I have always loved words. I grasped the concept of reading at the age of three and I never looked back. Through the bright afternoons of my childhood and the impossibly dark years of puberty and college, reading provided me with a way to escape, an avenue of avoidance. My life has never been so bad, but I did have a lot to avoid.
That early grasp of language earned me a boot uphill, out of kindergarten and into the first grade. Academically I was more than ready, and it feels sometimes that I got average grades in school simply because I was always three steps ahead of where the rest of the class was learning, and so distractible if I couldn't be challenged, that I just got bored and stopped trying. Academics were never really the issue, but social skills were for most of my childhood the crisis du jour. Its one thing to say that I was a precocious little girl who easily got along with most adults and never met a stranger. Its another to say that I had, then and now, difficulty making friends within my peer group. Then, it was hard to be the child who wasn't socially mature, who was sensitive, who cried easily. Whether it was that they sensed in me an easy type of prey or whether they resented me for being smart or just because they loathed me on sight, the girls in my classes from elementary school all the way up were not kind to me. I had few friends, none of them from my class in school. The older I got and the more aware of it I was, the worse it felt.
When I started fifth grade we had a new teacher at my school. She and I did not click well, she seemed to resent the time that I was pulled from her class for advanced learning modules, and I didn't have any respect for her. I sensed clearly that she did not like me, and I simply refused to perform. My mother met with the teacher a few times, and then with the principal. When it became clear that we were going nowhere fast, my mom applied to the district to put me in a different school.
This meant Mom had to pick me up and drop me off at school every day, but apparently she felt this was worth the effort.
It was in fifth grade that I started to develop, somewhat. I got my first bra that year.
They didn't make stretchy little cotton training bras back in 1975. They made torture ensembles of heavy straps and heavy cups, or so it seemed to me. But I was proud of my new bra. I thought it made me very grown up.
My first day at my new school with my new bra, I showed it to one of the girls in the bathroom. "What size is it?" she asked. "32A," I proudly replied.
That was the last moment I was proud of my boobs for a number of years. Because the minute I walked out of the girls bathroom into the hallway and onto the playground for recess, my new classmates had cleverly concocted a little chant just for my benefit:
Roses are red, Violets are blue - Mary wears a bra sized THIRTY TWO!
I wanted the pavement to crack open and swallow me whole. I spent recesses for the next few weeks inside the classroom or in the library, reading books and making every effort to escape my classmates. They would find me, though, and the chanting would begin, until I think finally some teachers and playground duties cracked the whip and the taunting stopped.
By the time I started my first menstrual cycle in junior high I knew WAY better than to tell anyone.
Of course, it wasn't easy to hide those bulky kotex pads that you had to pin inside of your underwear. It would have been less obvious to wear a diaper. Fortunately by then, most of us girls were menstruating and the girls that weren't didn't want to make it obvious that the rest of us were more "mature" than they were, so they kept their mouths shut. We were all old enough to be horribly embarrassed by our rapidly changing bodies, and topics of menstruation and "female things" were mercifully left untouched. Besides, there were plenty of other things to find fault with.
Thankfully I've recovered from the horror of those early days of development. I've learned to appreciate my bosom and to not feel embarrassed when other people (visibly, verbally, whatever) appreciate it too.
Two weeks ago my daughter came home from her dad's wearing a cute new outfit. The top has patterned sleeves and a hoodie, but the part over her chest and torso are thin white cotton. Looking at her twirl and preen in front of the mirror, I was smiling under my hand when the awful realization struck me. I wanted to throw up.
My baby girl needs a bra.
Its different for her, thankfully. She's not the first one in her class, not by far, and the selection of bras for budding girls is by far superior than what we had available to us thirty-odd years ago.
We went shopping. She picked out three - one gray, one pink, one turquoise. She looks adorable. Not once has she come home in tears having been teased by her peers for wearing one.
Do you know what's more traumatic than being teased for wearing a bra to school?
Being the mother of a girl who is now old enough to need a bra.