Lady in Red

On the weekend I was visiting with friends whose teenage daughter had just graduated high school. I looked at the photos and she looked absolutely gorgeous, with her flowing curls and her clingy, floor length lace gown.

“Grad dresses have changed a lot,” my friend said to me in what must be one of the truest statements of all time. Have they ever.

It’s grad season, and last Friday my husband and I were trying to figure out why in the world there was so much traffic on the way out to dinner, in the small city my in-laws live in. It was impossible to get parking, and it finally dawned on me when I saw a gaggle of teen boys in tuxedos and suits, that it was grad night. Smiling faces taking selfies, girls in sparkling gowns with their dates in matching accessories, it was a delight to behold.

When I was in high school, wrist corsages were a relatively new thing. No one really wanted to pin a flower onto their fancy dresses; it was much preferred to have the prickly elasticized lace wrist band with a coordinating flower. I am happy to say that girls still get wrist corsages; I was wondering if it was a thing of the past or not. I mean, I have no horse in this particular race, it’s not like I have a vested interest in the floral industry, but it was nice to see all the same.

But the dresses! The dresses. The dresses the girls are wearing now are red-carpet worthy. Perhaps they could even be described as Beyonce-worthy. The dresses we wore for graduation were certainly not of that caliber. My own graduation dress was a satiny red off-the-shoulder number; it was cocktail length and I completed the look with dyed-to-match satin shoes and handbag. It seemed very important at the time to have red shoes and purse that exactly matched my dress. Why, I am not sure. I can say for certain that girls don’t get dyed-to-match shoes and handbags anymore, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

Looking back on it, my red dress was just one in a long line of single-occasion-never-to-be-worn-again dresses – between that, bridesmaid gowns, and my own wedding dress, I have quite a collection of one trick ponies. All of those dresses – with the exception of my wedding dress – I had high expectations of; I thought that I would somehow incorporate them into future outfits. I’m not sure if I thought that I would have a much more gala-oriented life wherein long gowns would actually be required, or if I would somehow develop advanced seamstress skills to create them into something else entirely, but I have – needless to say – never again taken them out of the plastic bags in which they reside.

And so, as I looked at the girls in their lovely long and likely expensive dresses, I wondered if they had the same expectations. I wondered if they justified the money spent on their gowns by thinking that they would somehow, somewhere, wear them again. I hate to disappoint you, girls of today, but it is very unlikely.


So tell me: what did your grad dress look like? Do you have a collection of dresses that were worn once and then banished to the closet? 



While reminiscing about Valentine’s Day with Hannah and Allison last week, I remembered a strange little detail from junior high that had been hereto repressed, deep in a dark place in my soul.

As I suspect most of my peer group did, I loved going to school dances in junior high. It was just so exciting; who would dance with whom? Would there be a slow dance? Would teachers tap a slow-dancing couple on the shoulder and tell them that there had to be a six-inch separation between bodies? What exactly were you supposed to do when slow dancing to Say You, Say Me? The middle part speeds up considerably, should you continue slow dancing or start fast dancing? Would they play Mony Mony and would it get forever banned from subsequent dances because of the entire gymnasium chanting the Hey motherfucker get laid get fucked part in the chorus?

Answer to the last question: yes. Every year at the first dance that song would get played, and then stopped mid-song, never to be played again until the following September.

At my junior high, there were a couple of big dances per year, and they would be held in the evening. These dances were usually the semi-formal one at Christmas, and then again in the late spring. Throughout the year, however, were after-school dances for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and the like. At other schools, so I hear, this type of after-school dance was commonly referred to as a Sock Hop.

Not at my school, though. At my school, an after-school dance was known as a Shag.

Now, apparently this is a common name for a particular kind of dance from the 1930s, which involved vigorous hopping from one foot to another. However, I did not go to school in the 1930s and I seem to remember that dancing in the Eighties was less like vigorous hopping and more like this:

But I could be wrong.

The point is, I spent my entire youth thinking that a Shag was an innocent after-school dance. I was in university, going to see Austin Powers with my then-buddy-who-became-my-boyfriend-who-eventually-became-my-husband, when the other, better known meaning came to light.

That moment caused me to reflect back on everything I knew as a youth. Everything was a sham. My eyes were opened and to this day, I have to do a quick check to make sure I’m not naively saying something that has an entirely-different meaning.

That was the end, my friends, of innocence.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Recap Part 2

When last we saw Margaret, she was wearing the smallest bra available from Lord and Taylor, she was Mavis in the Four PTS’s, and she was preparing to visit temple for the very first time for Rosh Hashanah. Is she going to finally figure out God, boys, and sixth grade? Let’s see!

Chapter 9

Margaret gets a new suit and hat, plus white gloves for Rosh Hashanah. Remember the days when we would dress up to go to church? Not to sound too much like my own grandma, but I can’t get down with the whole casual wear-jeans-to-church atmosphere of these days. It’s been many years since I’ve actually been to a service, mind you, but I think the world is too casual now. I also feel this way about how people dress when they are on airplanes. Remember when you’d dress up to fly? Now we are one step above hobo in our bid to be “comfortable.” There’s a difference between a nice pair of yoga pants and wearing what amounts to pajama bottoms in public, people.

Anyway, back to Margaret. She goes to temple and admires the hats, flowers, and organ music, but can’t understand what’s really going on because the service was in Hebrew. She expected something else, to see God, maybe, but no. Not today. She meets the rabbi, and Grandma is very excited to show off her granddaughter. The rabbi says Good Yom Tov, which means Happy New Year, which is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. Margaret goes home no more spiritually enlightened than when she set out.

Chapter 10

Three important things happen: first, Laura Danker wears a sweater to school, inciting boob-related jealousy throughout the female population, and googly eyes from the male population. Second, Margaret goes to church with Janie and realizes it was just like temple, except in English. She hopes that she’ll see God, but just like in temple, she does not.

Maybe you need to look within, Margaret.

The third important thing to happen is that the PTA is holding a Thanksgiving square dance for the grade six classes…a SQUARE DANCE. Is this a thing that happened in the Seventies? Was square dancing really popular at the time? I feel like this can’t be right, but yes, the Four PTS’s and the rest of the kids are excitedly preparing for a square dance. Nancy’s mother is on the committee so Nancy offers to pair up her friends with the boy of their choice…but all of them choose Philip Leroy, so Nancy renegs on that agreement. She is not a miracle worker, people.

It’s two solid weeks of square dance lessons in gym to prepare for the big event. Mr. Benedict uses Laura Danker as a partner to demonstrate the proper steps, ostensibly because she’s tall, but Nancy raises her eyebrows at that reasoning. In any case, she’s taller than all of the boys in the class – the very tallest only reaches her chin. That was me! I was the tallest girl by far when I was in grade six – in fact, only one boy was taller than me and that guy is now a seven foot tall man, so I think that says something. I feel for Laura. It’s okay, Laura! I’m 5’7″ now and I have never once had to hem a pair of pants.

Anyway, the boys are mostly interested in stomping on the girls’ feet whilst square dancing, which feels like a realistic representation of grade six relationships. But, the day of the square dance is exciting nonetheless. The gym is all decorated with hay and scarecrows, and Nancy’s mother is a chaperone, dressed in a plaid shirt and a straw hat, which – needless to say – is mortifying for Nancy. Hey, in my memory, any time parents were en evidence was mortifying for preteens. I remember once when my parents had to chaperone a dance – they HAD to, because the shortage of chaperones meant that the dance was going to be cancelled – and it was incredibly embarrassing. I’m sure it wasn’t how they wanted to spend their evening, either, inflicting pain and mortification on their only daughter, who pretended to not know them.

The PTA has hired an actual square dance caller – WERE there professional square dance callers in the SEVENTIES? This seems more like a nineteenth century thing. – and Margaret gets to dance with Philip Leroy! Unfortunately, he is one of the jerks who is out to squash girls’ feet, so it was kind of a letdown. Nancy was so upset that Margaret got him for a partner, she almost CRIED, the big baby.

Chapter 11

The Four PTS’s gave up on their exotic secret names (Kimberly!) and their Boy Books, because everyone keeps listing Philip Leroy and it’s getting kind of old. Gretchen gets her father’s old anatomy book out so they can see what a naked boy looks like. Janie mentions that her aunt once spent a month at a nudist colony, to everyone’s shock and amazement. Margaret sneaks her dad’s copy of Playboy to show her friends, and the centerfold inspires them to do fifty rounds of “we must increase our bust” exercises.

Chapter 12

Grandma’s going on a cruise! She goes to the Caribbean every year and gives a bon voyage party in her room on the ship; this year Margaret is allowed to go.

Wait. People could just GO onto the cruise ship and hang out? Those rooms are pretty small. Plus, she’s only going for three weeks! Is a bon voyage party really appropriate in this situation? Oh well, any excuse for party snack food and champagne is a good excuse, in my mind.

Anyway, once they get home from the cruise ship Margaret’s mother gets busy addressing Christmas cards, which she calls “holiday greetings” because the family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Margaret’s mother sends cards to her old friends from Ohio, to keep in touch, and Margaret discovers that this year, she has also sent a card to her estranged parents. Cue ominous music.

Meanwhile, the school is putting on a Christmas-Hanukkah concert, and Margaret’s class is the choir. There’s a bit of a mutiny since one of the Jewish boys refuses to sing the Christmas songs, and one of the Christian girls refuses to sing the Hanukkah songs, despite Mr. Benedict’s assurances that the songs were for everybody, but the aforementioned children bring notes from home saying that they need to be excused from this exercise in religious harmony.

Chapter 13

MARGARET GETS A LETTER. THERE IS A LETTER THAT CAME IN THE MAIL THAT IS ADDRESSED TO HER. I REPEAT: A LETTER FOR MARGARET. There’s a whole page devoted to this: the description of the envelope, Margaret’s stunned and excited reaction to receive a letter, her sense of wonder and excitement about said letter, and the way she very carefully opens it so as not to rip the envelope.

It was an invitation! I knew right away because of the picture – a bunch of kids dancing around a record. Also, it said, HAVING A PARTY.

Who’s having a party, I thought. Who’s having a party and invited me. Naturally I could have found out right away. I could have looked inside. But this was better. I considered the possibilities.


Finally, after wondering and thinking and looking at the postmark on the envelope, Margaret opens the invitation. After all that build-up, we discover it’s from Norman Fishbein, the biggest drip in the class. That’s a bit anticlimactic, but a party is a party, and this is even a supper party! Not only are the Four PTS’s invited, but so is the whole class, which prompts Margaret’s mother to say “Mrs. Fishbein must be crazy!”

I kind of think so too. Twenty-eight sixth graders? I had eight fifth graders over for a birthday party and halfway through I felt like I needed to wash down some Xanax with a nice Syrah.

Margaret gets ready by washing her hair and getting a crème rinse, putting her hair in rollers and going under the dryer, wearing new fancy lace-trimmed underwear, tights, and a velvet dress. Then, she stuffs her bra with cotton balls! She looks in the mirror and likes what she sees.

Chapter 14

Nancy’s father drives the Four PTS’s to the party, and they’re all excited and prettied up. Norman’s mother greets them and she’s super fancy in velvet pants with a sparkly sequined top. See what I mean about people dressing for occasions back then? Their house is huge and they have a maid! Nancy’s been there before and knows the way to the rec room where the party is.

Do people still have rec rooms? Are they called that? When I was a kid we had a little picture that said “Rules for the Rec Room” and one of them was not to use pizzas on the record players. Just in case someone was considering that, I guess. The hilarity.

The boys are all wearing jackets and ties, and Laura Danker is there. She looks gorgeous. Mrs. Fishbein serves the food, and the boys basically destroy the rec room by shooting mustard through a straw at the ceiling. This is why you don’t have twenty-eight sixth graders over for supper, Mrs. Fishbein. As the kids are eating cupcakes, Freddy Barnett and Nancy get into a shouting match, which ends with Freddy ripping Nancy’s pocket off of her new dress. Mrs. Fishbein is shocked at their behaviour and thinks they are all a bunch of ill-mannered hooligans.

Norman suggests games to keep everyone from destroying the family home and ripping parts of their schoolmates’ clothing. It’s Spin the Bottle time! Eeek. GRETCHEN GETS PHILIP LEROY. Then Philip gets LAURA DANKER, who looks shyly down, causing Philip to get a mouthful of hair. At this point, one of the boys suggests “Two Minutes in the Closet” where everyone gets a number (girls odd, boys even) and then each person calls a number, and they go into the bathroom together for a maximum of two minutes. Pervs. After some time, Freddy the creep gets Laura Danker, who is blushing red. Margaret wonders why – she should be used to this kind of action. Hmm…

Then Laura calls number seven, which is Philip Leroy! When they come out of the bathroom Philip is smiling but Laura sure isn’t. Hmmm…

Philip calls twelve, which is Margaret’s number! Philip gives Margaret a really fast kiss on the lips, after she stops nervously giggling. Also, thank God he doesn’t try to cop a feel, since her bra is still stuffed with cotton balls. Margaret calls number nine and gets Norman Fishbein, who tells her he really likes her! Margaret instructs him to kiss her on the cheek.

Later, Nancy tells Margaret she’s totally jealous of her time with Philip, and how was he, as a kisser? Margaret lies and says great, they kissed so many times she lost count.

Chapter 15

Margaret goes to Christmas Eve services with Nancy, and enjoys the music but doesn’t feel like God is there.

Grandma comes home from her cruise and decides to go to Florida, sadly, because New York City is nothing without “her Margaret.” She sends tons of postcards and phones every Friday.

The class is going to see a movie! Boys will see one movie, and girls will see another movie, and it’s SEX ED TIME. The movie the girls see is all about menstruation and is sponsored by the feminine product company Private Lady. There is time for questions, and Nancy asks about Tampax. The Private Lady representative is kind of shocked, and says that internal protection is not advised until the girls are considerably older.

Remember when people thought that using tampons would result in a loss of virginity? I had a book called Girltalk, that supposedly answered all your questions about life, body, friendship, etc., and there was a whole section devoted to feminine hygiene products and this EXACT THING was addressed.

The girls in the class all get a booklet that – surprise! – recommended use of Private Lady sanitary supplies.

One week later, Gretchen gets her period! Gretchen holds up her end of the PTS bargain and describes the experience. She feels a little crampy, a little drippy, and her mother gave her a lecture to watch her weight and wash her face with soap. It’s all very anti-climactic for the girls who want to know what it’s like. Margaret’s super jealous: she wants her period too! Don’t rush things, Margaret. One day you too will be sobbing while watching commercials and eating Family Sized bags of chips; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Nancy and her family go away on a trip and Margaret gets a postcard that says only “I GOT IT!!!” Margaret’s devastated. She thinks there’s something wrong with her! She doesn’t want to hear any more about Nancy and Gretchen and their fancy periods.

Chapter 16

Since Grandma’s in Florida, Margaret and her mother use the Lincoln Center subscription, which isn’t as fun, and Margaret writes to tell her grandma so. Grandma writes back and says she’s met a nice man named Mr. Binamin. Mr. Binamin is widowed; he wants to get married again, his grown kids want him to get married again, and Grandma? Grandma’s not saying anything. But she’s WRITING to Margaret to say that she’s not saying anything. I think I can, with certainty, say that Grandma is getting a little action down in Florida. Well, who doesn’t? Isn’t that why all the kids go there for spring break? That and the booze, I guess.

In other exciting news, Grandma thinks Margaret should come and visit her in Florida during spring break. Maybe even meet the fabled Mr. Binamin.  Margaret is over the moon! She’s never even been on an airplane before, let alone head off to Florida – FOR SPRING BREAK. Pack your bikini and some Alka-Seltzer, Margaret! Can I get a what what?

Will Margaret go to Florida for Spring Break? Will she ever get her period? Will she get another letter that will be even more amazing than an invitation showing a bunch of kids dancing around a record player? Tune in next time!

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Recap Part 1

As far as I can tell from my non-scientific research, if you were a girl growing up in the Seventies or Eighties, you loved Judy Blume. Maybe there are exceptions, but I haven’t met any of them yet. Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. was the ultimate guide to growing up; maybe it still is. My memories from this book were about first periods and bras, but it’s so much more than that: friendship, crushes, spirituality, family, and shame. Let’s get started!

Chapter 1

We meet Margaret Simon through her conversation with God – like a dear diary, but with God. We find out that she’s moving from the big city of New York to suburban New Jersey. As a child growing up in the Calgary suburbs, I would never have realized how significant such a move would be. Interestingly, this book was published in 1970, and if I’ve learned anything from Mad Men fashion blogs, it’s that New York in the 1970s was a cesspool. Or, as Pete Campbell so succinctly said, “The city’s a toilet.”

In any case, Margaret has come home from summer camp to find out that their NYC apartment has been rented to someone else and her family now owns a house in Farbrook, New Jersey. Now, this part went over my head because I probably didn’t even set foot in an apartment building until I was about thirteen years old. It didn’t really register, at the time, what a difference it would be, going from an apartment to a brand-new suburb where all the houses are alike, Margaret can go to public school, and her mother can have all the grass, trees, and flowers she ever wanted.

We also discover that Margaret assumes the move is to get away from her paternal grandmother, who adores her only granddaughter, pays for her NYC private school tuition and summer camp in New Hampshire, and knits her sweaters that have labels sewn inside saying “Made Expressly For You By Grandma.”

My mom crocheted baby blankets for both my babies that had a label like that, and I always kind of wanted a sweater with such a label for myself. Alas. Also, when I was a kid, I didn’t realize how many New York City kids would be sent away to a full summer camp, presumably to get some of that grass, trees, and flowers that they didn’t get in their apartment buildings. I mean, I went to summer camp for one week, and it was Lutheran Bible camp up at Sylvan Lake. It was awesome, but I’m guessing it was a different experience than a summer-long hiatus in New Hampshire. All I know about New Hampshire, really, is what I saw on Breaking Bad, and that is that they live free or die there. I’m guessing summer camp would be a refreshing change from the hot town, summer in the city, with the back of Margaret’s neck getting dirt and gritty.

Speaking of Bible camp, we also find out that Grandma is Jewish and hopes that Margaret will have Jewish boyfriends. Put a pin in that, because it becomes significant later on!

Chapter 2

The Simon family has moved into their new house for no more than an hour when a girl comes to the door. It’s Nancy Wheeler and she knows all about Margaret from the dossier that the real estate agent sent out to the neighbourhood. Can you imagine that happening now? Privacy issues ahoy! Anyway, so Nancy knows that she and Margaret will be in the same class at school, and she asks if she wants to run under the sprinklers, every single suburban child’s favourite thing to do on a hot summer’s day. Nancy loans her a swimsuit – ewwwww – because, of course, the Simons aren’t unpacked yet.

Nancy has something I always wanted: a dressing table with a heart shaped mirror and a fluffy organdy skirt. I also wanted a canopy bed.

Margaret shyly puts on the bathing suit in front of Nancy, who has no boundaries, apparently, and not only will not leave the room to allow this girl who she’s known for ten minutes to get changed, but who giggles about Margaret’s non-development in the chestal region. Nancy boasts that she’s already developing, and in a few years she’s going to look JUST like those girls in Playboy, which is something that twelve year old girls really shouldn’t aspire to. Margaret calls bullshit on this, in her mind, because her dad gets Playboy and she’s seen those centerfolds.

HOLD THE PHONE. Why is Margaret reading her dad’s Playboys? For the articles? Oh right, this is the Seventies, era of permissive parenting.

Nancy is relieved to see that Margaret isn’t some fast-paced city girl who seems to find out early how to open doors with just a smile, but instead has yet to kiss a boy. Nancy shows how she’s been practicing kissing, on her pillow, so that when the opportunity arises she WILL BE PREPARED. This is shocking to Margaret, who, despite years of summer camps in New Hampshire, has never seen another girl make out with her pillow. Nancy also mentions that Margaret’s hair – which is in the growing-out stage – is kind of LAME, which made me think: didn’t we all have a Nancy in our lives? A frenemy who would passive aggressively talk about your crappy hair, your boobs, and your lack of make-out experience. I guess if you didn’t have a Nancy, chances are you WERE the Nancy.

Through conversation with Nancy’s mother, we find out that a) Margaret’s mother is an artist, and b) Margaret doesn’t go to Sunday School. Shocking! Mrs. Simon doesn’t even play BRIDGE for chrissake, and they moved to the suburbs? The girls go play in the sprinkler, and get totally drenched by Nancy’s older brother Evan, who cranks up the water pressure. That is totally something my own brother would have done. Nancy runs crying to her mother because her perfectly coiffed 1970 ponytail is all wet.

Evan is accompanied by Moose Freed, who mows lawns in the neighbourhood and immediately mentions this to Margaret. Five bucks a week, and I trim too. That’s a steal of a deal! Moose Freed. I’m in the phone book. Put a pin in that one too, because Moose awakens all sorts of feelings in Margaret. She even names her pillow “Moose.” Just kidding! She doesn’t really. Or does she?

Because Nancy’s a big crybaby about the water spray, Margaret goes home, but not before she’s informed that she needs to wear loafers with no socks on the first day of school to be part of Nancy’s secret club. Because wearing socks will make her look like a baby, unlike sobbing because your brother soaked you with a sprinkler.

Chapter 3

Margaret’s dad isn’t going to call Moose Freed – he’s in the phone book! – because he wants to cut the lawn himself. Unfortunately, the city slicker/ lifelong apartment dweller reaches his hand in the bag on the mower while the engine is running, and he has to go to the hospital for stitches. There’s an exciting scene wherein Margaret goes to look for the severed body part; anticlimactically, we discover that all his digits are still basically intact, and eight stitches are all that are needed.

After that, arrangements with Moose are made.

The day before school starts, the family gets a surprise visitor. It’s Grandma! She came all the way out on the train even though it’s full of germs. She also brought deli food because there ain’t no deli like a New York deli. She assures Margaret that they are going to be as close as they’ve ever been, even though they’re geographically separated.

Chapter 4

First day of school! Margaret doesn’t wear socks and gets blisters. She notices a very tall girl in the class with huge breasts, who no one talks to, so Margaret thinks that maybe she’s new too. She’s not! But more on that later.

Their teacher is male, and it’s his first year of teaching. He’s pretty bright-eyed, though, and gets the class to fill out a form about themselves. Margaret says that she loves tuna fish but hates religious holidays. MAJOR PLOT POINT.

Chapter 5

The secret club meets, and there are only two girls besides Margaret and Nancy: Janie and Gretchen. Gretchen is immediately fat-shamed by Nancy, who asks how much weight she gained over the summer when Gretchen reaches for the cookies. Aren’t girls fun. After fat-shaming Gretchen, Nancy begins to slut-shame Laura Danker, the tall girl with the rack. Margaret, innocent Margaret, says that she noticed her right away – she’s pretty!

“Pretty!” Nancy snorted. “You be smart and stay away from her. She’s got a bad reputation.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“My brother says she goes behind the A&P with him and Moose.”

“And,” Janie added, “she’s been wearing a bra since fourth grade and I bet she gets her period.”

POOR LAURA. I had a bra in fourth grade and let me tell you, it was no picnic. Nancy goes on to say that the teacher was ogling Laura, like all men would. They cannot help themselves, they must look lustily at a twelve year old girl who wears a bra.

It turns out that none of the other girls have their periods yet, but they promise to dish the deets the second that they respectively start. They also agree that to be a part of the club – dubbed the Four PTS’s for Pre-Teen Sensations – they all need to wear a bra. They need to maintain a Boy Book that details their crushes, and share them at each meeting. Hilariously, they decide that they will all have sensational secret names: Alexandra, Veronica, Kimberly, and Mavis. Margaret gets to be Mavis.

We find out that not only does Margaret not go to Sunday School, but she also doesn’t go to Hebrew School, so whether the family will join the Y or the Jewish Community Center is unknown. The reason Margaret’s family isn’t a part of organized religion is quite romantic: her mother was Christian and her father was Jewish, and they eloped! Margaret’s mother is estranged from her parents for marrying a Jew, but Grandma Simon – as we have seen – is accepting of the situation.

Chapter 6

Moose comes to mow the lawn, and Margaret watches him while pretending to read a book. ROMANCE AHOY. There’s nothing sexier than an older guy with a power lawn mower, am I right? Moose is awakening all sorts of feelings. Plus he smiles at Margaret, so let’s all sigh in unison. SIGH.

Margaret and her mother go bra shopping, where she has to get the smallest size available. She runs into Janie who is also buying the smallest bra available, and there is a lot of blushing going on.

Chapter 7

Margaret tries her bra on at home, and stuffs it with socks to see how she’d look. She likes it! But she takes the socks out, because SOCKS. In her BRA.

Her dad gives her a “my girl is growing up speech” which, if that was delivered to me by my own father, I probably would have died of embarrassment. Thank god that never happened.

The Four PTS’s meet and they’re all wearing bras and they’ve all listed Philip Leroy as their number one choice in their respective Boy Books. Margaret’s REAL number one choice is Moose, but she can’t write that because what would Nancy DO. They practice a few “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” exercises and they get BUSTED BY MOOSE AND EVAN OMG. Ha, busted. See what I did there?

The class is assigned a year-long personal, unmarked, meaningful research project. Yawn. Due to some disruptiveness, the desks are all rearranged and Margaret, much to her chagrin, is next to Laura. OMG I HOPE HER SLUTTY REPUTATION ISN’T CATCHING is what Margaret thinks. She’s not even going to LOOK at Laura, but fortunately, and sadly, Laura doesn’t look at Margaret either. She looks straight ahead at her work.

Despite the desk rearrangement, the class is still playing pranks on their first-year teacher: they hand in all their test papers with no names on them. Margaret is very irritated because she studied really hard, but she goes with the flow because peer pressure, and if no one is putting their name on their paper, then she won’t either. She’ll jump off the bridge with everyone, feeling very indignant about it.

Chapter 8

Ha ha! Mr. Benedict the first year teacher is not so dumb after all. Everyone gets their tests back, and they all have their names written on it, so Margaret’s study efforts did not go to waste. She got a ninety-eight, while the guy who initiated the “no-name” thing got a fifty-three. KARMA, BEE-ATCH. Mr. Benedict reminds them of their research project, and Margaret, after some soul searching involving bras and Moose, decides to write about God.

Margaret’s grandma has gotten them a subscription to Lincoln Center, so Margaret gets on a bus to New York by herself. Margaret’s mother is extremely nervous – don’t sit next to any men! – but the bus trip is uneventful and Grandma is there to meet her. They go for lunch and Margaret tells Grandma she’s wearing a bra – can she tell? Of course Grandma can. She looks very grown up, says Grandma.

For the record, in a thousand years I would have never told my grandma about my bra. NEVER. That conversation would not have happened. In my house, one would not discuss one’s underpinnings.

After the concert at Lincoln Center, Margaret asks Grandma if she can go to temple with her sometime and OMG YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES. Grandma is thrilled! She always knew she was a Jewish girl at heart. Margaret says no no no, that’s not it at all, but Grandma doesn’t care. She’s just happy Margaret is showing an interest. Margaret’s parents, on the other hand, are NOT. They think it’s ridiculous for Margaret to think about religion, but grudgingly agree that Margaret can go to temple for Rosh Hashanah.

Will Margaret find God in the temple? Will she still have to sit next to Laura? Will Nancy stop being a bitch? Will anyone get their periods? Tune in for the next installment!

let me sing you the song of my people

This week, the blackflies arrived. Swarms of them. Clouds. Voracious, pesty little bastards flying around our heads, getting in our ears, crawling through our hair and even going on suicide missions into our open mouths.

Given that the east coast is coming off the worst winter I can remember, and that two months ago my front yard was literally six feet deep in snow, I’m trying not to complain too much.

Come, wingéd harbingers of spring! Place your tiny hairy feet upon my pale winter-faded skin, as I blink in the warming sun like a newborn foal. Dive-bomb my face. Drink of my blood. IT’S ALL GOOD, AT LEAST I DON’T HAVE TO SHOVEL YOU.

I keep trying to remember this mantra as I’m going through gallons of bug spray just to stand at the bus stop in the morning without getting eaten alive.

Instead, what runs through my head is The Blackfly Song, by Wade Hemsworth.

If you went to elementary school in Canada, I’ll bet you a substantial sum of money and a bottle of Deep Woods Off! that you are familiar with The Blackfly Song. I honestly can’t remember the name of the hardcover songbooks we used in our music class back in the mid-80s, but they were Canada-specific and so included songs about blackflies, fishing, and Terry Fox.

It was almost as if the people behind curriculum development were bound and determined to give us a Canadian identity, whether we wanted it or not. What we ended up with were long, long songs (so long, The Blackfly Song has seven verses, and after each verse you have to sing the chorus again) about times and places we had no frame of reference for.

Here’s another one I remember singing – and hating – as a fourth grader. Squid-Jiggin’ Ground. I’ve never in my life jigged for squid, and did you know it’s not really possible to sing a Newfoundland folk tune if you don’t have a Newfoundland accent? It’s true. This version is Stompin’ Tom performing it live, which is fun, but now imagine a bunch of nine-year-olds accompanied by a bitter woman on the piano and you can maybe see why it’s a little sad.

Every September when we did the Terry Fox run to commemorate the Marathon of Hope, we had to sing a song called “Run, Terry, Run”. It was, I’m pretty sure, terrible. I can’t find a recording of it anywhere on the internet, but I can still remember quite clearly that the chorus went like this:

Run, Terry, run / run, Terry, run / was the chant from the heart of everyone.

The reason I say “terrible”, aside from those shlocky awful treacly lyrics, is that the children were also supposed to clap in a rhythm that mimicked the sound of him running on his artificial leg.


My kids are in elementary school now. My oldest son is the same age I was when I was plowing through Squid-Jiggin’ Ground and hating music class. What’s he been doing? Well, they’ve learned how to play K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag on the recorder. They have sung the entire soundtrack from Frozen and learned all the lyrics to Happy. There is nary a fishing boat nor a blackfly among them. I don’t even think they’ve learned the Canadian version of This Land is Your Land:

On the one hand, I’m happy for them. I loved music and singing, but honestly while trying to sing some of those the overwhelming feeling was one of embarrassment, with a side order of boredom.

On the other hand, these were uniquely Canadian songs, and it did actually end up giving us a shared national experience. I feel like maybe our kids are missing out on this stuff, in a zillion-channel universe.

Who among us, for example, regrets knowing all the words to The Log-Driver’s Waltz? (incidentally also by The Blackfly Song guy.)

This played on CBC every afternoon, it seemed like, as a way to end the after-school kids’ programming block. Isn’t it fantastic? Log drivers! Weird animation! Kate McGarrigle! THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD!!!!

I don’t know how it gets more Canadian than that.

Hopelessly Devoted To Beauty Products, 1988

Those of you who know me know that I am a beauty product devotee; in the spirit of this blog, I would even go so far as to say that I am hopelessly devoted to beauty products. I become so enamoured with a particular product that I even panic, a little, when I think that one day this might be discontinued. Do you know what I mean? When I find the perfect skin cream/ lipstick shade/ thermal hair protectant it’s all I can do NOT to stock up on it so I have enough for the rest of my life – think Elaine Benes with the “sponge.”

What I need to remember is that as time goes by, my beauty product needs change. For example, recently I realized I have to retire my deep, rich shades of lipstick because they are making me look like a hookerish clown. Sadly, I now have four completely unused lipsticks in my cupboard, because I was stocking up. I recall a similar thing happening back in high school when I wore nothing but Revlon’s Love That Red until I started university and realized that colour no longer suited me or my style.

The moral of this story is that there is no need to stock up on beauty supplies, because your beauty needs WILL change with time. These are the items that I could not live without, back in 1988.

Salon Selectives

This line of hair products made me feel like I had arrived. The fruity scent, the extra-super-strong hold that kept my four inch high bangs in place, the mousse that put the special spring into my spiral permed curls. I went through a bottle of hairspray every two weeks, so devoted was I to that agonizingly high-maintenance hair of the late 1980s. My friends and I all kept travel-sized bottles in our lockers, for emergency touch-ups throughout the day. I lived in Calgary, city of high winds, and keeping that extra-special curly hair with giant teased bangs intact was a great deal of work. Not to mention the winters; no one would dare put a hat on over that teased mass. We used earmuffs instead, the adjustable band inevitably getting painfully tangled in our hair in all that cold wind.


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Side note: girls with hairspray bottles in hand was such a common sight at my school that many smuggled in alcohol to school dances in washed-out (I HOPE) hairspray bottles. For the record, I was not one of those girls. No teacher would think of checking the contents of a Salon Selectives or Aussie Sprunch Spray bottle, so groups would surreptitiously pass the bottle around. Meanwhile, gaggles of girls would be congregating in the washrooms to a) fix their hair, b) gossip about who was dancing with whom and whose behaviour warranted snubbing/ mean girl behaviour, or c) cry. Crying in the washroom at junior high school dances: a proud tradition.

Remember Aussie Sprunch Spray? That was also heavily utilized in my circle. The whole world was obsessed with everything from Down Under back then, including the hairspray and the fizzy Koala-themed flavoured water, not to mention INXS.

Kissing Potion

Kissing Potion was so goopy and drippy that I’m sure no guy wanted to kiss any girl wearing it. I’ve learned over my lifetime that men, in general, do not like to get lip products on their faces. Although, back then, maybe the guys weren’t so choosy about it. I don’t know, in any case, I loved wearing Kissing Potion. I loved all the flavours, and I loved how it went on like a roll-on deodorant.


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Secret Roll-On Deodorant

Speaking of roll-on deodorants, wasn’t that weird? Why would you put something so wet under your arms? The tag line for Secret was, as you will recall, Strong Enough For A Man – But Made For A Woman. Some might be outraged at this, but honestly, guys do smell more than women, so there is something to it. What I chiefly remember about this deodorant is that it would sting when I put it on, it would be wet so I couldn’t immediately put my shirt on, and it smelled very sweet, like a cross between baby powder and sweet peas.


Image from EBay. GOOD LORD SOMEONE IS SELLING OLD SCHOOL DEODORANT ON EBAY. This means someone has stockpiled more than I have. Perhaps I should EBay my old lipsticks.


Love’s Baby Soft

I remember getting this for Christmas and thinking that dreams do come true. I loved this although the advertising was a little suspect…


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Hannah would like me to mention Exclamation! perfume, which was incredibly popular back in the day. Sadly, I never had it although my girlfriends did. Allison remembers Body Shop perfumes in various fruit scents like Mango and Peach. Why did we want to smell edible? I don’t know, but we all slathered on vanilla perfume in the early nineties, leaving a trail of teenage boys who really, really wanted some chocolate chip cookies in our wake. And that is not a euphemism.

The Body Shop

Those who came of age after 1995 will never know what a cultural phenomenon The Body Shop was. Suddenly, we were all activists with our “Against Animal Testing” t-shirts and our fair-trade Satsuma Bubble Bath. I clearly recall shopping at the location that is a ten-minute walk from where I am right this moment. I would save up all my babysitting money to buy some treasured item like White Musk Body Wash, and I would covet those little baskets of goodies at Christmastime. How exciting it was to get Peppermint Foot Cream, Raspberry Ripple Bubble Bath, and a strawberry-scented glycerin soap! These items were so exotic back then; so far removed from the usual beauty items purchased at Zellers after school.


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Kissing Koolers

This was the more colourful, less glossy cousin to Kissing Potion, and I loved them too. I probably bought them at Zellers, and I remember very painstakingly choosing which flavour best suited who I was. Ah, the teen years, it’s all about finding yourself and figuring out who you are, and who I am is a person who loves lip products.


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Great Lash Mascara

Here’s the thing about Maybelline: they really know how to appeal to the teen market. Not only were they responsible for Kissing Koolers and Kissing Potion, they also sold – and still sell – arguably one of the best mascaras out there, Great Lash. I don’t even think they’ve changed the packaging much since 1988, but I always, always wore Great Lash in Very Black. These days I wear Maybelline’s The Falsies, but I have a special place in my heart for Great Lash.


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After all, I didn’t just wake up in the morning looking like this – it took effort!


the birds and the bees

There has been a lot of talk about sex education in schools lately, what with the new revamped curriculum in Ontario and all. I have no intention of making this blog all political (although for the record, I am definitely in favour of the new curriculum and wish it would come to Nova Scotia, too) but it got me thinking about what passed for sex ed back in the late 80s / early 90s.

And oh boy! Have I got tales to tell.

Our first brush with Sex Ed in School came in the fourth grade – would have been 1988 for me. The public health nurse came in one afternoon and showed us a jittery film strip (remember those?) all about menstruation. Ten minutes of a cutaway view of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, and when the red arrows headed briskly southward as the narrator dispassionately explained about “the monthly cycle” the kid who sat across the aisle from me actually fainted in horror.

Poor guy, he was woefully unprepared.

In grades five AND six, we were shown films that were supposed to give us reassurance? I guess? from both the male and female points of view. They were so terrible, I have never forgotten them, and I have often asked friends if they remember seeing them at their schools.

The answer was generally “no”. I guess in rural Nova Scotia we were pretty underfunded.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know what I’m going to say next.


First up, Am I Normal? I distinctly remember watching this in grade six and thinking to myself no, you are not normal. Normal people do not give public speeches about their penis to the girl they like. 

If you think I am exaggerating, well, crank up the volume and be prepared to awkwardly cry-laugh.

That poor, penis-obsessed boy. My god. He just never stopped thinking about his penis. And talking about his penis. And asking people about his penis. He learns about erections (note: not a bone! it can’t snap or break off! thank you, helpful narrator); about how masturbation will not turn you into a blind wolfman (there is a great cartoon illustrating this principle); and he even asks a zookeeper about penises. A ZOOKEEPER.

There is a bestiality joke in there somewhere, I’m quite sure.

The other movie was called Dear Diary, and despite my very best efforts I was unable to find any clips anywhere. You can borrow the VHS tape from the Stanford University library, though.

I recall that Dear Diary was more fraught with tension, and there was less laughing in the classroom. Menstruation just isn’t funny, I guess. In my fruitless search for clips I found several sites that discuss Dear Diary, and overall it gets more favourable reviews than Am I Normal.

And that was it! That was the last sex ed I recall until grade nine, when we all had a boiled egg “baby” for a weekend, and also practiced rolling condoms onto wooden phalluses in class one day (the phalluses were made by the seventh grade woodshop class, and no, that’s not a bad joke). In high school we talked about HIV and pregnancy, and how to avoid both – there were condom machines in the washrooms and we were encouraged to use them. By then, it was really too late.

At no point in any of this did we learn about consent, what a healthy relationship looks like, homosexuality, other STDs (lots about HIV, but apparently the clap was just a given), or much beyond the mechanics of the human reproductive system.

Certainly we came away from Am I Normal? and Dear Diary with many kids still believing that douching with Coca-Cola immediately after sex would prevent pregnancy, and I knew girls who had babies or abortions before we finished high school, so clearly the ten-year-old educational film approach didn’t work.

How did your school handle sex ed?