catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 18 :: 2011.10.14 — 2011.10.27


Cool girls and the chip mix

When I was in junior high, the cool girls sat at a lunch table by themselves.

Every day, Jodi and Teresa and Dianne and Cindy would huddle together in the all-purpose room of Wolcott Junior High School, chatting and giggling with secrets that only they shared. And every noon, each girl purchased a different type of Jay’s potato chips or cheese popcorn. They would unfold a napkin and pour the contents into one glorious mix. I would watch them as they tossed their perfect, shoulder length hair, laughing at the inside jokes that only they shared, while tossing cheesy popcorn into their mouths.

I was not at that table. Junior high was a tough time for me. I was too skinny and too smart. I didn’t wear the right clothes or listen to the right music. I owned only two albums: The Sound of Music and Barry Manilow’s Even Now.

In the lunch room, I would sit somewhere off to the side. The girls at my table were the ordinary and the outcasts, looking up over our plain paper sack lunches with envy. If only we could be a part of their clique — if only we could take part in that chip mix.

As an adult, the differences between me and those girls seem insignificant. All it would cost, really, is the price of a bag of potato chips. But, in junior high, mediating the minefields of girlhood friendships was never easy. In her novel Cat’s Eye, author Margaret Atwood describes the sometimes troubling relationships of girls: “Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence, I was the opposite. I relaxed. I sighed with relief. Little girls are small and cute only to grown-ups. To each other they are life sized.”

As grown women, we often reminisce about our childhood friends. Many of us had a best friend, someone we confided in and played alongside: from swing sets to Barbies to trying on our older sister’s mascara. But most of us can also remember the pain of girlhood friendships: the cliques, the snobbery, the bossy girls who led the pack and decided who belonged and who should be excluded.

In fourth grade, my daughter entered this scene. She was best friends with one girl in her class. She also had an “enemy light.” This girl did not like my daughter and made her feelings perfectly clear with sarcastic comments and rolled eyes. I kept giving my daughter advice: try to kill her with kindness, I suggested; or, ignore her and she’ll stop. Nothing worked. We prayed about the situation. She often came home in tears. Then the ultimate betrayal happened. The mean girl convinced my daughter’s BFF to turn against her. Other girls joined the exclusion. Suddenly my daughter was alone in the world of female hurt, and I was powerless against it.

I called the teacher, who read the whole class a story about being caring and friendly to those in need. It did little good. It took time to lessen the hurt, and my daughter learned some lessons from it. She learned to not put all of her friendship in any one person. She also learned that girls can be cruel to one another.

I encouraged her to not be that kind of girl, to not be that kind of woman.

Thankfully, that year passed. My daughter entered a new school and bonded with a group of girls who are not the most popular, but are friendly and funny. They share a common interest in Japanese anime and Harry Potter. They laugh at the same jokes and sit together at a lunch table. My daughter no longer feels like an outsider, but I’ve cautioned her to remember what it feels like to be alone, to look around her for someone who needs a friend.

Friendships teach us about who we are, and sometimes, about who we do not want to be. Through our friendships we are validated, but problems with friends can teach something as well. Rough moments like the ones my daughter experienced can teach us how to stand alone. The times when friends turn their backs or even actively exclude us can teach us who we are. They force us to dig deep and to discover things like strength, resilience and pride.

I can now say two things with confidence: I am grateful that I am done with junior high, and I am thankful for the good friends I have found since.  They make me feel like one of the “cool chip girls” at last.

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