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…
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.
Causes Shana Moore Supports