Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sweet Valley... NO.


I have this friend Renee who is not a blog person but maybe should be. Because I could tell, just from her Facebook updates, that she's a writer. When I asked her to pretty please write a guest post the same way she writes Facebook updates, she looked at me like I was an outpatient. So I harassed her. She continued to look at me the same way. Then I gave up. 

Then she posted a Facebook update about what happened when she started rereading some of the Sweet Valley High books to see if they'd be suitable for her daughter. I called her her about 2 seconds later and I was like "WRITE THIS POST FOR ME OR I WILL HAUNT YOU AFTER I'M DEAD". So she did and here it is. 
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I came to the realization yesterday that Jessica Wakefield is the root of all evil for our generation. She’s the original meangirl.  I’m holding her responsible for Spanx, Weight Watchers points and Splenda. 
Let me start with a little background. We’ve reached that point in summer break where I’m straddling the fence between fearing and desperately praying for the first day of school. I pray for it because right after that big yellow cheese bus whisks my eight year old twins off to third grade,  a package containing My-Own-Sanity will be simultaneously delivered to my front door.  I ran out of the stuff the second week of July and I’ve been told it’s on back order ‘till September 3rd.    
But as summer starts to wane, I also begin to fear what my delightfully honest children will come up with when asked those standard  first day questions: “Tell me what you did this summer? Did you read any good books?”  
For the past few weeks, I’ve been jumping through hoops to find books to interest my kids. Read that: I’ve been searching for books more interesting than watching Teen Beach Movie for the 25th time or playing MLB2013 on Xbox. For my son this isn’t tough. God bless Star Wars.  I’ve now forgiven George Lucas for Jar-Jar Binks. And if Harry Potter and those Magic Treehouse kids weren’t a thing of fiction they’d all make my Christmas card list. 
My daughter is another story.  She’s reached that point where she’s too old for The Princess Fairies but too young for Hunger Games.  
To make myself feel like a super star mother I devised a plan to empower her to develop her own reading list.  That just sounds good doesn’t it? Anything that’s ‘empowered’ sounds trendy, right!?!?. 
One morning, while feeding her organic, whole grain packed, high fructose corn syrup-free toaster waffles, I cornered her with a blank piece of paper and asked her to write down what she thinks makes a good story.  “What topics interest you?” Imagine my horror when she pushed it back at me and said, “Mom, I think I’m just ready for a sweet romance.”  Oh god. Thank the lord her father wasn’t around to hear that. It’s better only one of us loses a couple years off our life. 
This is all my fault really. When I was her age, my mother tried bribing me to read ‘The Classics’.  All those books that you’re supposed to read so people think you’re smart. The Secret Garden, Little Women,  Anne of Green Gables, Little House.  I wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted a little romance. 
That is how I became a Sweet Valley High junkie. 
I’d walk a mile, uphill both ways, to the B. Dalton (remember local book stores?) every time a new installment came out. I’d spend an entire day camped out on my Laura Ashley bedspread literally unable to put the book down until I found out how Elizabeth would bail Jessica out of her latest shenanigan. 
Now, I know, Miss Third Grade Teacher isn’t going to be as impressed by the Sweet Valley twins as she’d be by that uber brave chick in Island of the Blue Dolphins, but isn’t any reading better than no reading at all? 
I swooped a couple Ebay auctions and a week later was once again the proud owner of Double Love. My memory of the books was a little hazy, so feeling like Super On Top Of Things Mom, I decided I better read the first book to make sure it was appropriate.  No one ever rounds second base in these books do they?
I have a whole year before sex education hits, so we haven’t had that talk yet. My kids still think babies come from storks and bases are white bags on a baseball diamond.  I can’t remember, did that Bruce Patman kid ever get too frisky?  I was already letting my daughter trade in Cricket In Times Square for pulp fiction, I needed to be sure I wasn’t going to corrupt her mind completely. 
I didn’t make it past the first paragraph. 
“Oh Lizzie, do you believe how absolutely horrendous I look today?”
“I’m so gross! Just look at me. Everything is totally wrong. To begin with I’m disgustingly fat…” With that, she spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible anywhere.
We don’t have many rules in our house. But there are two words I don’t allow. Shut-up and Fat. Use of these ensures the Evil Mother Eye followed up with the ever dreaded loss of electronics, or what my husband refers to as ‘Amish Time’. 
After momentarily considering just tearing out the first page, I decided maybe we better just hold off on those angsty high school years and instead venture back to the blissful days of middle school.  Best Friends is book one of the Sweet Valley Twins series and with such a benign name surely it would be harmless. 
Things started out great. I got through the whole first page.  Elizabeth is mad Jessica has once again borrowed her barrettes without asking. Oh the horror! 
But then, page 2 happens. 
“Did you see Lois Walker in gym class today?” Jessica asked. “She was practically oozing out of her leotard. Fat everywhere. They shouldn’t let a tub like her take ballet.”
“Jessica,” Elizabeth said, “she can’t help it if she’s fat.”
“She can too,” Jessica insisted. “She could lose some weight and she can help looking so ugly...”
You have to be kidding me. 
Is it any wonder our generation has body issues? Jessica Wakefield sucks.  And, unbeknownst to us at the time, she spent our youth brainwashing us.  
We all loved this crap. This was 90210 before Brenda and Brandon left Minnesota.  In fact, before I wanted to be Kelly Taylor, I wanted to be a Wakefield. I spent most of my teenage years impossibly wishing I could trade my flat brown hair and pear shaped body for a 5 foot 4 inch frame with sun streaked blonde tresses.  
I even wanted to wear a lavaliere. Whatever the hell that is. 
I spent a lot of years trying to make myself look like Elizabeth while cursing God for sticking me inside Enid.
I’ve found peace with myself in recent years. Turns out you don’t have to pray for blonde hair, it can come from a bottle. I work out now because it keeps my cranky lower back from hurting, not because I have any illusions of being a certain size.  Cellulite happens. Stretch marks too.  My kids are eight, I finally stopped calling it baby weight last year.  It’s all good.  But it’s taken me 37 years to get here.  Comfortable in my own skin. 
Actually, strike that. That just sounds good. That’s what we tell ourselves out loud to try to make that little voice in the back of our head stop trying to coax us to look backwards in the mirror to see if our ass grew overnight because we let ourselves eat carbs yesterday.  I’m not even sure I’m comfortable as much as I’m just too damn tired and busy to really give two craps about what other people think I should look like anymore.  That’s where I am. Honestly. 
But I do still honestly care about what my daughter thinks. I care immensely about what she thinks of herself.   I want her to love her curves. I don’t want her plagued by the ‘F’ word like my generation was. I want her to look backwards in mirrors and say aloud, “I’m pretty.” 
I don’t want her to be a meangirl either. I want her to walk through life getting to know people from the inside out, not the other way around. 
I know I can’t shelter her from the ugliness in the world forever. There will be that high school locker room meangirl with a magazine-cover figure and never-frizzy hair. She will have her own 5th grade Billy Donnelly who tells her on the playground she has thunder thighs.  (Yes, I’m outing your name you MF’er! My self-esteem and I have never forgotten you!)
I can only hold the world at bay for so long. I can’t change everyone out there. I can’t turn off the voice inside her head. But I can make sure Jessica Wakefield never gets her foot in our front door. 
Reading stuff like this is what gives our little girls a predefined sense of ‘perfect.’ What if we don’t let that happen? What if, for as long as possible, we let them make up their own definition of the ‘P’ word. Or, better yet, what if we avoid the P world altogether and just let them know that Imperfect is how everyone on the planet actually lives?
I haven’t read Frances Pascal’s recent novel that updates us on how life turned out for the twins after those celebrated high school years, but I’ve heard from friends who have that life didn’t stay so perfect in the valley. Things got down right messy from the sound of it.  
Elizabeth should’ve punched her sister in the mouth when she found her barrettes missing. 
Maybe if Jessica had a FAT lip she couldn’t have spewed her elitist attitude and we would have all liked ourselves a little bit sooner.  Maybe if my daughter never meets her she will love herself a whole lot more. 
You’re going out with the trash Jessica Wakefield.  Even Elizabeth and Todd can’t save you this time. 

(c)Herding Turtles 2009 - 2013

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