Let me tell you how I met Tricia. I graduated from William and Mary, and less than a month later, I was on the other side of the country, on the campus of USC with 500 other college graduates, the original members of Teach for America. Though I was going to be teaching in Brooklyn that fall, I was mistakenly housed with (lovely) people who were going to be teaching in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There was a sign-up to go on a fieldtrip—to be in the audience for Jeopardy—and because I’d grown up on Jeopardy, the only show my family watched on school nights, I boarded the bus for Burbank. Not many of the 500 20-somethings decided to make it a game-show evening, but Tricia did. We hit it off. We roomed together in Brooklyn. She’s one of my favorite people in the world.
My girls have been in a new house and school for just two months.
This is hard. Not unimaginably hard, but moving a 7- and 8-year-old from a town they loved to a town they’ve only visited on holidays . . . this has been hard.
I throw a little sigh into the air each time my girls get onto the school bus in the morning, a plea to the universe that the other little girls will treat my little girls right that day.
I know their legs are long and their t-shirt tags are reading double-digits, but my daughters are too young to be worrying about what clothes they’re not wearing and what travel teams they’re not on. Caroline said she wasn’t going to wear her flip-flops to school because “they’d seen better days,” which may be true, but she never gave a flip about the shape of her shoes before. Lexi’s trademark mis-matched fashion choices have been reborn after a quiet, frankly dull month of her wearing regular kid clothes. She donned a floppy skirt with bright socks today (phew!).
I see it in myself, too. When I’m at ease, I have a laugh—it’s more of a bellow. I just don’t crack up around new people, not yet anyway. When I was younger, I used to let it all go . . . a lot—on the school bus with my friend, Kim (she has a great laugh!); at the dinner-table with my brothers: Matt, the color guy and Dan, the straight man. My friend Julie said she felt like she was at a comedy show whenever she came to our house, that she should have paid money at the door. I remember walking up a hill in college with my friends Megan and Kim, eating soft ice cream and laughing, just all of me laughing—body, soul, heart. My friend Katy calls me the “laugh slut” because she can always make me laugh, but honestly, she’s friggin hilarious. And when I get together with Katy and Tricia, my cheeks hurt. I’m refreshed. I’m exhausted.
So I was talking to Tricia on the phone just last week about Caroline and Lexi, their transitions, their reactions to change, how Caroline wants so desperately to have a best friend. She seems too young for this. I can relive the day she was born, just a press of the “play” button and I’m there holding her. How has she become this semi-adult with worries and insecurities? She is trying on friends right now: listening to kids, watching them interact, waving (ever so slightly) in the hallway. Sometimes when I watch her mingling with her peers, I see her laughing, but it’s a little bit forced, not completely hers. She’s selecting; she’s auditioning.
She’s losing herself—over my dead body. She’s changing to fit into the crowd—when I jump from an airplane.
I will keep her up nights talking her through this: she will be who she wants to be. If this means she plays “clown” at the playground with one other girl, so be it. If this means she decides that she will not hang out with the girls who say “like” all the time, so be it. These are her choices. If this means it takes her a while to find her mates, the ones who make her howl with laughter, so be it. She’s got her family for that right now. If we are original, creative, wonderful people, then it may take some time to meet original, creative, wonderful people who share in our interests and appreciate our humor.
One of the things I love about Tricia is that she’s a lot smarter than I am. This is what she said to me on the phone: “Caroline’s just gotta board the bus, Kate.” She’s just gotta board the bus.
I’ll take “It’ll Happen” for $100, Alex.