Some friends of ours have a daughter who is reaching That Age. You remember that age--that magic age when being seen in public with a parent is suddenly the most humiliating thing you could possibly experience, second only to being seen in public with both parents.
Being seen with a father was marginally less excruciating than being seen with a mother, but only marginally.
Of course it's important that we all go through this age; it's part of growing up and becoming independent, and without it we would all live with our parents forever, who would be living with their parents, and our own children would never move out, either, and it would get very crowded in the house, and who could live with so many relatives for so long without going insane and killing them, and the murder rate would skyrocket.
So. That Age is a good thing. But it's painful nonetheless; our friend expressed a little regret and said thank goodness they have another child, not yet self-conscious, who they can still play with.
I remember That Age clearly. It came upon me all at once, the year I was 12. Up until then, it had been a privilege and an honor to be singled out from the masses (remember; I had nine siblings) and taken for a little excursion alone with a parent. To the grocery store! Fun! To J.C. Penney's so my mother could buy some underwear! Lucky me! To the dairy to buy our daily supply of eight bottles of milk! Just Guv and me! Hooray!
And then I turned 12 and I was at J.C. Penney with my mother and I saw some classmates from school, there on their own, giggling as they flipped through a rack of blouses, not a parent in sight, and BAM. Everything changed. I knew I could not be seen with my mother, and I knew this was the last time I was tagging along with her, and I knew that I had to do what I could to get us out of there now, unseen.
So I started whining. I was a master whiner. I knew to what grating pitch to set my voice, and I had down to a science the precise number of undulations and vowel-stretches that would make my mother's eyes widen and then narrow and would get her out of Penneys.
"Let's gooooooooooooooooooo. I'm borrrrrrrrrreeeeeeddd." All the while hiding behind a shelf of longjohns and hoping my classmates wouldn't spot me.
A few days later, I was flipping through some teen magazine or another, and I found a piece about shopping for clothes: How to do it. The girls in the story were given money from their parents and went downtown on their own and bought plaid skirts and navy-blue sweaters and cable-knit knee socks. And my eyes were opened.
I didn't need clothes. I didn't yet really care about clothes. But the act of getting money, going downtown, wandering through Glass Block, and picking stuff out -- all by myself-- now that was appealing.
So I went to my mother and asked if I could have twenty dollars to buy clothes.
"What do you need?" she asked. "What's wrong with that sweater we gave you for your birthday?"
This, of course, was not the point. I was a verbal girl, growing up in a verbal household, a house filled with books and magazines and newspapers, but somehow I was unable to put the words together to explain that I was looking not for clothes, really, but for an independent and adventurous experience.
Instead, I said, "Never mind," trying my best to imply, through tone, that she was clueless and insane, and slunk out of the room.
My parents figured it out, sort of. They still thought I wanted clothes, but they understood that I didn't want to shop for them with my mother. Remember, they had six other kids who had already gone through This Magic Age.
So my mother sent me downtown to shop. With my father.
Yes, it is slightly less excruciating to shop with your father when you are 12. But only slightly less. And fathers--at least, my father--had a peculiar fashion sense. Where my mother wanted to dress me in Amish-like baggy plaid dresses with peter pan collars, my father kind of liked the vixen look. We came home, after an excruciating expedition at Glass Block, where fortunately I did not run into any classmates, with a lime-green miniskirt and a wide navy blue vinyl belt.
I had not really wanted any clothes in the first place, and I seriously did not want those clothes. I must have worn the skirt from time to time, because new clothes were damn rare in that house and were not to be taken lightly--even hideous, age-inappropriate new clothes.
But you can bet that that trip cured me of asking for money and seeking independence.
From then on, I did it on my own. A year later, I got a job that required my going downtown every day after school alone. And with the money that I earned, I finally had the right to buy my own clothes. By myself.
A note on the photos: The black and white is my mother and me, before I grew ashamed. The others are Google images.
58 minutes ago