Of Feathers and Fondness: A Love Story

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She could have been one of Charlie's Angels. Her curly brunette hair, that sun-kissed face... she was perfect. Sweet, sweet Mrs. Pickering. She was tall and lean with perfectly manicured nails, and she always smelled of Enjoli. I fell in love with her on that first September day... and seventh grade was off to a glorious start.

Mrs. Pickering had my full attention everyday. Time stood still when she talked. Words dangled like participles from her lips. She was kind and made learning fun. I don't believe she ever knew how I adored her, just that I was a good student who loved to learn.

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Like any seventh grader, I was body conscious. I hadn't quite reached that magical summer where you sprout 12 inches and your height to weight ratio changes dramatically. I was still 5 foot nothing and carrying around what I believed to be far too much weight. In hindsight, it probably wasn't. 

To disguise my problem, I wore a blue down ski jacket to school everyday. It was puffy and very 'of the time'. I felt quite lucky to have my ski jacket, and paid no attention to the fact that it was a girl's coat. Yep. Girl's coat. It was hard to tell, but deep down, I knew. Oh, I knew. 

So there I was, in class on an early November afternoon. We were preparing for a standardized test of some sort, which required a great deal of lecture and review. The heat was on (as it had already turned cool outside), but there was no way I was giving up my coat and revealing my Dunlop disease. 

To give us all a well-deserved break, Mrs. Pickering had us stand up next to our seats to do a little stretching before continuing our studies. We stretched with our left arm down and right arm up, reaching just as high as we could (which wasn't that high for me, what with the coat and all) and then we reversed it. Bending over to touch our toes, I started to really get warm (though I refused to shed my coat). I had no idea how warm I was about to get...

Next, Mrs. Pickering instructed us to do jumping jacks. She even did them with us! I started flailing my arms to match her movement. I was really flapping now, like a bird about to take flight. And then, it happened. I saw a feather... and another... and then about a million more tiny, 'too horrifying to be true', feathers.

Apparently, somewhere between the toe touching and the jack jumping I tore the armpit open on my prized down lady coat. Now I was really hot. But as the old saying goes, 'It wasn't the heat. It was the humility'. As you might imagine, all calisthenics gave way to roars of laughter and rolling on desks. Had it not been for my recent loss of warm filling from my coat, I might have burst into flames. Worst of all... she laughed. I know now that it was only natural and looking back, I laugh too. I should have been more understanding, but seventh grade me, the me that loved her, didn't understand. I was devastated.

I have my own seventh grader this year (my second). I worry about him every day. He's small.. and it's probably my fault. You see, he's the baby and I've spent the past 4 years telling him to stop growing. I know he is going to shoot up like a beanstalk any day now, but kids are ruthless and I know they will poke fun at his size.

I am aware that he thinks about it and he often wears a big hoodie to make himself appear larger... in Dallas... in August. No amount of explaining how it really works makes any difference. He goes on wearing it; all the while looking like a hot, small kid wearing a hoodie. He hasn't mentioned anyone at school hassling him about it... yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Here's the take away. If you have kids, talk to them, about anything (and everything). Any conversation may lead to the important one that is rattling around their noggin. Make them sign off of Facebook (or whatever is cool these days) and talk. My best recommendation is that you have them help you make dinner and eat it all together. Some really great conversations happen in the kitchen. They won't tell you everything, but when it really matters most you will stand a much better chance of being there for support when they are feeling 'down'.

Other things to consider:

  • Parenting is tough. There are so many ways for your kids to get information now compared to when you were a kid. Be a resource. 
  • If they won't open up to you, make sure they know what avenues are available (counselor, clergy, etc.)
  • Take it slow. You may have to listen to a great deal of pre-teen babble with a thousand 'likes' thrown into every sentence to get to the good stuff, but you'll get there.
  • Listen more than you talk. We all like to talk, especially kids. Your job in this case is to be a good listener and not dish out your sage advice after each of their sentences. 
  • Be honest. Be judicious with the information you share based on age and maturity, but don't lie. Never lie.
  • Have fun talking with your kids. Be silly sometimes and chat about nonsense. These are the conversations they will remember most.