One peek into the cafeteria was all it took.
I could see us – five or six eighth grade girls huddled around a lunch table, frantically finishing our algebra homework for Mr. Robinson’s class. His system wasn’t fair – we were graded on correct answers, not effort – so every equation had to be solved perfectly.
Marge, the lunch lady, is yelling at someone, calling her “Ladybug,” or some other odd endearment. Rochelle is generously sharing her homework while simultaneously combining lunch leftovers into some vile new concoction.
We are thirteen, and we care how we look and how we smell and whether that cute boy noticed our nonchalant glance during gym class.
I have a clarinet.
I have a locker, and a locker partner named Linda who gets permed hair before I do.
I have a white five-speed bicycle that I ride to school.
I have a crush on a boy named Mike, but, when asked, I deny it.
I returned today as an adult, as a teacher for a two-hour community education class – merely a visitor.
As I walked up the steps to the second floor classrooms, it all came flooding back. Turn right, and there’s my old locker. Not the actual one, but that’s where it was. There’s Mrs. Resnick’s room – the language arts teacher who knew I was a writer, even in sixth grade. She is knitting something balanced on her ample bosom. She is why the word bosom was invented.
Science was this direction. Social studies over there. I am sure that the classroom where I taught today was the room where Mrs. Kosin taught Values Clarification. Or maybe it wasn’t.
I am caught between unreliable memories and the reality of my own thirteen-year-old daughter, the child who is both worldly and worried. The girl who can whip up a three-course dinner on her own, but who isn’t sure if the tone of her latest text is lighthearted enough. The child who tells me one moment that camp was heaven, and the next says she wasn’t sure who was really her friend.
The girl who believes that contact lenses are the answer to her prayers. The one with the dazzling smile, who writes like a dream, and made me cry during her final reading at Interlochen Arts Camp.
Sometimes it feels like I am my children, or that they are me, planted back in my life thirty years later. Of course this is ridiculous. My daughter is as different from me as she is similar. But in a few weeks she will begin eighth grade, and there is nothing I can do to save her from the glorious confusion.