There's a girl of thirteen who hangs out at the park I take my kids to. It's a little kid park and if big kids stop by it's usually to look cool with their buddies, talk on their phones and split. This girl does not split. And she does not hang out with friends. She is usually alone, save for a small dog that sometimes accompanies her. She is also on the heavier side, with a beautiful face and shiny brown hair.
We got to talking the other day, her swinging on the swing next to my four-year old. She was telling me about her school, one that goes from Kindergarten straight through eighth grade. She's about to finish her sixth grade year there and she wishes she could transfer to a regular junior high in the fall, somewhere she could get a fresh start. She says if she stays where she is, she will be friendless, which the way she says it, sounds exactly like lifeless, which I suppose is what she meant.
She tells me she only has a few friends, most of them boys, that one of them has dandruff and doesn't realize how truly bottom rung he is, unlike her. She says she's about two steps up from Dandruff Boy.
"At least the popular kids talk to me," she says, half-bragging, dragging her toes in the sand as she swings, altitude not her objective.
When I came home that day with my two little ones in tow, I have to say, this girl stayed on my mind. I realized it'll soon be twenty-five years since I too was a friendless thirteen-year old, not to mention scrawny and frizzy haired and flat chested to boot. I had one friend and I clung to her and she to me, our lifeboat of two on a sea of acne and insecurity. We had each other at least, braving the "Sportsnights" which were school dances where we didn't dance and no sports actually occured, except for maybe the game where everybody tries to get in everybody else's pants. Purely a spectator sport for us, our pants completely secure.
I don't forget about the girl that I was, the big geek inside me who is still shy and awkward at times, though no longer frizzy or flatchested, and rarely pimply. What I do forget is that the insecurity, the Breakfast Club-type typecasting that occurs throughout puberty and beyond, is still happening. I get caught up in the iPhones and the texting and the technology of this next generation and forget that technology does not shield these young ones from the pain of being human, of being a human in progress, finding her way in the world. Twenty-five years ago we did not have Facebook or cell phones or GPS or AOL. But we had nerds and geeks and goths and gamers and jocks and prom queens. And now, we have it all: the agony of growing up and the ability to communicate that agony, or hide from it, faster than ever.
As much as that reminder was a big, wet rain on my parade of a good life with my sweet little family, it was also good. Because I realized even though I had my first child at thirty-three, when she is thirteen I will not be clueless as to what she is going through. Even as she is complaining about how her jet pack is so last year or her hydrogen bike is the laughingstock of the seventh grade, I will get it. I will know that as much as technology solves every problem humans face, it will never solve the problem of being human.
For this, I am grateful.
Mostly because I am here, writing this and not sitting on the park swing with my toes in the sand.