I am still trying to figure this one out. Everything was going fine. I’d get up, have my Cheerios, go to school, suffer, come home, go to soccer practice or ride my bike around Virgin Islands Court. It wasn’t like a light switch, but it was close enough.
“Katie, I think it’s time for you to start wearing bra,” my mom announced one day, completely without warning. A bra?! That’s a terrible thing to say to a twelve-year old. Why? What’s wrong with me? I stood before my mother, pointing at my flat chest.
We went to the Macy’s junior department. My mother explained to the sales lady with big hair (big hair was the only hair style option in the 80s) my situation.
“Oh, I see, so you’re looking for perhaps the training bra variety?”
You’re telling me my boobs need practice?
It got worse from there. My mom gave me the critiques of all critiques: “Riding your bike is immature.” My mother, the racecar driver, told me this. So wait a minute. You’re telling me you can’t come to my soccer games because you have to go drive your little car around orange cones all day, but I’m being immature? Earth to Mom: at least I’m thirteen years old.
I knew better at that time to listen to her, though. It was going to take a lot to get me to conform to what seemed like the most twisted values I’d ever heard of. I had no idea where my mother got these demented ideas.
I forgot to add that a year’s time had gone by from the training bra incident to the “it’s immature to ride your bike outside” announcement.
I also forgot to tell you about the Barbie Styling Head. This is a life size plastic model of a human head, the perfect training tool for little girls struggling with the art of proper cosmetics application. This was my mom’s idea. Did I tell you that my own mother never wore make up? My own mother kept her hair really short and wore comfortable shoes, the bain of any high-maintenance woman’s existence. My mom was a jock. She played tennis twice a week and before all that, she was a ski bum in the Rockies. And she was a racecar driver.
And this woman was telling me I needed to grow up.
I cannot deny that this change was all around me. All the girls in the neighborhood who were once my friends became different people. They became boring, and moody, too. The word “like” needlessly entered their lexicon, where they would say, “Like, oh my gawd” when a simple “Oh my gawd” would suffice. They never went outside and had yet somehow mastered walking in high-heeled platform shoes. They would only be nice to you given the proper circumstances, i.e. they either wanted something from you or no one else was around. They curled their hair every morning. You just did not go outside if you never curled your hair.
Ever so slowly, I fell for the subliminal marketing. I started curling my hair. Anything to avoid the wrath at school. But it was a battle. True, riding your bike can mess up your hair, but boy is it fun hopping curbs. I really liked using the driveway curbs for flying my bike into the air. Who wouldn’t want to do this? If I could just show them how great this can be, maybe they’d lighten up.
Then one day, my mom gave me the worst news: “The neighbors are talking about you. They say you’re chasing boys on your bicycle. You’re getting a bad reputation.”
I went from a free spirited daredevil to neighborhood slut in just one summer. I was angered hearing this, but the thought of the neighborhood thinking I was a slut was enough for me to park the bicycle in the garage for good. How I loved that bicycle. I didn’t ride again until college, when all of us on the swim team bought cheap Costco mountain bikes and Brigitte and I started chasing the boys. At least there’s a happy ending.