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.

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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? 

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You can never surrender.

In the last month, two strange packages have arrived at my house from Amazon; two vinyl records that my husband has taken to ordering for the vinyl record player that we do not yet possess. He has become very interested in vinyl records lately, which makes me wonder what ever happened to all the records we used to have, back when I was a kid. Probably they were all sold in yard sales or whatnot, since who played records by the 1990s? Certainly not me.

As a child, I remember going through my parents’ record collection; I still have a soft spot for Kenny Rogers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In fact, my party trick is that I know all the lyrics to every Kenny Rogers song ever – even the less-popular ones like Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town and She Believes In Me. I remember looking curiously at the album covers of the hirsute CCR, which was starting to be an outdated look even then.

I had a lot of those little books that came with records to read along with. I can still hear the voice at the beginning: You can read along with me in your book. You know it’s time to turn the page when you hear this bell, like this…ding! Once I graduated from those records, I had a couple of LP’s that were pretty hip for a six-to-eight-year-old: the Mini-Pops and Disco Duck.

It was when I was nine that I got my first REAL record, and that was – inappropriately enough – Like A Virgin by Madonna. I remember looking at the album cover and thinking how beautiful she was, with her Boy Toy belt buckle and frothy dress. I began wearing a ton of rubber and friendship bracelets, as well as the occasional hair bow, in an attempt to emulate that look.

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The second album I ever owned – and because of the event of cassette tapes, it was one of the last – was Corey Hart’s Boy in the Box.

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Oh, how I loved that album. You can NEVER SURRENDERERERERRRRRR I would sing passionately in the mirror, using my hairbrush as a microphone. I would take out the album liner and read all the lyrics until they were memorized. I was sure – SURE – that I would marry Corey Hart when I grew up. After all, he was Canadian, and I knew that he spent time in Calgary, since this was featured in his Never Surrender video, and it was not that far from my house:

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 So really, how hard could it be to meet and have him fall in love with me? Of course, this is what I looked like at the time, but I was still undeterred:

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I wrote letters to the Corey Hart Fan Club, and for my trouble I received a photocopied letter that said that even though it was photocopied, it really WAS Corey writing it. Swoon.

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See you soon, Corey.

Well. Time went on and instead of vinyl albums I saved my money to buy cassette tapes instead. They were so much more convenient, as I could use them in my Walkman on the way to school. By the time I was fourteen, though, it became hilariously “retro trendy” to buy vinyl again, at used record stores. I even had a boyfriend working at one such store, and he would alert me to any Beatles albums that arrived. While my peers were embracing the New Kids on the Block, I was excited at my purchase of an old copy of The Wall. I read and memorized all the lyrics again, although I found them – along with the illustrations on the liner – disturbing and frankly, I didn’t even really like Pink Floyd. However, it looked cool with my copy of Abbey Road. To this day, I change the channel on the radio when I hear Another Brick in the Wall. No really, I think you *do* need education, sir.

And just like clothing fashions, it appears that vinyl is back in style. I wonder if you can still skip songs by counting the grooves on the record, or if the needle still bounces back and forth when the record is finished. Now, if only my parents still had those Kenny Rogers and Juice Newton records.

The Times They Are A-Changing

My older son got braces last week, and has been basking in the glory of having “teeth bling” ever since. He has received myriad compliments about how cool his new braces look; I expected them from the adults in his life, but was surprised to hear that his peers have also been commenting on his awesome new metallic smile. It made me think about how braces have morphed into an exciting status symbol/ rite of passage for young teenagers, when back in my day they were considered a curse.

It seems like half the population of tweens and teens are showing off their shiny metal grins, whereas when I was in junior high I knew a girl who refused to show her teeth for the two years she was undergoing orthodontic treatment. Brace Face and Metal Mouth were actual insults, whereas now braces are so commonplace and, frankly, desired, that no one would think of making fun of a child with braces.

It really made me think of all the things that have changed in perception from when I was young.

Nerds

Remember how people would dress up like a nerd for Halloween? Revenge of the Nerds? Can’t Buy Me Love? Being a nerd was considered to be social suicide, whereas now I think we can all agree that being nerdy is where it’s at. After all, those nerds can really make the big bucks, and with computers being so deeply entrenched in our society, acceptance of the nerd is now at an all-time high.

Smoking

It’s not like anyone thought smoking was a particularly good idea back in 1990, but it was certainly acceptable. At high school, there were designated Smoke Doors and even a part of the compound that was the Smoking Section. When I got my first office job as a summer student in 1997 some people still smoked in their offices, and I remember one professor telling me about the days when he and his students would smoke in class. I think someone would get pelted with rotten tomatoes if they tried lighting up in a lecture hall now, and at a school? Forget about it.

Mohawks

When I was a teenager I went to school with some real punks: the big boots, the leather and chains, and the Mohawk haircuts. These guys – and some girls – were badass and maybe even a little bit scary to a princess-type like me; they threw parties with lots of booze and drugs, some of them didn’t live with their parents, and there were always a few hanging out at the Smoke Doors. Only people who were very cutting edge and part of the punk culture had a Mohawk; now you see it on any given toddler coming out of Beaners’ with a lollipop.

Hair Colour

Speaking of punks, the only people who had hair colour that wasn’t a natural shade were the same people wearing Mohawks and chains. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone in junior high who coloured their hair; there might have been a few highlights and perhaps a Body Shop henna shade on some girls, but it certainly wasn’t common. And green, pink, purple, or blue hair colour? That was not for the pedestrian. Nowadays, though, it’s completely mainstream and even on fleek to have at least a streak of bright colour. Walk into any junior high class and you’re guaranteed to see several rainbow shades of hair.

Piercings

I have three earrings in my right ear and one in my left, and let me tell you, people, back in 1989, in my house, that was a scandal indeed. I had my ears pierced courtesy of an aunt on my ninth birthday, but when I was 13 I got a double piercing, followed by my third the next year. I snuck out to a salon in Estevan, Saskatchewan while visiting my grandparents that summer. My grandma knew and vowed to keep it a secret from my father who would flip out at such wanton behaviour. I had successfully hidden it for eight months until one unlucky day when I had pulled my hair into a ponytail. “NICOLE. What is with the DUAL PIERCED EARRINGS?” he said in his Scary Dad voice, and because I was evidently not very savvy, I said, “Actually, Dad, it’s three earrings, I just don’t have the bottom ones in.” With the brou-ha-ha that ensued, you would have thought I would have come home with a prison neck tattoo or something. I mean, it’s not like I had a tongue stud, which I think we all can agree has but one connotation. My dad might have been conservative even at the time, but he wasn’t totally alone in this. I knew several men of his age who would have fainted if their sons had come home with an earring, let alone two. I mean, think of the guys now who have those circular earrings that stretch their lobes out. THAT’S a crazy fad, to me, but maybe in 20 years everyone will have them. Or, those guys will just have droopy earlobes and deep regrets.

Shagadelic

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.

Uncomfortably Numb

The other day, my 11 year old walked home from school – about a fifteen minute walk – with his winter jacket unzipped, and his hat, gloves, and neck warmer securely in his backpack. It was minus ten and his hands were purple by the time he walked in the door. I sighed about this behaviour to my husband, who said, “Isn’t that just what teens do?”

Gasp.

It’s true, although I wasn’t quite ready for it. Although strictly speaking he’s not a teen, it seems that he’s gearing up for those years, winter clothing-wise. And suddenly I sympathize with my mother, thinking of all those times I shunned my winter clothing in an effort to be fashionable.

The problem is that I grew up in Calgary, land of windchill factors and icy cold winters, while reading fashion magazines from much milder climes. Even the Junior Miss section in the Sears catalogue didn’t feature the kind of winter wear that is necessary when you are walking home from school and it’s minus 30. I clearly recall wearing a wool pea coat with a Sears catalogue-esque fuchsia scarf, gloves, and beret set that I received for Christmas. Cute, yes. As I recall, matching scarf, gloves, and beret sets were all the rage in the late 80s, and while that might have been sufficient for hovering-around-zero temperatures, it was insufficient for recess in the howling wind and blowing snow.

As a person who recently donned snow pants, a calf-length down coat, ear muffs AND hood, gloves AND mittens, and the warmest boots money could buy just to take the dog for a walk, I cannot understand my younger self. Why be purple-skinned and uncomfortable when you can be a walking pillow?

Joey_Wears_All_Of_Chandler_s_Clothes_Friends

I’m wearing ALL the clothes.

The world has become more accepting of differences; this is true. But when it comes to cold weather, teens are no more accepting of appropriate winter wear than they were back in my day, as evidenced not only by my son, but also by the hordes of teen girls I see walking to the bus in frigid temperatures, with their sternums exposed and their ears turning purple. I’m sure their mothers lecture them, as my mother lectured me, on what should be worn when the mercury drops. And I’m sure they dismiss those suggestions as tragically uncool, as I did.

Things I Did To Avoid Being Comfortably Warm In The Winter

To avoid a “you’re going to get frostbite” lecture, put on my earmuffs – since a hat would never fit over my four-inch-high teased bangs – until I turned the corner and was out of my mother’s sightline; ripped them off and stuffed them in my school bag.

Wore tiny short skirts with tights and loafers in the middle of winter, becoming frozen from the waist down.

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In lieu of actual gloves, wore “magic gloves” – the thin, tiny knit gloves that do literally nothing to keep your hands warm.

Walked to school in loafers with no socks, when there was snow on the ground.

Wore cutoff denim shorts with tights and army boots, because the boots would “be warm enough, MOTHER.”

There are things I did as a teen that objectively did not make sense: squinting all the time instead of wearing my glasses, going through an entire bottle of Salon Selectives twice monthly so that my bangs would be sufficiently vertical and immovable, wearing a Garfield sweatshirt with my astrological sign on it.

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But the thing that really didn’t make sense was my – and all my friends’ – constant refusal to acknowledge that winter had arrived, and that we would all be a lot more comfortable and attractive if we weren’t purple-faced and shaking with cold. Looking like you’re constantly on the verge of frostbite really only works for one person.

 

Roll With It

I love fashion, but I am not – as evidenced by my feelings on army boots and rompers – entirely convinced about fashion repeats. Embrace the fashion repeats! my friend Jen said to me, but sometimes, I just can’t.

However, this week something happened that made me change my mind, just slightly, about something that I had been holding firm: jean rolling. My friend Ashley, who is my fashionista colleague over at YMC and who is the most stylish person I know, said that rolling jeans is what’s done these days. Rolling jeans is cool. EVERYBODY is rolling their jeans. I was swayed by her persuasive arguments regarding rolling skinny jeans and wearing ankle boots, since I have been unsatisfied with how my own jeans look with my new (non-army) ankle boots.

Honestly, the pressure reminded me a little bit of Billy Madison.

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If we substitute “rolling jeans” for “peeing in your pants,” then I am that little old lady.

Embrace the fashion repeats, Nicole. Embrace it.

Does anyone else struggle with this? I’m certainly not ready to start wearing housedresses and lisle stockings, or – less dramatically – start shopping at Tan Jay, but as I get older I feel it is harder and harder to reconcile my inner youthfulness with my outer appearance. It’s really hard to strike that balance between “hip and stylish” and “GRANDMA, NO.”

I suppose I find some fashion repeats so hard to embrace because I didn’t really like the way I looked back when I first embraced the style. I rolled up my jeans along with everyone, but that was less because I thought it looked good than I lacked the confidence to be different. There is a photo of me, on the first day of school in 1988, in which I am wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the word BENETTON in bright colours, tucked into my high-waist acid-wash jeans that are tightly rolled up above the ankle, and white Keds. I also have insanely teased spiral permed hair and Sally Jesse Raphael glasses to complete the look. Back then, when I saw the picture, I didn’t think Damn girl, you look GOOD, I thought I looked awful. I still do.

After the rolling fad was over, the pinning fad began. No one rolled their jeans anymore. That was as passé as acid wash. No, instead we would buy jeans several sizes too large, cut the hems off and fray them, and then fold the calves and frayed bottoms tightly and SAFETY PIN THEM TOGETHER. In other words, the girls in my grade nine class were wearing jeans that were gigantically baggy around the butt and thighs and skin tight around the calves and ankles. Do I need to point out this was a very unflattering look? Unflattering or not, we did it, because that’s what EVERYBODY who was ANYBODY was doing.

Of course I peed my pants, EVERYONE my age pees their pants, it’s the coolest!

But as I said, I’ve been a bit unhappy about how my skinny jeans look with my new ankle boots. I should have just listened to Hannah and Allison and bought the army boots. Too late now, so I thought I’d try Ashley’s rolling trick. After all, it’s different now. I’m not wearing men’s jeans two sizes too big for me, I’m wearing flattering jeans that I chose for myself without any peer pressure or frenemies telling me what to do. I’m not tightly folding my jeans and rolling them up, I’m just tweaking them a little. And I have to say – this is a trend that I am going to embrace. It’s cute. It’s comfortable. It’s not a velour track suit with floral embroidery from the Sears catalogue NOR a faux leather onesie from Forever 21.

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If shoulder pads come back in style, though, I’m out.

turn it up

This week on Facebook, people are talking about Pump Up The Volume, because that odd little movie turns 25 this summer.

*pours one out for my lost youth*

I was twelve in 1990, and I know I didn’t see Pump in the theatre – my best friend Sandy and I rented it on VHS one weekend, and it was the first “R” rated movie I’d ever seen. I’m guessing I was probably about thirteen the first time I listened to Christian Slater as Happy Harry Hard-On ranting about the environment, the government, how his parents’ generation was all fucked up and how the school system served no one.

When you’re a teenager living in rural Nova Scotia, when you don’t fit in and your one boob is bigger than the other one and you get bullied and teased on a daily basis, when you feel that overwhelming sense that something is out of whack and you can’t see a way to fix it, to have anyone say this is so validating it’s a physical relief:

You hear about some kid who did something stupid, something desperate; what possessed him? How could he do such a terrible thing? Well, it’s really quite simple, actually. Consider the life of a teenager – you have parents, teachers telling you what to do, you have movies, magazines and TV telling you what to do, but you know what you have to do. Your job, your purpose is to get accepted, get a cute girlfriend, think up something great to do with the rest of your life. What if you’re confused and can’t imagine a career? What if you’re funny looking and can’t get a girlfriend? You see, no-one wants to hear it. But the terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.

I mean, COME ON.

It’s the kind of movie that really only makes sense in a pre-internet world. Lonely teenager starts pirate radio station in his basement? Today’s kids would have no idea why this would happen. Today, Mark Hunter would have a Tumblr and accompanying Spotify playlist, not a station on the FM band.

When I was fifteen I went to a week-long summer camp sponsored by Amnesty International & the Youth for Social Justice Network, and we actually set up a pirate radio station. By that time I’d seen Pump many dozens of times. I had favourite lines from the movie scribbled on my binders (“rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!” “Now I feel like killing myself, but luckily I’m too depressed to bother” “I can smell a lie like a fart in a car” ) and so it felt like some sort of anarchist fantasy.

In reality I spent a lot of time on the air flirting with my camp romance, and by Friday my copy of The Breeders’ Last Splash cassette had gone missing. We incited no rebellions and the CRTC didn’t come shut us down.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

I’m pretty sure I read some of the poetry written by Samantha Mathis’ character Nora while I was on the air. That sounds like something I’d have done. We didn’t expose a plot by the school administrator to expel all of the low-scoring students in order to maintain a high average grade, and at no point did shirtless Christian Slater come find me while Ivan Neville crooned Why Can’t I Fall In Love. (That clip has boobs, so don’t watch it at work. Just FYI.)

This movie acts as a sort of companion piece to Christian Slater’s other big movie, 1989’s Heathers. Really, one should watch them both together. Get some snacks and a bottle of wine. If you have teenagers, make them watch your dystopian movies for once.

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And talk hard.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Recap part 3

When last we saw Margaret, she was busy getting pumped for her Spring Break trip to Florida with Grandma, she had gone to a party where they played the somewhat skanky Two Minutes in the Closet, and she was jealous of Nancy and Gretchen for getting their periods. Let’s begin!

Chapter 17

Nancy’s family is spending the day in New York, and each kid is allowed to invite a friend. Nancy invites Margaret, and Evan invites Moose! She is going to be in the same car as Moose! Remember this is the Seventies, though, so the boys are riding in the back of the station wagon, and Margaret cannot even sneak a peek without a) being obvious, and b) getting severely carsick. She looks straight ahead. Good choice, Margaret. No need to barf. They go to Radio City Music Hall, which Margaret’s parents say is just for tourists. Margaret is hoping that she will get to sit next to Moose, but he and Evan go off by themselves. Teenagers! What can you say.

They all go to a steak house for dinner, and when the girls go to the bathroom Nancy starts freaking out. She just keeps crying when Margaret asks what’s wrong, so she runs back to the table to get Nancy’s mother. Nancy will not even open the bathroom stall, and so Margaret has to CRAWL UNDER TO UNLOCK IT OMG GERMS GERMS GERMS BOIL YOURSELF IN OIL AND BURN YOUR CLOTHES, MARGARET. It turns out that NANCY IS GETTING HER PERIOD FOR THE FIRST TIME AND SHE’S SCARED. Liar liar pants on fire. Margaret has to get a sanitary napkin out of the vending machine on the wall for her, and Nancy begs her not to tell the others.

If this couldn’t get more emotional, Margaret gets to sit next to Moose at dinner. He smells like after-shave and keeps bumping her hand because he’s left handed. The accidental hand bump! Squee!

Chapter 18

Margaret turns 12! As a coming-of-age ritual, she sniffs her own armpits to ensure that she hasn’t got BO. Happy birthday! She proactively applies her mother’s deodorant just in case of a late-day odor-related issue. Her mother says no need to use her deodorant, she’s going to buy Margaret her very own. Wow.

In addition to the promise of deodorant, Grandma sends 3 hand-knitted and labelled sweaters PLUS a 100-dollar savings bond, new bathing suit, and a plane ticket to Florida, leaving on April 4. It’s really going to happen! Margaret’s going to rock the beach during Spring Break! Whoop whoop!

The whole class sings happy birthday, the Four PTS’s chipped in to buy her new favourite record, and she gets a separate birthday card from Nancy, who writes that Margaret is the BEST FRIEND EVER. The best friend ever who can keep a secret about Periodgate, is what she means.

Mr. Benedict assigns a project on different countries, and in the name of opening minds and cultivating friendships, assigns work groups. Margaret is assigned to work with Norman Fishbein, Philip Leroy, and Laura Danker. Philip pinches her hard – for her birthday, ostensibly – and tells her she needs to grow an inch. And you know where you need that inch! You know what, Philip? You’re an idiot. Up until this moment Margaret has been having a great birthday, but now she’s all upset. For one thing, her arm hurts. For another, she hates her flat chested figure, and she hates Laura for being big and beautiful and having all the boys stare at her. She also hates Mr. Benedict for sticking her with Norman the drip, Laura the babe, and Philip the pincher.

Chapter 19

In case it wasn’t obvious, Margaret is a serious student. She takes shit seriously, and so she sleeps, eats, and breathes Belgium for three weeks. Philip, despite or perhaps because of his dreaminess, is a bad worker who basically wastes all their designated class time fooling around. I’m sure we all had a Philip in our lives: the good-looking ne’er do well, getting by on his appearance and NOT his work ethic. Norman, bless his drippy heart, tries hard but is a slow worker. He’s not really carrying his weight but he’s trying. E for effort, Norman. It’s all on Laura and Margaret, both of whom are very conscientious students and hard workers. After they’ve ran out of class time, Laura and Margaret stay after school to do more research on Belgian customs and culture. Margaret’s mom is going to come pick her up after their work session, but Laura says she is walking to Confession after they are done.

Confession? What is she confessing, Margaret wonders. SLUTTY STUFF, SHE BETS.

Margaret’s so busy thinking about this – Laura and her sluttiness – that she copies word for word out of the encyclopedia. Laura notices, and calls her on it. Plagiarism is a crime, you know? Well, Margaret knows she’s in the wrong but gets upset. Who is Laura to tell her what’s what?

And then Laura went back to work. But I didn’t.

“I heard all about you and Moose Freed.” I whispered.

Laura put down her pencil and looked at me. “You heard WHAT about me and Moose Freed?”

“Oh – about how you and Evan and Moose go behind the A&P,” I said.

“What would I do that for?” Laura asked.

She was really thick! “I don’t know what you do it for. But I know why they do it…they do it so they can feel you or something and you let them!”

She shut the encyclopedia hard and stood up. Her face was burning red and I saw a blue vein stick out in her neck. “You filthy liar! You little pig!” Nobody ever called me such names in my life.

You deserve more than that, Margaret.

Margaret runs after her, catches up, and finds out she’s crying.

“Don’t you think I know all about you and your friends? Do you think it’s any fun to be the biggest kid in the class?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it.”

“Well, try thinking about it. Think about how you’d feel if you had to wear a bra in fouth grade and how everybody laughed and how you always had to cross your arms in front of you. And about how the boys called you dirty names just because of how you looked.”

And there it is! Margaret has a light bulb moment. She has made an assumption of poor Laura’s behaviour based ONLY on her appearance – well, and Nancy’s bitchy chatter – and not only was it wrong, but it was very hurtful. Slut shaming – not cool, Margaret. Especially for a sixth grade girl whose only mistake was being pretty and early to develop.

Margaret apologizes, because she isn’t really a bitch, she just didn’t think things through. Laura goes to Confession;  Margaret follows and after Laura finishes, she goes inside the church herself. She notices a little room like a phone booth, enters, and is completely startled to hear a disembodied voice that she assumes is God. GOD IS TALKING TO HER FINALLY. She realizes that it’s actually a priest, not God, and all she can do is blurt out that she’s sorry. She runs out to meet up with her mother, who is alarmed at her pale and clammy appearance. She feels sick – her behaviour towards Laura has literally made her sick – and her mom brings her soup and says she doesn’t have to go to school in the morning if she doesn’t feel up to it.

Later that night, when she does her “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.” thing, she confesses to God about how she made Laura feel, and how wrong she was. She wonders why she only can feel his presence when she’s alone.

Look inside, Margaret! The answer is within.

Chapter 20

A week before spring vacation a letter arrives. It is from her mother’s parents – her grandparents who she has never met! They announce that they are coming for a visit – so they can see their granddaughter, who hopefully doesn’t have horns or hooves, given that she’s not being brought up in the Christian religion. Not surprisingly, there is a huge kafuffle between her parents. THIS is what happens when you send your long-estranged parents a holiday greeting, I guess.

Even bigger than the news that they are visiting for the first time in well over a decade, they say that they are coming April 5. Oh! What a relief! Margaret leaves for Florida on April 4, so she won’t have to stay there to prove her non-devil-appearance.

Well. Despite the airline ticket having been already purchased, along with a new bathing suit, Margaret’s mother says that she will have to stay home and meet her grandparents. Margaret – needless to say – is devastated, as would anyone be in that situation. Which would you rather do, go to Florida to hang out with your Grandma who thinks the sun rises and sets on you, or stay home in New Jersey to meet some old people who think you’re a heathen and hate your father for being Jewish? I’M GUESSING DOOR NUMBER ONE.

Margaret’s mom – who has sunk deeply in my esteem – tells Margaret she has to call Grandma to tell her. CHICKEN. Margaret says no way, she’s not calling. Her mom calls Grandma and everyone’s very upset. WELL I GUESS.

Chapter 21

Margaret and her mother go to the airport to meet the grandparents, and it’s extremely awkward in a “this must be Margaret” kind of way. The car ride is bad enough but things deteriorate when then get home and are kind of chilly and stiff with Margaret’s dad. It goes both ways, a bit, but since the grandparents are kind of anti-Semites, it’s understandable that Margaret’s dad wouldn’t be super pumped to see them. Margaret’s mother, with the help of a hired lady, has made a very fancy dinner, and even changed into a dress. No one really talks, at the dinner table, except for the most perfunctory of statements.

In one of these awkward exchanges, the grandparents find out Margaret doesn’t go to Sunday School. Scandal! The grandparents are very disappointed that her mother hasn’t seen the light and introduced Margaret to the Way, Truth, and Life. Not to worry, says the grandmother, their minister will be able straighten things out so that Margaret doesn’t end up burning in hell. Margaret, naturally, gets upset at this and runs out of the room.

That’s it, Margaret thinks, enough is enough! She is DONE with God.

Chapter 22

The next day, Margaret doesn’t go down for breakfast. She doesn’t talk to God. Instead, her mother agrees that it would be a good idea to get out of the house so she goes to meet Janie for a movie. Before the movie, they go into the drugstore specifically to buy sanitary supplies. Just in case! They’re going to need them sometime! Janie protests but they both promise to tell their mothers that the contraband bags contain school supplies. They go through the usual preteen humiliation to buy Teen Softies – talking to the lady walking around in a lab coat, getting teenage cashier Max to wrap them up. They are basically ready to die of mortification, but it’s worth it to have the sanitary napkins in their possession.

Girls, the time will come where you are so sick of buying this stuff you will actually wonder if you should buy one of those Diva cup thingies. Enjoy it now, I guess.

Later on at home, Margaret puts one in her underwear to see what it feels like. Big and puffy is my guess.

Here’s the kicker about the past crazy twenty four hours: the grandparents announce they’re leaving for a holiday in New York City! Margaret’s mother is very upset – they said they’d stay a week! – but off they go. Margaret’s dad thinks that the trip to NY was the whole point and they were only staying at their house because it was convenient, which I kind of agree with.

Chapter 23

The doorbell rings and guess who’s there? Grandma! Grandma has cut her trip short. Florida, Shmorida, Grandma just wants to see her Margaret. After all, Grandma says, if Mohammed doesn’t come to the mountain, the mountain comes to Mohammed.

Not only that, but Mr. Binamin, Grandma’s new gentleman friend, is in attendance. Oh, Grandma. You scamp.

Grandma has come to play back up in case the grandparents get a little bit too much cross-waving. She says no matter what, Margaret’s a Jewish girl at heart. Poor Margaret. She’s so tired of this. She tells Grandma she doesn’t need God at all.

Chapter 24

Their year-long project is due, and Margaret has written Mr. Benedict a letter about religion. She outlines what she tried and how nothing worked. In her letter she says she doesn’t think people should decide what religion to be, they should just be given one and that’s that. That way they can learn about it at an early age and not end up fretting and feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. Everyone else in the class, she notices, has a booklet with title pages and everything, but she just has a letter. She has failed at this, she thinks, and so runs out of the classroom and cries.

Chapter 25

The school year is over, and there is a farewell party for grade sixes at which none of the girls wear socks. Margaret gets sheer stockings for the first time and gets a run in them. Get used to it, Margaret. The class gives Mr. Benedict cufflinks, as a goodbye present, and he is pleased and a bit choked up. The Four PTS’s have lunch downtown and feel grown up, but they all admit they are nervous about Junior High. After their lunch, they all go home and cry. There is a theme here, and it is pre-adolescent hormones.

Margaret is preparing for summer camp, and while her mom is packing her trunk, she hears the lawn mower. Moose is back! Moose is back! She runs outside and stands in front of the moving lawn mower – Margaret, have you lost your mind? Did you forget about your dad and the accident? – until he stops. She says she has something to tell him and that is that he, Moose, is a liar! She doesn’t believe he ever went with Laura Danker behind the A&P! Moose is confused. Who says he did? Margaret starts to explain, then stops.

Moose shook his head at me. “You always believe everything you hear about other people?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to say.

Moose kept talking. “Well, next time, don’t believe it unless you see it! Now if you’ll move out of my way, I’ve got things to do!”

Poor Margaret. She’s sorry for accusing Moose. He continues to mow the lawn and I hope that Margaret has learned a lesson, namely, to disbelieve everything Nancy says.

Margaret is so glad Moose is not a liar after all, and she’s happy he cuts their grass. She goes to the bathroom – and she has gotten her period! She calls her mom and they both start to cry. Her little girl, growing up! Her mom had her suspicions – probably from all the crying – and had packed supplies in the camp trunk just in case. Margaret admits that she bought some a while ago at the drugstore, and they have a good laugh about it. Most of all, Margaret is happy that she’s normal and is not going to lead a non-menstruating life after all.

She ends up talking to God, who she’s shunned for the past little while. “Are you still there God? It’s me Margaret. I know you’re there God.”

And that’s when Margaret gets it, that God is there for her and not just in a temple or church.

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.

OH MY GOD, MARGARET, JUST OPEN THE CARD ALREADY.

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!