by Christy Gualtieri
You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to be twelve years old again.
Just before dinnertime one day last week, I decided to take my son to the park. As he was having a turn on the swings, a group of tweens came riding through on their bikes. The group, made up of a few boys and one girl, were discussing plans to Triple D their “old lady” neighbor. I smiled to myself, thinking “kids will be kids.” I remember discussing “Ding Dong Ditching” with my brothers and cousins too – although our plots to actually do it never got past the planning stages – we were far too chicken for ringing someone’s doorbell and running away.
“We don’t want to do that,” one of the boys told her. “We don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
“If you’re not my friend,” she told them snottily, “You can’t have my snacks.”
I shook my head inwardly, struck by how well I remembered those negotiating years of middle and high school – figuring out how to get my peers to like me, having convictions but deciding which would need to fall by the wayside so I could feel accepted.
I picked my son up off the swings, and he bounded off toward the slides. As we walked past, the group began to scatter. Thinking they were leaving, I pointed out that one of them had left their iPhone under a swing.
“Ugh, that’s mine,” the girl whined. “Give it to me,” she directed her brother. He rode over on his bike and picked it up from the ground. They circled together in a sort of “bike huddle,” and as I watched my son climb and play, I found myself hoping they weren’t talking about me.
We left a short time later – the tweens had relocated to the street, where they rode their bikes in lazy circles. As I got into my side of the car, the girl left the pack and rode her bike around me. “Bye, Jessica!” she said. Thinking she confused me with another mom, I told her my name wasn’t Jessica.
She just looked at me, and repeated, “Bye, Jessica..”
I shrugged and half-smiled as I got into the car and started the engine.
“BYE, JESSICA!” She screamed behind me as I drove away.
On the way home, I stewed. The incident led me to remember how I used to feel when I was their age: like I didn’t fit, and like I would never fit in. I said the wrong thing all the time; I liked to read; I barely spoke to anyone. I didn’t have many friends, and while I had worked so hard to grow out of that awkward phase, it seemingly took just a few minutes to undo all of that work. I obviously wasn’t seeking to “fit in” with this particular group of kids, but I was surprised by how much their approval meant to me.
Maybe if I was more authoritative, I told myself. Maybe if I carried myself more like an adult, I would’ve gotten more respect. Maybe if I made more of an effort to dress older than I do (jeans and Converse sneakers doesn’t exactly scream “34 years-old”), then maybe she wouldn’t have been so nasty. Maybe if I was taller, or knew how to talk to her…
Maybe I just needed to stop.
Maybe she was just being twelve. I don’t remember acting so insolent toward adults when I was that age, but I sure thought that way, sometimes. It would take me decades to learn how to be comfortable with myself. Maybe, just maybe, she was trying to do the same.
It wasn’t the best way to act, but it’s all part of figuring it out.
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at openthoseojos.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!