Girl Power, Mothering

Growing Up Too Fast

Today I saw my twelve-year-old daughter in a wedding dress. It’s an early 50’s gown we bought on eBay to use as a Halloween costume. I’ve been monitoring the old wedding dresses for a few weeks, bidding only up to my Halloween limits, which have lowered a bit since our all-out effort to portray Hermione two years ago. This year, for $31 plus shipping, we have the basis for the creepy image we hope to pull off, Vampire Bride.

But today, with no fangs or fake blood, she was beautiful in a ball-gown style tulle dress with a sweep train and a little crown holding an elbow-length veil.

If she were a little girl who idealized weddings, as I did at her age, this costume idea would not appeal to me. But she does not, and the idea of looking stunning and creepy at the same time is pretty cool to her, since on Halloween she will be hosting her first boy-girl party in middle school. She is happy to be the age she is, in no rush to move ahead, utterly sensible about things I had never considered at her age–an age when I was still playing with my Quick Curl Skipper.

Renowned Middle School has been in the news this week because the Health Clinic there is asking the School Board for permission to dispense birth control pills to students.

Keep your curls on there, Skipper!

Renowned Middle School has a large population of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, and is the only one of our three city middle schools to have a clinic. The clinic is open only to students whose parents have signed forms permitting their children to be treated. The top reasons for using the clinic’s services? According to the nurse practitioner who runs all seven of City By the Sea’s school based clinics, "the top five reasons for visits to the health center
last year were, in descending order: immunizations, physical
examinations, sore throat, upper respiratory infection and
Basic medical care, for kids who aren’t getting it elsewhere, is available in the school clinic. 134 of the school’s 510 students have enrolled to use the services. Among them are a small number of girls who admit, to the nurse, to being sexually active.

I find this hard to take in, although not as shocking as I wish it were.

My mother, my birth mother, was well past middle school when I was conceived. She was 19, the first member of her family to go to college, and I’m glad to say that after time she did go back to school again. I became the child of my parents, and in my mind her then unknown experience became a cautionary tale about sex. The details almost did not matter. I needed no pill or device to prevent teen pregnancy, only a fear that I would end the same way, whatever I thought that way might have been before I knew the true story.

Times have changed, but you know that. I’m reading Ann Patchett’s "The Patron Saint of Liars," set in a home for unwed mothers, those institutions once so common yet closely-held. As time passes in the book, there is no longer an assumption that babies will be surrendered for adoption by their young mothers. In our culture, keeping the baby has become the commonplace.

That would have been hard enough for an unmarried 19-year-old in the South in 1961 to be practically unthinkable.

My 12-year-old spent the day in awkward conversations with classmates whose parents either supported the request from the clinic or not. We seemed to be the only family not caught up on the news, partly because I had such a busy day yesterday that I did not read the paper. We hardly needed a conversation about the policy aspect, because we each knew the other’s thoughts: "It’s terrible to think that girls my/your age might be having sex, but if they are, it’s better they have a place to go to get help with preventing pregnancy."

I know it’s likely the girls who will ask for the pill are not having this conversation with their moms.

We moved on to a replaying of the 7th grade manner of coping with this hard-to-talk-about news, the hilarity when one friend asked a question and got an answer that was meant in response to another person entirely. Our afternoons often contain recounting of those interactions. I feel blessed to be hearing about them, blessed to be on such solid ground that we share our thoughts so easily.

I’m in no hurry to have any real brides in the family. The Princess shines whether she wears a gown and a crown or jeans and a t-shirt. When the time comes that she finds the right person with whom to partner, I hope they will see they both contain a source of light, that they are both precious and deserving of care and respect, that having a relationship of wholeness matters most of all.

12 thoughts on “Growing Up Too Fast”

  1. As if not offering these services will make those at-risk girls decide not to have sex? People are so funny about things like this. Yes, it would be great if they abstained, but if they are admitting they are already “there” then isn’t it the responsible thing to educate them about STD’s and make sure there are no unwanted pregnancies? Times they have changed for sure. Glad the Princess wants to be a scary bride! :c)

  2. That is a brilliant idea for a Halloween costume. I may steal it off you next year.
    A year or two ago some kids at our junior high were caught using a room at school for a purpose not intended by the Board of Education. It was a real eye-opener for their parents, and prompted some serious hand-wringing. My thoughts on the matter align with yours.
    Have you read “The Girls Who Went Away”?
    Have you

  3. I heard about this on NPR this morning. It sounds like a helpful program for those who can’t afford medical care under our current system.
    What I found disturbing was the statement by the nurse that “there have been 4 or 5 student pregnancies here in the last two years.” I just want to scream at my car radio: “in 7th grade?????????”

  4. Every one of our schools has a school nurse because of the reasons you mention. Over 80 percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch. Though contraception is not one of the agenda items for an elementary school, unfortunately for some, it probably should be available.
    Growing up tooooo soon in this world, these children are.
    Songbird, we can cherish the fact our children can come to us for these issues as so many cannot.
    And I know your princess will be beautifully scary on Halloween!

  5. It goes without saying that you are a great mom — and yet I don’t think that’s what this post says AT ALL.
    I’m reminded of another colleague who welcomes and supports a sexual offender in the life of his church. This strikes the same chord with me. How wonderful. How important. What a great pastor you are to recognize that our hopes for the community are not in sync with what’s really happening out there. Middle schoolers are having sex. It’s sad — but you are being honest in addressing that need. This is why I think you are a great pastor.

  6. First off, I had that Skipper.
    We saw a story on the news last night about the middle school contraceptives controversy. Mallory is writing a story about it for her school paper.
    I think knowledge is power. If we teach them that intimacy is alot more than a physical act, it helps them make better decisions. I wish all parents were talking to their kids about sex openly and honestly.

  7. I think the media has hyped a lot of this up as well.
    It is a sad reality that these girls probably don’t have family support…and I think The Princess is really lucky to have a mom like you.

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