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
asthma." 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.