the flame

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Ben and I had a long car ride last weekend on our way to a Christmas party in Santa Monica. For those of you trying to do the calculation from our new house, it’s about an hour and 40 minutes. We had some time. I’m not even sure how we got on the subject but Ben asked about middle school. Yeah. Middle school.

So not to be dramatic or anything but middle school was a dumpster fire. I wasn’t stuffed into trashcans or anything (is this just a TV stereotype or did this actually happen to anyone?) but emotionally it was a mess. I know I’m not alone in this experience. My parents were in the middle of a divorce, and I was coming from elementary school. To be clear, I ran that place. Or thought I did. I was always my teacher’s favorite because I was a 40 year old trying to pass for a 10 year old. And I loved it. I was always being told I was SMART! UNIQUE! SPECIAL! EXTRAORDINARY! I was, but then I got to middle school and discovered I wasn’t the smartest. I wasn’t the quirkiest. I felt this flame in me dim. I had a really hard time figuring out where I fit. The next year, I had a falling out with my best friend and because my school was so small, I didn’t have anyone to eat with for about a week.

Quietly, without asking me, Granny started showing up for lunch. I would be called down to the office 10 minutes to 1pm, and there she’d be. It was almost always Carl’s Jr. Granny was born in the mid-west, so I always just assumed Carl’s Jr was some sort of mid-western thing, something that made her feel connected to her roots, even though she had lived in California since 1951. I don’t know if she ever knew that it wasn’t just lunch. I know she knew things had to be bad, because she drove back out to have lunch with me every day for a week. But she stayed with me. She was so good at that, just sitting with you where you were, not insisting you move forward or backward or sideways. Just enjoyed you where you were. I learned grace and understanding one Chicken Star at a time.

The phenomenon of withdrawing as a teenage girl isn’t unique, I’ve since read a few articles about it during my MSW days. I just dread it with Charlotte. I know I see her as my mom saw me-full of possibility, every single thing about her an asset, not a liability. Trying to ride the line of building her up and encouraging everything she’s interested in, while also teaching her not to be a perfectionist. Understanding hard work is that-HARD. And you can really do anything, but it’s difficult. I’m curious, do any of you remember this-the dimming of your personality at any pre-teen or teen-age?

Also, I bet it’ll be a while before Ben asks me any questions about the span of time before I met him.

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