Or will she be afraid to disappoint me or make me worry? When I discover this, will I overreact to the degree that she’ll shut me out? Will she hate me until she’s twenty-five for being “too strict” and “ruining” her life by not letting her carouse the streets in the middle of the night like “everybody else.” God, for the record, I do see the irony here. I’m calling my mom right now to apologize.

Please, God, don’t let my Margaret be too hard on herself for her perceived inadequacies. May she see the models and glamour girls of the world as airbrushed versions of her own self, who wake up with bed head, pimples, and bad breath, just like the rest of us. Remind her, too, that the characters she admires in books, movies and even in the house next door have their own inner battles to overcome, even though they appear to be the picture of style, beauty, and excitement from the vantage point of our couch, or the kitchen window.

I hope my Margaret’s first love will be kind to her, God. I just can’t bear the thought of looking into the eyes of a broken heart personified. For that reason and so many others, please make her remember what I said about never blowing off her friends, even when she’s under the influence of puppy-love potion.

While we’re at it, please don’t let her have sex too young, God. And if she does, please let it be because she is madly in love with someone who loves her like I do, right down to a cellular level. Make sure that the gossiping masses don’t find out about it either, leaving her branded with a scarlet “S” on her reputation.

And God? Please, oh please, don’t let her get pregnant with a Margaret of her own until she has not only sown her wild oats, but watered and nurtured them enough that she has a sturdy harvest of memories to sustain her through the selfless early days of motherhood… in her thirties.

Thank you, God.

 

 

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That Book

Was core to my sixth grade life.  I might have died without it.  And while my sons have proven a very interesting twosome, I often think it a blessing (and a curse) that I don't have girls.  How could I go through that again?

Wonderful post.

Best,

J

Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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Blessing and a curse

You are so right to say that raising girls is both a blessing and a curse. I am glad to be a woman, but I would never want to re-visit the middle school years myself. All the drama of trying to figure out who you want to be. Ugh. Now that I realize how high the stakes really are for girls at this stage of life -- with all the choices they can make -- I feel as though I will be holding my breath for the next six years. Though from what my own mom tells me, I will then come up for a hunrgy gasp of fresh air and the resume holding my breath that my girls will be okay for the rest of my life. I suppose that part is true for all parents.

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Your letter to God,

is indeed moving. I have been trying to make up to my own mother for the awfulness of her life during my teen and twenties.

I was even more confused than the average cofused girl. I didn't want the changes, the pads, the bra, the widening hips. I remember a girlfriend showing me her first underarm hair swith huge pride. I was freaked out by it all. Margaret's desires scared me.

 

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Margaret the Great

Your parents were so lucky that you resisted the changes. I feel as though my girls have been counting the days to feel grown up, with all that this entails. (All that they understand, that is.) I wish I couldn't remember some of the choices I made at that age. It would make me a lot less nervous for what the next 6 years will be like for my daughters.

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Margaret

Oh, this is wonderful! Not only bringing up memories of one of my most favorite books (I still own my 5th grade copy) but you also have given me some hopeful words as I teeter on the verge of raising my own Margaret.

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May the force be with you!

At the risk of mixing Star Wars metaphors due to my loathing of all things Sci Fi while being married to a fan, all of us parents of pre-teens and teens need to employ every Jedi mind trick in the book to get through this next phase of parenting without losing every hair in our coiled Cinnabon updo.

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Go, Margaret's Mom!

This is profound. The book was instrumental in my upbringing, of course, and you tell the angst of Margaret's Mom so beautifully. My heart aches for you as I read this. It's so natural to feel these things, and you're brilliant for setting this piece in the context of a novel we all know so well. Very clever title on this blog post!

Thanks for your recent comment on my blog; I just read it tonight. I love your writing and look forward to reading more of it. 

Katie Burke

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Thanks, Katie!

Isn't the Red Room a wonderful place!? I am truly enjoying meeting so many kindred spirits through this site. Thanks for being one of them, Katie. I look forward to reading more of your writing, as well.

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Your last two paragraphs made me chuckle.

A touching and insightful blog issue, but your last two paragraphs made me chuckle.

...please don’t let her have sex too young, God. And if she does, please let it be because she is madly in love with someone who loves her like I do, right down to a cellular level. Make sure that the gossiping masses don’t find out about it either, leaving her branded with a scarlet “S” on her reputation...

...oh please, don’t let her get pregnant with a Margaret of her own until she has not only sown her wild oats, but watered and nurtured them enough that she has a sturdy harvest of memories to sustain her through the selfless early days of motherhood… in her thirties...

You have already allowed a generational gap to establish between your daughter and yourself. Madonna states boastfully that she lost her virginity at age 14, and considered it a "career move."  Movies, TV, and rap music have more than numbed the shame component of early sexual experience.  Oral sex parties are reported in junior high schools (saw it on Dr. Phil). And those top secret tete-a-tetes you gaspingly partook in during your teen years, now surely are just for comparing notes and perhaps for finding  the best prices  on vibrating dildoes and other sex toys.

No, anymore, trying to sexually shelter  a daughter is about as antiquated (and bootless) as was isolating women in the home during their pregnancies. Today's women, especially young women, are evermore  liberated. And if they are not yet, they are are fast approaching male parity and earning the awesome distinction  of becoming "men with vaginas."  (I read that indictment recently. It also made me chuckle.)

And your worry about pregnancy burdening  your daughter's young life, suggests that you are one of the few who doesn't fully realize abortions are conveniently available on demand as a final interruption, if all the contraceptive measures easily at her disposal fail. (I shutter to infer that you might be pro-life!?)

And, Mother, your reference to the 'Scarlet Letter' suggests to me that you are socially (albeit unmindfully) closer to 1808 than to the now in 2008.  Realize, I am not all that happy with the status quo of today's pubertal rascals, and even less so when I anticipate the newer status quos evolving every day. (Alas,  I have teenage grand daughters, and must strive to be a realist.)

But you might as well resign yourelf: Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Our liberated young maidens will surely be "diddling" instead.

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Speaking of chuckles...

Thanks for the ones you gave me. If I am to follow your logic, I should just put my girls on the corner of our town's busiest intersection and see if I can get a discount by pre-paying their abortions in bulk. Nice.

Given that you could never put yourself inside the soul of a woman, I will cut you some slack with your abortion comments. While I fully support a woman's choice to have one, I am equally sure that the choice to do so could haunt her the rest of her life. I want more for my daughters. The hopes I express in the essay are my wishes, but just like a Christmas list, I don't expect to receive every one of them. It can't stop me from wishing, though.

Being a realist doesn't mean you have to surrender to the lowest common denominator.