Since today is my mother’s birthday, I would like to share a story with you that covers all those main life themes/milestones of youth like growing up, and becoming a woman and aging and parenting and being a girl and all of the gloriously awkward and hilarious Are you there God it’s me Margaret kind of stuff.
I am the oldest of four girls, so naturally my odyssey through adolescence is a story of firsts. The first bike with training wheels, the first bike without training wheels, the first TALK, the first unnecessary sports bra, which oddly pre-dated the first actual bra which involved the first extremely embarrassing trip to Maidenform, (for those unfamiliar it’s like a very unsexy suburban version of Victoria’s Secret where seemingly all of the undergarments are in shades of nude…it’s basically where Nuns go to buy their undergarments). This was an extremely uncomfortable yet decidedly exciting adventure from which I strode, newly a proud bra-bearing woman, bags of flesh colored, ill-fitting undergarments in tow, out into the Mall courtyard, only to be thrown back to where I belonged, at the bottom of the totem pole of 6th grade cool. As I exited the store with the decidedly chaste and well-clad mannequins on display in the window, I was immediately greeted by jeers from a very cool posse of my male classmates, donned in their jenkos and frosted tips, clearly the judge of what was and was not “cool”. They were loitering around the Limited Too, likely waiting for the girls whose moms let them wear glitter eyeshadow to appear and based on my level of absolute mortification, you would have thought I was purchasing a home pregnancy test, or working selling my body at the Food Court, or buying some sort of at-home waxing kit (that would come later) rather that just investing in a few conservative foundation pieces. These were the years when I was too shy to use my words to my advantage, so instead I just turned a purple shade of ashamed and sped walked into the nearest place of refuge.
But before the bras, and the shared cell phones and the argument over whether or not I was allowed to wear makeup (“but you don’t NEED makeup, you’re a pretty girl!” I would be told as I walked out of the house looking like what I am sure was a baby oompa loompa hooker) before all of the other arguments concerned with the becoming of a young woman, was the argument over whether or not I was allowed to shave my legs.
While I am a genetic mutt of mostly Italian and Irish descent (mix in a little English and some Hungarian and German), my features formed in a very ethnically ambiguous but decidedly dark way. This comes in handy really only in two circumstances, one when interacting with pizza men of any ethnicity who think I might blend in in the home-country throw in an extra slice or two with my order and two, when traveling in Europe I don’t immediately stick out as an American. This also means that while my wonderful blonde-haired blue eyed mother, eager to discuss all of the delightful biological changes I would be going through, she did not account for one particular aspect of puberty, that is…hair growth.
I can’t remember when all of the other girls started to shave their legs, because I, a tomboy, didn’t particularly care to add to my non-existent beauty regime. But all of a sudden, all of my peers had lovely smooth legs and I had legs that were reminiscent of the Velcro that had been en vogue for sneakers in recent years. I attended Catholic School and I remember the hairs on my leg poking through the knee socks. Knee socks, these were the bane of my existence. Laundry was, for the most part, communal for the duration of the 90’s in our house, soccer uniforms, school uniforms, t-shirts, socks, stockings, underwear all were sorted and put in giant Tupperware containers that were hidden in a hall closet. The more I describe this, the more it sounds like what I imagine a prison Laundromat to be like. Anyways, 4 of us shared a bin of the same thin navy blue knee socks; however, naturally, not all 4 of us were the same size at all. This meant that oftentimes, in the rush to get out of the door and to the corner to catch the school bus, I would be wearing one sock that arrived perfectly at my knee, and another that was more of a calf-length interpretation of the dress code. Not only was this embarrassing, and uncomfortable, but being Catholic School it was also an offense punishable by demerit, which was in turn, an offense punishable by a grounding sentence from my parents – and so, on these days I would engage in a tireless battle with the fibers of these socks, trying to stretch them to the very limits of their physical existence to a length that was disguisable as “within dress code” but all the while maintaining the integrity of the fabric’s shape and identity as a sock. Very often I managed to stop just short of ripping the sock (also an offense punishable by demerit and subsequent grounding).
Stockings were not any better, between shared sizes and mass shrinking episodes due largely to our amateur laundry skills, and also my mother’s extreme aversion to purchasing anything we would surely grow out of or poke holes in within weeks. “We do not need anymore stockings in this house, we have POUNDS of stockings!” to which we would respond that yes, there were pounds of stockings but they were stockings we had all grown out of or shrunken or ruined on a hangnail. She would then, without fail, with the powers of some sort of laundry sorting wizard, reach into the sea of stockings and pull out that one elusive unshrunken pair that was actually the appropriate size, shake it in our face with the fury of Miss Hannigan from the orphanage in Little Orphan Annie, and then disappear in another act of wizardry, likely off to balance the checkbook – something she was always doing, though I think that might have actually code for “experiment with hard liquor” or “hide in my closet to cry by myself”.
Back to the hair on my legs. It would poke through the knee highs and the stockings and I found myself longing for days when I had gym class because that meant that I wore sweatpants to school; glorious full lengthed sweatpants with elastic at the ankles, keeping the pants firmly in place and the offending hair on my legs firmly out of sight.
For whatever reason, my mother REFUSED to let me shave my legs. When I even first broached the subject, she was appalled. It was as though I asked pointedly how birth control worked after saying I was going on a date with Marilyn Manson. She refused, she would not yield and so I had to go to subversive measures, using her razor to shave my legs, shaving my legs at my friends house. Of course this was hardly discreet as my legs suddenly looked like those of a leper, covered with nicks and gashes and more often than not, actively bleeding. After a period of being grounded, the hair regrew and once back to my velco legged self, I was ungrounded, free to roam the mall like the wild animal my legs would lead you to believe I was.
It was a rainy day in the spring when I was at a lacrosse game, and on the sidelines after the game I noticed the other girls on my team taking note of the hair on my legs, which had become matted by the rain and was approaching fur-status. In the car on the way home I laid it all on the line, I said how I was embarrassed, how I could see the other girls making fun of me, how it filled my days with anxiety and was distracting me from my school work, how it was preventing me from sleeping well at night because the coarseness of the hair on my legs would irritate me as I was falling asleep.
Gripping the steering wheel tight my mom turned to me, furious, “FINE! YOU WIN! But I would think that on a cold day like today, you’d be grateful for the extra layer of warmth!”
At the time, I was so drunk off of my victory and dreams of smooth hairless legs, and I think I was too nervous that she would change her mind, that I did not point out the ridiculousness of that statement, but when I retold her that story recently, she chuckled and clearly did not remember any of it at all…thus reinforcing my theory that “balancing the checkbook” was a euphemism for “drinking an entire bottle of wine”.