We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac and I attended a very diverse private school. I took piano lessons and went to the nursery with my Mom to buy flowers for the yard. We had a 2-room playhouse in the backyard - so my brother and I didn't have to share... and a tire swing in front yard that we shared with all the neighborhood kids. Every Christmas the kids from the neighborhood would get Big Wheels and we would ride for hours in the street- there were rarely any cars and the parents would keep their eyes on the kids.
Every night before 4th grade I would sit on the floor in front of my Mom as she would carefully wrap my super straight, thin hair into pin-curls. I would sleep with my head covered in hair clips so that it looked like I had a metal colander on my head. In the morning I would brush it out and style it into two "Cindy Brady-esque" pigtails before school. I really wished I was a Brady- from a big family where I would have options on what sibling I would hang out with. At that time my life did seem to resemble a television sit-com, we had popcorn on Friday nights while we watched "the Rockford files" and we toasted marshmallows in our fireplace. Even more nostalgic to me now was that there seemed to be easy solutions and prompt and final resolutions of problems.
My parents pinched their pennies and saved their money and we never took family vacations and we never had the newest and best things but we always had enough and we always seemed to have more than anyone else in our neighborhood. That was as close to a Brady existence that I would ever get.
By the end of 4th grade my parents announced that we would be selling our home at the end of the cul-de-sac in Wilmington and moving to a tiny home at the top of a hill in Torrance. I remember the night we drove by the property in Torrance and I couldn't imagine how I was going to get anywhere living at the top of a hill. It was obvious to me that my Big Wheel days were over.
We moved during the summer and I didn't meet any kids I was going to attend school with the coming year. I showed up for my first day of 5th grade wearing my red gauchos and curly pig tails. I was met with scrutiny and criticism. I was questioned by girls "What kind of pants are those!" and I replied "Gauchos" not understanding the question. They wanted to know what BRAND they were, not what style. I had entered into a world I knew nothing about. When the girls said Dittos- they were not referring to copies of a paper from a teacher, When they said Vans they were not talking about an automobile.
From the moment I walked onto the campus I was an obvious outcast. These girls were so much more sophisticated than I was. They had feathered hair and Dittos and high-heeled Cherokees and I had gauchos and sandals and Cindy Brady hair. The girls in this more affluent neighborhood didn't necessarily purchase happiness, but they certainly sold their childhood. They were little women at 10 and 11 and I needed to grow up fast.
I remember walking home from school crying. I was 10 and couldn't verbalize the problem or imagine a solution. As an adult I understand I was feeling betrayed by my parents- how could they not know what they were doing to me? Why didn't they give me the tools I needed to succeed in that world? All I could do then is cry, and when my Mom asked me why, I didn't have any answers.
My brother was a bit more astute and able to quantify his needs. Within the week he had his O.P. shorts, Hang ten shirt and Vans on his feet. I would lock myself in my room and put a Barry Manilow or Olivia Newton John album on my record player and cry. I didn't understand why I couldn't fit in. I do remember asking my Mom for Dittos and being told that they were far too expensive and form fitting for a girl my age- and as a Mother of an 11-year-old, I agree. The child inside of me longs for those tools of acceptance. Please Please Please buy me some friends!
I remember there was a boy that many kids made fun of; his name was Bobby and he suffered a minor physical deformity that was the subject of conversation and harassment. This was 1978 and back then bullying wasn't yet a prosecutable crime. Bobby and I had in common that fact that we were both Polish and he was nice to me despite my offensive clothing. I imagine now that Bobby is a very successful man, having survived the cocoon of school he probably emerged a victorious butterfly. I know that's such a typical analogy, but when I think of the people who's apex of the greatest moments of their life ended at High school graduation.... well, you get my drift.
I did eventually make some friends like Stacey and Tracey. They were nice girls who were neighbors and had the advantage of having older sisters who had already navigated training bras, curling irons and leg shaving. To this day these girls are nice- they had more going on personality wise and could therefore risk, at the tender age of 10- being friends with an outcast.
With the help of their friendship, I did eventually, temporarily, superficially fit in. I quit having my Mom pin curl my hair and got a curling iron. I ditched my gauchos and eventually scored some dittos. I got the short Cherokees because my Mom would not allow me to have the tall versions, my short ones were stamped with the correct brand name and I was on my way to social acceptance.
I remember the day Tracey showed me that her legs were shaved and I began to do the same. Shaving at 10 was one of the first secrets I had to keep from my Mom- that paved the way to many more. I have scars on my legs from my attempts without an adult's help. The cuts were like a right of passage I guess, and when I sat on the grass hill and my legs stuck out from under my pants, I was no longer humiliated by the unsightly peach fuzz on my 10 year old legs.
My inability to read social situations and social cues has always caused problems. When I asked for something all the other kids really did have, I remember my Dad telling me "Why do you have to be like everyone else? Why can't you be an individual?" But a few years later, when my parents no longer had the money to buy me the tools necessary for public school acceptance I found my individuality in thrift shops. It is easier to look like you don't care- and fit in with the punk rockers than it is to ask for another $30.00 pair of jeans. And then as I begun to act out because my Brady Bunch word fell apart. I was able to misbehave under the banner of Punk Rock and still be accepted into some social group. Then my Dad would tell me "Why can't you be like everyone else?" By then I had already resented everyone. By then I didn't identify with everyone else. By the time I was a "punk rocker" I hated everyone else.
Now I am a Mom, and my son goes to a school where the kids have brand name clothes. I think all neighborhoods have those status symbols now to some extent. I do make sure he has similar clothing as the rest of his peers. Part of me feels like a sell out. I don't really want to have to buy his friends or acceptance. I wonder if I am making life too easy, not allowing him to learn that clothing does not actually matter. Maybe I am enabling him to be one of those 30-year-olds who thinks the best time of their life was High School. I need him to know there is more to life than that, but I don't know if sending him to 5th grade in out of fashion clothing is the answer.
I want him to be friends with the jocks and the punks and the cheerleaders- or whatever the groups are called these days. I want to invest on his insides, more than what goes on the outside. There was something magical about aspiring to be a Brady- wanting a certain feeling in my life, rather than a certain look.