Alice in Wonderland
So I was, like all other women I know and those millions I do not, a girl way back in the day. I was a girl, much like my ten year old daughter is currently. Inhabiting a girl's body (though hers is rapidly changing with each passing second) and inhabiting a girl's mind and sense of self.
Being a girl for me- I suppose one of the lucky ones- was pretty awesome. As it is apparently for my daughter. Being a girl meant for me that I was spunky. That I was fired up---- ready to go. That I had possibility to attend to in every day, and that every day contained possibility for me. It was a very harmonious contract I had inked with Life at that point. We both owed each other about the same thing, and we both delivered on our promises most of the time.
Being a girl meant for me that I was not yet the object of masculine desire. Nor did I wish to be. I certainly remember having thin-spun cotton candy crushes on young boys in my elementary school days. But nothing so substantial as to become a relationship, certainly nothing to spend hours pining over, worrying about, fretting upon when it was over, or comparing and contrasting to my girlfriends' similar more substantial nubile romantic relationships. No-- that was all yet to come in middle school.
Being a girl at this point meant my pinings for boys were fun and ethereal and Now N Later Green Apple sweet. Colored rich and solidly like Disney movies- like Cinderella's blue gown, like Snow White's black hair and ruby lips. But similarly unreal- made of the stuff of dreams and imagination, and ultimately harmless. Vague and wispy. Easily shoved aside upon awakening to a crisp fall morning of felled leaves ready to be raked in a pile and jumped into. Or a lone sprinkler on a summer day sitting idly- begging to be turned on and tumbled through, over and over again. My Star Wars trading cards held more sway over me to sift through and organize yet again. My Nancy Drew books beckoned on weekends.
I was a happy, happy girl. Second fastest at the 50 yard dash in the whole school (and that included the boys.) President of the Student Council. Second top seller of Girl Scout cookies in my Girl Scout troop. I was the lead in the school play. I even won the spelling bee my last year in elementary school! (The controversy simmered for days after because in order to spell correctly, I had to write the words in air with my finger, which, understandably, the second and third place students thought should have been a disqualifying move....) I kinda had it all sewn up. Life was good.
But then I grew up.
Then, like all girls do, I grew up. I drank the bottle which said "Drink Me" and I fell down the well and ended all topsy-turvy on the ground below- bigger and smaller and more disoriented than I had yet felt in my life. Suddenly, staying at home reading my books for hours on end didn't hold as much interest for me because it was deemed sort of "nerdy" by the people I so wanted to hang out with- to impress. I no longer felt Life was consistently meeting her part of our bargain- possibility seemed suddenly shut down as I no longer had control over what made me happy. I wanted new things, and they had to do with other people, and turns out, other people have other ideas about what they want and...it was all very confusing... because I had just been at the top of the world... and life had just been awesome and I had been awesome and....
In short. I too hit puberty.
Now, before I go too far here, I must let you know why I decided to write about this topic. The reason I chose to aim my little boat down this oft navigated river is two-fold: First--- as I sat five days ago in front of my computer, Spotifying the soundtrack to my on-screen experience, the Bill Evans Trio started up with Disney's theme to "Alice In Wonderland." (I was in a jazz cat mood that day.) And out of nowhere I grind to a screeching keyboard halt, sigh a tremendous sigh, and let the tears fall softly down my face. I am crying to Alice In Wonderland.
The other thing that happened to me not 12 hours hence, was that I got in a fabulous conversation with a friend- a fellow fencing parent, if you must know.
(Her daughter and my daughter both take class with the same amazingly Eastern-European fencing teacher who mutters priceless things to me like "ugh...White people" when I tell her Jo won't be coming to Saturday's lesson because we're spending the weekend in our Ojai house with family.)
Anyway- so, co-fencing parent Cara and I are sitting there vaguely watching our daughters' lesson and the conversation turns to her new book that's just been published. (Another writer friend- just published weeks ago. What are the odds.) And I knew she was a renowned pediatrician, but I did not know she also penned How-To books on health and raising children. Well, turns out, my friend, Cara Natterson not only has this fantastic blog and website called Worry Proof MD.com But she has also been tapped by American Girl (yes- the hugely successful doll and book company) to rewrite their girl health guide called "The Care and Keeping of You" which was initially published in the early nineties and needed some upgrading. Which she just did. And which is now out on shelves-- well on Amazon-- and is kind of burning up the charts. Check it out here
Because, you see, some of it is about basic health, like, how to wipe correctly, how to really brush your teeth, all the way up to - when to buy a training bra. But more of it is about getting your period for the first time, peer pressure, how your body changes, and the shifting swirl of feelings accompanying all that stuff. It became clear to me that the underpinning of this book seemed to align with me crying at the computer listening to Alice in Wonderland. This is a guide book to help girls through at least some of the confusing parts of becoming a young woman- in other words, of LEAVING THE GIRL YOU BEHIND.
And boy, I gotta say, that girl stuff goes FAST. Burned through it once myself back in the 70's and early 80's. Now I find myself holding tight as I stand helpless at the sidelines while my 10.5 year old daughter whirls her way through her first hormone surges causing erratic corn chip binges, crying jags and non-contextual shoutings at family members. She is slowly morphing from the "How are you today, Jo? "ME? I'm awesome, Mom. Life is awesome." kid to the necessary evil two-faced creature who can still hold the "I'm awesome" stance, but only half the time. Because the other half seems to be all about discovering, though FALSELY, that she is imperfect and not totally awesome and therefore ashamed.
And I can do nothing but be there for her. And hold her when she's sad. And talk to her when she needs to process and allows me to be part of it. And push back when she tests the boundaries and tries to break the rules.
But I can't go through this for her. She has to have her own fall from grace- down down down into the rabbit hole. Into the pit of weird psychedelic hormone weirdness. To play a game of chess she can never win with a ruthless despot queen. To have tea with odd deadbeat hairy rabbits wearing hats, only to never get served. To be ogled over and over again by a strange fat cat who disappears and reappears whenever he wants to. (Ok, so I know this is more Disney than Lewis Carroll, but still.) She has to discover her path through puberty.
And I'm sure this is why I broke into tears upon hearing the lovely sweet tune that accompanies the credit roll of that interesting though strange Disney movie only roughly based in Lewis Carroll's monumental drug-soaked trip of a story about a girl named Alice. I was weeping for my daughter. And I was weeping for me.
However you slice it, Alice goes through a transformation. As does every one of us, girl and boy, from childhood into young adulthood- crossing over the "Puberty" bridge. That treacherous wooden planked contraption strung precariously over some 80-foot-drop gulley below. And this like all transformations, is new and untested territory. And will chafe and hurt and pull. And though none of us asked for it, all of us will get it- all of us will have to walk this bridge.
I'm grateful to be parenting in a time when my kid has a lot of resources to help her through this transformation-- at school, at home, in her social circle. I'm honored to know the co-author of this new and highly acclaimed guide to girl's health during this time of change.
And I suppose I will always be the bag of skin and bones who will sit weeping in front of her computer at a little sweep-y, swaying melodic tune like "Alice in Wonderland." Because I'm both in love with my own sweet daughter-- hopeful that her way toward womanhood can be paved smoothly-- and in a twist of melancholy fate, missing that other little girl named Holly who used to be so so awesome back in her own day.