Diaries: January 1978

Number two in the ongoing series of exploring my old diaries. In January of 1978, I’d be just ten years old.

Ten was my first birthday back in Canada, after three years in Australia — winter activities instead of pool parties. I went to bed early the night before my birthday because I was kinda sick. When I woke up, I came downstairs. My parents were sitting on the built-in couches (white painted wooden frames that my father built, black, wide-wale corduroy cushions that my mother sewed, total 70s awesomeness). I sat down and waited. But they didn’t say anything about my birthday and no presents materialized. I thought they were messing with me. So I gave expectant looks, made what I thought were leading comments. Still nothing. What were they waiting for?

For my birthday. I’d only slept for a couple of hours.

We went to the planetarium for my party. I think the next year was my famous ice skating followed by decorating and filling of gingerbread sleigh party. Now that I’ve tried to make gingerbread houses my own kids, I am forever in awe of my mother for hand cutting those 7 sleighs.

Anyway, back to the diaries:

1/24/78: Yesterday, R. and I danced to Shaun Cassady record the she had gotten for her birthday.

1/25/78: This morning when I woke up my room looked like I had my door closed. Rainy day. Snow night.

1/26/78: Today we had a blizzard. In Ohio it was -100F because of the wind. We had a hard time going home. J.B. acted like she was the boss of the whole world.

So that’s a little slice of me at 10: dancing to embarrassing pop records, early writerly pretensions, and social drama. I believe my cousin R and I even wrote a fan letter to Shaun Cassidy. “Da Do Ron Ron” loomed large in all our social gatherings that year. At my cousin Esther’s birthday that month, we danced to it in a wild circle, weaving around the South African rugs and drums in her living room.

The second entry is me trying to describe the quality of the light on that dim morning. Had I yet read Anne of Green Gables? At some point, I went around constantly describing my world as if Anne were seeing it and describing it in her fanciful, flowery 1908 way, but this is too early for that.

The last entry shows the Canadian toughness. There was a blizzard and school was not cancelled. No, indeed, we went home on the streetcar and then subway from our tiny Christian school just like normal, although we would’ve had to wade through drifts and keep walking against wind and shove our way through adults on their commutes.

The difficulties of this situation were not, however, enough to stop our little group from irritating each other. This is yet another reminder to let my kids complain about other kids and get all heated up about things that happen on the playground or in the classroom without needing to comment or provide perspective.

That last one is the toughest for me. I want to provide the perspective of my years and knowledge to moderate their extreme views of other children. But they’re kids. Most of my attempts will only cause them to never tell me anything ever again or to always go away when they want to talk. I’ve been working on reigning that in (except for calling kids “stupid;” I draw a hard line on that one). So this perspective I’m gaining on myself is teaching me how not to force perspective on my kids. How’s that for circular?

My next diaries entry will take us into excruciating territory: ten-year-old romance. Can’t wait.

In the meantime, enjoy this photo of the couch I described above and me at another birthday:

Voice: 12-year-old me

What did you love more than anything on earth when you were twelve?

Here are some things I loved when I was twelve: horses, Jesus, my friend Elizabeth’s older brother Dan, sitting on my window sill and reading L.M. Montgomery, pretending I was a baton twirler with a broomstick in the basement.

I loved my period. Somewhere, there’s a journal entry that waxed rhapsodic about how it was a wonderful gift from God. I keep looking for it in my papers, but I think I threw it away in my teenage years in a fit of eye rolling over my childhood earnestness.

I loved my phone, which I’d gotten by keeping my room spotlessly neat and clean for six weeks. My parents had read that doing something for six weeks made it a habit. Not so much. I got the phone and quickly went back to my extreme slobbish ways.

I loved my independence. By 12, I’d been riding the subway to and from school by myself for over two years. It was my job to take a first-grader along on that trip and I was starting to babysit in the neighborhood, so I had my own money. My mother hated clothes shopping with me, so she gave me a clothing budget of $12.50 a month and let me take charge of my own wardrobe. I’d been in charge of doing my own hair for a few years, which resulted in periodic rat’s nests in the back, but I made them (through neglect) so I fixed them. My friends and I roamed the city on our own, hanging out in the beautiful Mt. Pleasant cemetery, freaking ourselves out, or going from corner store to corner store buying candy and chips.

This independence wasn’t always great. I was only 9 or 10 the first time an adult approached me and made comments about my looks and asked whether I’d have sex with him. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident. With all the hundreds of people out on the streets in Toronto, a lone, very blonde girl was an easy target for harassment.

That experience makes it difficult for me to give my daughter independence out on the street. I didn’t let her go to her best friend’s house on her own until the summer after she turned 10, and I’ll only let her go by bike, not on foot — my reasoning being that a kid on a bike is faster and more difficult to bother. And I took that privilege away quickly (but briefly), after she and said best friend wandered way farther than approved at a public event. I know I’m going to have to increase her independence, but it’s hard. I don’t trust people on the street.

What did you love when you were twelve?


Voice: Cultures Not My Own, Part 2

Have you ever felt a particular affinity for a geography or culture that is not your own? Why? What about it do you love or identify with?

Part 2: Gender Culture

For many of my growing-up years, I felt more affinity for boy culture than for girl culture. Actually, let me rephrase that. I was an Anne of Green Gables obsessive, a happy skirt wearer, a sewer and crafter, one of the few who preferred Mary to Laura Ingalls. If it was girly, I liked it.

Except for playing with girls.

Individual girls were fine. I usually had one best friend, maybe two. But I didn’t always play with the girls during recess. Even before girls started getting really mean and political (grade 5), I often preferred to run around with the boys. In Australia, where I lived from ages 6-9, this took some doing. The enormous field of a playground at Jindalee State School was divided in half: girls’ side and boys’ side, and I was often yelled at for playing tag across The Line. That didn’t mean that I joined the boys’ side in the frequent battles for who got ownership of the lunch benches, but outside of jumprope, I have few memories of hanging with the girls at recess.

When we moved to Canada, it got worse. The tiny Christian school I went to had only six other people in my grade, all girls. For some reason, coming from Australia, I didn’t wear pants, just skirts. This was a problem. Even now, it doesn’t take much to transport me back to the Simpson’s department store with my mother, desperately communicating that I needed boy’s pants, not girls pants, expecting that any moment, sirens would start wailing because we were taking corduroys from the boy’s section to the girl’s changing room so I could try them on.

When I showed up in them at school, I was coolly informed that it was good that I’d finally worn pants, because the girls had gotten together and decided that I couldn’t come to school anymore in skirts, and they were going to tell me that week.

It is any wonder that I preferred to play soccer with my younger brother and his friends?

Boy recess culture was straightforward. You chose your team and you played.

Although I could be girly about boy culture. I couldn’t stand fighting, so I became the breaker-upper of playground fights. This being the 70s, there were no teachers on our playgrounds, which were city parks, in any case. My method of breaking up the fights: being more accurate with my feet than the boys were with their fists. I kicked them until they ran apart from each other. And then the drama was over. It wasn’t revisited in ostentatiously whispered conversations. It wasn’t rehashed every day for a week. It didn’t require intervention by the teacher.

Boys were so much easier than girls. Until puberty. When everyone became problematic.

How about you? Did you move in a pack of your own kind? Prefer the other side? One of those few who got along with everyone?