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Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Reflections from a
Recovered Teenage Girl

Nobody is more judgmental than a pre-adolescent girl. Your average young female has ideas about the right way to look, act, speak; her standards are exact and unforgiving. Your average adolescent female makes Vlad the Impaler seem as all-embracing as Oprah.

And Im not talking about Other People here; Im not discussing this topic from a completely disinterested, objective perspective. Im talking about it as an erstwhile girl.

How should I put this? I was not what you might call overwhelmingly nice as a young person. Want to know whats even scarier? When I was a kid, I was actually nicer than most of the other girls I knew.

I wouldnt have qualified as a Queen Bee -- too nerdy -- but I definitely liked a certain amount of buzz in my life. I was fascinated by the foibles and disasters of other peoples lives. I looked at everybody and noticed every detail when they made a bad choice, acted in an embarrassing way, or screwed up generally. It made me breathe a little easier when examining my own flaws and missteps, of course, but it also provided a kind entertainment usually associated with the gutter-press.

Forget about finding a younger self who would welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of eccentricities or idiosyncrasies; forget about seeing myself as an innocent, sweet, naive girl. My comments would make Joan Rivers at the Oscars seem generous. I wasnt exactly a miniature Mother Theresa. I was more of a miniature Nancy Grace.

When reading through my old diaries, I was horrified by what I wrote in the green-lined notebooks from sixth and seventh grades. These are, in essence, a catalog of judgments about everyone Id ever met. This is not good news.

I never would have remembered how fierce I was in my assessments of those mortals who had the nerve to parade past my all-seeing eyes had I not written it down. Unapologetic, I flung judgments as if I were a queen disappointed by her subjects. Those cheap little spiral notebooks are full of detailed, snarky, vituperative commentary. Not exactly the princess diaries.

I was, for example, horribly embarrassed by mother, a French-Canadian immigrant. Poor Maman; did she know what I was thinking? I made promises on nearly every page --promises to myself that I would never be as awful as my mom. For example, my mother dared -- dared! -- to go out into the world wearing lipstick and eyebrow-defining pencil but not mascara. Can you believe it?

(Remember that in those days mascara came not from easy-twist wands but from a little red box with a separate brush? The application of Maybelline was messy and took effort, meaning it was simpler to throw on a pair of dark glasses, which is what my mother usually did.)

Actually my mother probably looked pretty hip, when I think about it, with her black raincoat, dark glasses, dark eyebrows, and scarlet lipstick. She sort of looked like Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoon. But other mothers had dyed-blond hair in beehive hairdos. They wore pale-peach lipstick. They wore huge fake eyelashes, which might have made them look as if they had giant spiders crawling over their eyeballs but at least they were making, well, an effort. My mother was just going her own way, doing what she wanted to do. In my queendom, such independence was improper.

I used to walk ten paces behind her so that nobody would guess we were related.

And my teachers? They came under scrutiny at least as careful -- and twice as exacting.

Not all my teachers, of course, just the lady ones.

The male ones were not even worth examining (except for Mr. Frisco because he was cute -- his was the only math class in which I ever did well). Male teachers were so few as to be considered sui generis [one of a kind]; if they sported the same checkered jackets and light-blue shirts, the same gray pants, the same brown shoes, then they had merely set their own incomparable styles.

But if a lady teacher wore the same dress twice in a week, we considered her either dotty or slutty. Why on Earth would she do that? Was she too lazy to get her clothes cleaned or did she just leave the dress at her (giggle, snort) boyfriends place the last time she spent the (giggle, shhhh) night there? Surely she spent as much time as we did picking out clothes for the week? Surely she knew we examined her from her toes Were the shoes new or worn down? Were her stockings the old-lady opaque kind or the sheer ones? to the top of her head Did she color her hair? Did she use curlers? Did she skip the wash and use Psssssst [instant spray shampoo] instead?.

If a teacher had a crooked tooth, lingering dandruff, or unsightly sweat-stains (as if there are sightly ones...), then that eclipsed all other data. In my junior high, one teacher with a droopy eyelid became known as Dead-Eye Donna. Even when she won a considerable sum on a lottery, we didnt change her nickname to Rich Donna or Lucky Donna or anything else vaguely flattering. She was Dead Eye forever (she retired early).

I promised myself that if I became a teacher, Id always look perfect. Now that I am a teacher, I just want to look clean. More or less, anyway.

If theres anything to karma, Im in big trouble. The hallway to hell will be lined with gum-chewing little -- and not so little -- girls. And, for my sins, Ill be there without a friend, without a mirror, without mascara, and within sight of a kid whos writing everything down in her notebook.

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Article by Regina Barreca
Education World®
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