When you are 12 years old getting your periods is a big deal, along with boys you REALLY like and in my case, Twin Peaks.
That would be the haunting 90’s tv show by the way, not what I hoped to one day to fill my training bra with. However if “I must I must increase my bust” strikes a cord then read on nostalgic visitor.
While I don’t actually recall any ‘talks’ with my parents (I’ve blocked them out, sorry Mum) I do remember reading Judy Blume. Even the mention of her name takes you back doesn’t it, to a time when everything just seemed simpler, despite the hormonal war raging in your clueless body.
For me Blume is an author that just got what it was like to be a pre teen or ‘middle grader’, a term as delightfully American as the books themselves. I don’t remember anything else like it, her text had the ability to tantalise and comfort us at the same time. It made you feel normal, despite at times the obvious cultural references.
I have just finished reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s been about 20 years after I would have first read it and 43 years after the novel was first published. That is some crazy shit right there.
It was thoroughly enjoyable to revisit, but what smacked me right in the face was how I completely missed the gist of the story as a child. You would have thought the title would have given the 12 year old me a heads up, but to be fair I was probably distracted, trying to imagine what the hell a sanitary belt was (The updated publications have actually changed this reference to adhesive pads, totes modern).
“That’s ridiculous!” my mother said when I told her. “You know how Daddy and I feel about religion.
“You said I could choose when I grow up!”
“But you’re not ready to choose yet, Margaret!”
“I just want to try it out,” I argued. “I’m going to try a church too, so don’t get hysterical!”
“I am not hysterical! I just think it’s foolish for a girl of your age to bother herself with religion.”
Unsurprisingly it is Margaret’s parents I now identified with, and their efforts to raise their daughter free from religious influence. The book is of course about Margaret’s struggle to identify herself through a single religion. She is confused about where she fits and also has to witness the family conflict created by her Christian grandparents. They are mighty pissed that their daughter married a Jewish guy and pretty much disown her. They are also shocked that their granddaughter is denied the guilty good times found at Sunday School.
Let’s be honest, the maternal grandparents are arseholes. Sylvia however, Margaret’s Jewish grandmother, is someone you want to know more. She is warm, a little cunning but always with good intent.
“Grandma is really clever. She knew my parents would never say no to one Saturday a month at Lincoln Center. That was culture. And they thought culture was very important.”
Margaret’s parents wish for her to choose her own religion when she is ready. I suspect they hope this decision will never come. I like that Margaret confides in God, but slams organised religion. She is a savvy kid.
“I’m not any religion,” I said.
“You’re not!” Gretchen’s mouth fell open.
“What are your parents?” Janie asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“How positively neat!” Gretchen said.
What was your favourite Judy Blume book? Do you think they are still relevant for teens today?