It was either 7th or 8th grade (I’m not sure which, those awkward and icky junior high years all blend together in a memory of general horrifying suck) when I started sneaking makeup to school. My mom would drop me off in front of school, kiss me goodbye, and I had just enough time to run to the girls’ bathroom and apply the makeup before homeroom class. Circa 1986/1987(ish)? Blue eye shadow. Eye liner. Sparkly lip gloss. Just a hint of color on my cheeks. The day would end with a return trip to the bathroom to quickly erase the evidence, and walk home the pure natural innocent girl that my mom had dropped at the school gates that morning.
Since I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup yet, especially to school, I’m not certain how I acquired the makeup. Most likely, it was a combination of pilfering what I thought would go unnoticed from my mom’s makeup drawer, borrowing from friends (whose moms were obviously way cooler than mine and let them wear makeup), or secretly buying it at the drugstore on my way home from school, or from the mall when we would hang out there on the weekends. Groups of giggling teenagers, wide-eyed with the perceived freedom and independence of hanging at the mall with no parents. Leg warmers. Jelly bracelets stacked up our arms. Over-sized sweatshirt pulled down at the cut-off neckline, off to the side, to bare a single smooth sexy girl-shoulder. Flashdance style. Neon colored purse (or, dare I say, possibly even a fanny pack?!), containing the money we’d earned babysitting, or saved up from doing our chores. Money that would be well spent on a movie, candy, popcorn, nail polish. Some silly gag item from Spencer’s, that we’d probably have to hide because technically none of us were even allowed to go in there. Makeup we weren’t allowed to wear.
I now have two daughters of my own who are in that same stage in their lives; 11 (6th grade) and 13 (8th grade), both in middle school. The younger has been obsessed with lip gloss for a while now. Shiny. Sparkly. Just a hint of color through the clear gloss. Harmless enough. Even though it accentuates one of her best features: full, pink butterfly lips. Plump. The kind that, years from now (not enough, unfortunately), some boy will kiss and run his tongue around to trace the outline. Hiding behind a wall of lockers before racing off to make it to English class before the tardy bell.
She’s asked when she’ll be allowed to wear mascara, like her older, 13 year old sister. She’s 11. “Not yet”, I say. Not yet!, I scream in my head. “7th grade”, her older sister reminds her. Because that’s the arbitrary age that we allowed mascara with the older one. I remember 7th grade. I remember the sprint to the girls’ bathroom.
My 13yo 8th grader is allowed to wear mascara, and she usually adds a little eyeliner, too. She doesn’t need it, but I get it. I remember. She’s asked if she can wear more makeup. Foundation, eye shadow, blush. She’s still only 13. She doesn’t need it. She is beautiful. Her freckled nose is endearing. Her skin glows. Her sweet baby girl skin. That smooth soft heavenly spun silk skin that I caressed with my fingertips as she suckled from my breast all those years ago. That still feels like yesterday when I look into her wide brown eyes, the same color as mine. She is also a hormonal teenager, and her skin shows that, too. Dotted with the random zit and white head. Black heads huddled around her nose. She’s not great about a skin care routine yet. Because she’s 13. Because she is still part girl, trying to navigate a woman’s world, full of man-boys. Because after a long day of school and socializing and homework and chores, the last thing on her mind is scrubbing her face of the day’s grime to keep it young and soft and girl-like. Because she is 13, and caught between two worlds.
She’s gone to a few Friday night high school football games. Already. She goes with her 9th grade friends who are now high schoolers. Something I didn’t do until I was actually in high school. 10th grade. 15 years old. My first high school boyfriend was on the football team. I wore his jersey on those Fridays. Game days. Walked the school halls with him, hand in hand, shit-eatin’ grin on my face, googly-eyed in teenaged lust. Sneaking kisses before he left me at my English class and made a run to his Science class in time before the last bell rang. A kiss to satiate both of our hormonal surges and lusting heart beats, at least until the lunch bell rang. I wore his letter jacket to those games. I was the shit. I know what happens at those games. Especially when you have an adorable boyfriend who is on the football team. He’s charming and sweet and has that amazing dimple that melts every 10th grade girl’s heart. And he lets you wear his letter jacket.
After my girls left for school this morning, I found a small bag on the couch. It was tucked between the corner of the couch and a throw pillow. Right near where the 13 year old had been packing her school backpack. The bag must have fallen out of her backpack, or she forgot to put it in at all. Curious, I opened the bag and found her mascara. What I didn’t expect to find was the rest of her makeup stash. The eye shadow that she’d pilfered from my drawer and hadn’t expected me to notice. The blush and foundation that I know I didn’t buy her, most likely purchased at the drugstore or mall. I held the bag in my hands, as my heart raced. Memories flooding back and forth across my mind. Blue eye shadow. Sprints to the school bathroom. High school football games with cute football players.
Neither of my girls are as boy crazy as I was. Thank all that is holy. Because I don’t know what I would do if they were. Me, with my first “boyfriend” in preschool. And then Kindergarten. And then whichever ones were paying attention to me in grade school. And the ones who asked me to go steady in junior high. And the sweet and charming football player, at the beginning of high school. He broke my heart. Cheated on me at a party that I hadn’t attended. Admitted to it. Dumped me. I remember crying on the steps outside of H hall, after the last bell of the school day. I remember that break up feeling like the death of so many things. And I remember the boy who came out of the shadows to pick up the pieces of my heart. The boy who didn’t know how to treat my broken heart pieces with genuine kindness and gentleness. The boy who took advantage and I fell into his trap. Like a dazed fly whose broken wing got snagged on the sticky web of the venomous spider.
As a teenager, that boy fascinated me. He was broken, too. I was going to save him. To put his pieces back together. Only those kinds of boys, they aren’t always worth saving. Sometimes they’re too broken to be saved. But I was young and naive. I was full of trust and love, and hungry for both. I didn’t see it then. It took me too many years to see it. To get out. Too many years of missing out on real kindness. Real gentleness. Real love.
As a mother, those boys terrify me. My girls are sweet and kind and gentle. They are lovers. They are savers. They are caregivers. They are the girls who want to make it all better. Luckily, their hearts are full. They aren’t seeking something someone to fill gaping voids in their hearts, the way I was. They’ll be smarter than I was. They’ll see right through those boys. The boys who can’t be saved.
They’ll make other mistakes. Different than the ones I made. I can’t shield them from all of life’s dangers. I can’t protect them from making the mistakes they need to make in order to grow. I can warn them, but I can’t make them heed my warnings. I know that from personal experience.
I look at the bag of hidden gems in my hand. Mascara. Eye shadow. Eye liner. Blush. Foundation. The tools of women, in a girl-woman’s armory. I think about my daughter. Confident. Responsible. Secretive. The one who will take the risks, to see which limits she can push. And I think about my younger daughter. She’s not a rule breaker, the 11 year old. She might not like a rule, but she wouldn’t dare push the boundaries. So unlike her sister. One sees black and white, the other sees gray beyond her mascara’d lashes.
I remember junior high. The other girls. The boys. The desire to be liked and popular. To fit in. To be accepted. And I slowly put the makeup bag back where I found it. Slightly hidden by the pillow in the corner of the couch. So that she’ll find it when she gets home from school. Her secret’s safe with me, for now.