If I’m being entirely honest, I was a pretty child. Before puberty hit, I had sleek eyebrows that swept above my big, brown eyes, a cute nub of a nose, and pink, curvy lips. My face gave me a fair amount of attention from the boys in school, and that pushed me ever so slightly into the popular crowd.
But I never really belonged there.
Underneath it all, I was the epitome of uncool–a totally natural nerd.
The first few years of school, I kept my head down and spoke mostly to my best friend, Clarisse. As we got older, and my classmates started French kissing boys behind the fence at recess, I looked on filled with fear. I wore clothes from dorky stores, wrote letters to Bob Ross, and still cried when my mother went away for the weekend.
I wasn’t cool, and the cool kids scared me.
When Puberty Changed Everything
Then, oh, the joys of puberty. Just before I turned twelve, my small nose widened and spread across my cheeks. My other features, clearly intimidated, seemed to shrink away. Those delicate eyebrows grew thicker, merging so close together that the inside end of one fanned out to touch the other.
My clear braces turned a horrid, yellowish beige, and apparently, I forgot blow dryers had been invented. After cutting my thick hair to my chin, I washed it each night, slept with it wet, and threw in a headband every morning, ignoring the messy indentations all over my head.
I was smack in the middle of my awkward stage, and as my reflection grew more and more unsightly, my link to the popular crowd slipped further away from me.
A Halloween Party with the Popular Kids
But in the early months of seventh grade, I held on to the very last shred, and in October, I was invited to the first big party of the year at the house of a popular girl—let’s call her Jenny Larson—who was tall, lean, and beautiful.
She had a muscular older brother who threw keg parties and a mother who let her wax her legs. Her party would be the coolest. She told us that some people would be wearing costumes; others wouldn’t. Clarisse and I decided to dress up. Why not?
When Clarisse rang my doorbell the night of the party, though, I saw that her costume was hardly a costume at all. One quarter Indian herself, she was simply dressed in a sari, but with her Starter jacket on, it was barely visible. The only other evidence of her costume was the small bindi on her forehead.
She, however, saw a very different sight standing in the doorway. As Cleopatra, I wore an ivory kaftan, cinched at the waist with a gold belt. A gold necklace hung around my neck, and a short, lamé cape lay on my shoulders. The crown I wore was a snake, complete with a protruding head, jewels for eyes, and a red, felt tongue. Let’s not forget the jet-black wig or the bright red lipstick and cat-tailed eyeliner.
I tried to ignore the funny look Clarisse gave me as we walked to her mother’s station wagon. I tried to brush off the fear that was building up inside my chest as we rode to the party, exited the car, and walked up to the back door of the Larson house.
The Horror: All Eyes Were On Me
And then we entered. The party stood before me; the room, longer than it was wide, was lined on either side with guests. No one seemed to be talking.
It was as if the party had frozen the moment I walked in. Guys and girls stood there.
And every last one of them wore the regular old clothes of 90s tweens: jeans, plaid flannels, and Abercrombie T-shirts.
My face turned hot, my eyes filled with tears, and in one swift motion, I pulled my wig and crown off my head. I slipped into the folding chair against the wall to my right.
I don’t remember much more of the night, but I’ll never forget that feeling, that horror—just in time for Halloween.
Awkward Moments: An Unfortunate Rite of Passage
We’ve all been there, right? Sure, maybe you never showed up to a popular girl’s party in a triangular wig that extended three inches past each side of your head, but we all have our funny awkward moments when we were in school.
When I became a mother, I realized my daughters are going to have these moments too, and some of them will most definitely happen at the same awkward age.
Because, let’s face it, middle school is tough. If my daughters do have a horror story of their own—and they probably will—then at least they’ll have a mom who’s been there. And one who can tell them that it does get better. Those middle school years, mercifully, do not last forever.
The truth is, though, that I want them to be the type of people who wouldn’t even care if they’re the only ones in costume.
I want them to be different than I was.
To love themselves enough and be confident enough that they could walk into a party, snake crown and all, see no one else dressed up, and laugh—just laugh, smile, and have a great time.
I want them to be okay with being different and to like themselves not because they may be popular, but because they are kind and good. Because that’s what matters, not the in crowd or the cool thing to do.
In the end, I want to raise kind, confident women. I want them to know their worth, and I want them to see that an embarrassing moment only makes for an awesome story.