Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It ain't easy being a Tween...

So, this was me in 5th, 6th 7th and 8th grades. My official school portraits. I was young for my grade, so I’m 10, 11 and 12 here. I haven’t seen these pictures in years but I recently had my parents scan some prints and email them to me. I was adorable. I was skinny, blond, and had that gorgeous California tan, thanks to my mother’s love of the beach and my parents’ very forgiving skin tones I inherited. I’m surprised by how happy I look; how goofy I’m willing to act.

My memories of this time are not pleasant. I remember having a tough time fitting in with my classmates. I was in the ‘gifted’ class, but I was definitely what I like to call the ”dumb side of the smart kids.” I was intimidated by the level of intelligence that was in my classroom each day. I knew I wouldn’t ever be the best on any given subject so I did well enough and started settling for B’s instead of the straight A’s I had gotten in the primary grades.  The other kids in my grade avoided us “nerdy dorks.” Many of them were mean and refused to play with us at recess. I worked hard not to look too smart or too dumb, depending on where I was on the playground. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be liked. It was a lot of stress… although I didn’t know there was a word for it, yet. I do remember kicking butt at four square and hand ball, so I had that going for me. Until I got so good that no one wanted to play with me any more. Or maybe it was my competitive attitude… not a good quality for a girl to have back then…. And sometimes even now.

You’d think that with my competitive streak, sports would be my thing. Not so much. I finally tried sports in 5th grade. Soccer. Of course the majority of the girls on my team had been playing since preschool, so I didn’t exactly find my niche there, either.

I was also psychologically bullied in the way only adolescent girls can be bullied by adolescent girls.
I had to “prove” I was cool enough to be a part of the “cool nerdy dorks” group, and worked for what seemed like forever to be cool enough. I tried to perfect my makeup techniques with the baby blue eye shadow and clear (clear?!) mascara my mom allowed me to have. I fretted over my outfits. I tried to say “cool” things and be funny in a “cool way.” I finally got into the group, only to be told a few weeks later that, after getting to really know me, I definitely wasn’t cool enough, and was consequently ejected from the group. Now I had nowhere to sit at lunch and wasn’t invited to the sleepovers that seemed to happen every weekend. Of course, I would tell myself now that “these are not your real friends and that your real friends are out there. That you’ll collect them along the way, at every stop you make from high school to college; from Florida to Japan.” But at 10, 11 and 12, waiting another year, ten or 30 just seemed like a long time to be miserable.

In 7th grade, I found a series of nasty notes in my locker, from an unknown source who clearly hated everything about me. I never did find out who that was. In 9th grade I was thrown up against my PE locker by an upperclassman, demanding to know who I thought I was for talking s#!t about her. I didn’t even know who she was. I had never seen her before, much less talked about her. I never did come to understand what that whole episode was all about. Each of these is a vivid memory for me. The gut-wrenching breath-taking-but-not-in-a-good-way feeling of dread that washes over you in an instant and leaves you scrambling to understand why for months, years... hell... decades later.

Why am I telling you this? Because, while I am not raising girls, I was a girl once. And it’s not easy being a Tween. Y’know, tween… those few years before you’re actually 13 and a teenager. Where everything in life seems to be changing. You can see in one of these pictures that I am playing with my Glamor Gal cruise ship while sporting a perm that never did take right. It’s that awkward age between girlhood and womanhood where you feel anything but smart and pretty and strong and capable. My parents took these pictures of me, and loved them, but they’re my parents. Of course they think I’m cute and smart and funny. That’s their job. They have to think those things. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those things are true… said my tween mind.

Of course, my parents were right (please don’t tell them), I can see that now, at 40, looking at these pictures, but through my tween-colored sunglasses, I couldn’t see it. I didn’t feel those things. I felt awkward and ridiculous and uncool. My parents probably didn’t even realize the extent of it because I’ve never been one show much emotion or confide in people. I internalized it. And then, here I am writing a blog post 30 years later about it. Who needs therapy?

Because of my memories, as warped as they might have been as seen through my Tween-colored glasses, I have a special place in my heart for Tweens. It ain’t easy being a Tween. And so I am doing a special project for local Tweens. In March, I am offering free Who I Am portrait sessions for kids ages 10 to 12. Yes. FREE. And they get to keep their favorite 8x10 print from the session. I will be there to not only take the pictures, but to guide them through posing and expressions and laughter, so that they look gorgeous… smart and funny and strong. Because every girl needs to be told that from someone who isn’t her parent. Every girl needs to have an image she can look at on her worst days and remember that that person is who she really is.

Because the bullies and the self-doubt never really go away. You just learn to process it better, to shake it off. It be strong enough to reject the unwarranted criticism. Learn that mean people are scared people and that you choose to be brave. And if I can do something to help these girls to start learning how to do that when life starts getting tough, then I feel like I’d be making a difference in the world, one Tween at a time.

For more information about the Tween sessions I’m offering in March 2017, click here.