Friday, July 2, 2010

Toughskin Bitch

When I was in Middle School designer jeans were all the rage! If you were anyone, you had Gloria Vanderbilts, Calvin Kleins, Jordache or Ooh La La Sasson jeans. Some girls in my class had multiple pairs and were able to paint on a fresh, clean pair everyday of the week. Others only had a couple pairs – but wore them with pride as often as possible. And still others, just had a single pair, perhaps even just a lucky hand-me down, but nonetheless they were able to parade around the halls haughtily wearing their denim gold.

I had none.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want them. Nor was it because of a lack of begging and pleading with my parents – because I whined about it like a champion. But my mother simply could not see paying hundreds of dollars (ok, it was probably only $50…but I remember them costing a virtual fortune) for jeans that I would grow out of in less than a year. And so, I was one of the only non-designer-jean-wearing girls in my class.

As I started Middle School, in my *gasp* Toughskin jeans, I was not too concerned about the jean craze. All through the previous grade, I was close friends with Lisa* and Jen* and as we entered middle school, our camaraderie continued. As in most schools, lunchtime was an important hour filled with social goodness! The three of us chatted, gossiped, flirted, hung out, met kids from the other elementary schools and our circle of friends grew. I was a part of a fun group of friends and was enjoying my first year in middle school – even without the designer duds.

One day sometime in the early spring, just before heading to lunch, I stopped at my locker and found a note. After briefly scanning the two pages and noticing that it was not signed, I grabbed the anonymous note, ran into the bathroom, and in a stall, I scoured over the words. The note, in a familiar handwriting, told me that I “was not needed or wanted at our lunch table” and ended by calling to me a “Toughskin Bitch!”

I do not remember exactly what happened during the remainder of that day, but I do know that I was hurt and confused. The next couple of days I feigned sickness and stayed home. I remember comparing the words on the note to other notes that I had from Lisa, and wondered if she had written those words. Not wanting to believe it, I called Lisa and, in my fifth-grade-way, confronted her. She denied it. But I knew the truth. The handwriting was too similar.

Sometime during my days home from school, I told my mother the gist of what had happened. She listened, allowed me to be sad and empathized for me.

And, we went shopping.

She stuck with her refusal to buy designer jeans, but she understood that Toughskins were just simply uncool and we found a compromise.

The next day I returned to school, in my new Lee jeans and never sat at that lunch table or wore Toughskins again. I was welcomed to another table and began to integrate into a new circle of friends.

Until high school graduation, Lisa and Jen were still peripherally in my life. We were involved in similar extracurricular activities and had mutual friends. When we found ourselves together, we would politely ignore each other and move on. While the pain dulled, I always felt a twinge of sadness and confusion about the end of the friendship. I could not believe that denim had anything to do with the falling out, but I had no idea what did.

I also do not think that Lisa and Jen were “mean girls”. They were not regularly cruel, unkind, or nasty to others. I am not sure why, on that spring day in fifth grade, it was decided to eradicate me from their circle of friends. But it happened. And, as they say, that’s life.

I was impacted by the incident. My self-esteem was bruised and my confidence in friendships was challenged, but it did not scar me for life. Throughout high school, college, grad school, and my various jobs I made friends easily.

So today, almost 30 years later, I think back to that incident and am reminded how painful growing up can be. But I also know that such experiences build character and teach important lessons. In August, as my oldest son heads off to full-day kindergarten, I know that his influences and lessons are becoming more and more communal. His teachers, peers, and others are going to make their marks on his life and I can not prevent the bumps and bruises that happen along the way.

And that is scary.

But, what I do know is that I can listen and be there for him, and hopefully help him figure out the best way to apply bandages, use medicine, and heal from those character building experiences.

*names have been changed.

Recent Comments