Oh, dear God, my daughter has cleavage….
She’s only in the sixth grade!
No, no, no, no, no! This cannot be happening!! This is not possible!!
Oh, wait….. I forgot…. It is possible. It has happened before and it happened to me.
I was just hoping that my daughter could evade it a little while longer.
It happened to my mother, her Oma. It seems to be one of those genetic things.
(God knows I tried to keep it at bay with only organic, non-hormone laden, milk and eggs in the house. Maybe I wasn’t so diligent with the cheese? The yogurt? She prefers the Yoplait. Maybe that’s what did it?? We don’t eat meat, so that’s ruled out. I wring my hands.)
No, it’s definitely genetic. She’s inherited it now at the tender age of 12, same as myself: The genetic history of having people assuming you are older than you are at a young age; of being on the receiving end of hurtful, misunderstood, jealousy, even from those you consider good friends; of people forgetting that you have a face and a personality; of people suddenly seeming to believe you are deaf and blind; of some thinking that your IQ has suddenly been sucked out of your brain in order to accommodate the blood flow to your new extremities; of becoming horribly, uncomfortably, aware that your body now seems to have an effect – a most unwanted, unprepared for – effect on other people. Adults’ eyes widen and all males’ eyes descend involuntarily. Even your friends start making remarks. Clearly, they are uncomfortable, taken by surprise, with the emerging you. Just as you are. Clearly, they notice you – at an age that you really don’t like being noticed. Especially if you tend to be on the shy side.
You have to become more careful with what you wear and how you move. You need to develop a thicker skin and a warier mind. Hard things to do when you still consider yourself just a kid. When you are, in fact, just a kid.
All of this burst into vivid clarity for me yesterday as we were attending a school event her little brother was involved in. My friend, whose son is my son’s best friend and on his team, greeted my daughter and myself with, “Look how tall she’s gotten! I hardly recognized her – she’s grown so much!!”. “Grown so much” obviously code, I realized, for, “Oh, geez, she has boobs!” when my friend discreetly turned wide, sympathetic, eyes to me and slowly mouthed “WOW”. Her oldest, high-school-age son, a really good kid, as all her boys are, didn’t notice me catching his eyes being pulled to her chest as she sat on the ground in front of him. I glanced downward to see what he was nervously, fleetingly, looking at with suddenly flushed cheeks.
Oh, heaven help me! The cleavage!! Distinct, unavoidable, cleavage. Cleavage that, unbeknownst to her, and somehow invisible until that moment to myself, was declaring itself like a debutante at a cotillion to which the general public was invited.
How I longed to be able to get her to sit up straighter, off the ground, in a chair against the wall, how I wished it would have been cold enough to have offered her a jacket to zip up to the neck. I knew that if I called attention to it, the effect it would have on her: Complete mortification. Tears.
I need to find a way to talk to her about this without eroding any confidence, any innocence, she has. Were she in high school I think this would be somewhat easier, but she just started middle school. She’s still more concerned with cute things like otters and puppies, with colored pencils and candy, with funny movies, braiding her hair, and getting good grades. She hates attention, even falsely-perceived attention. She’s pretty damn paranoid about attention, frankly. There’s those genes again.
How am I going to talk to her about making sure she’s covered up, about why that shirt is maybe a little too tight even though it feels comfortable, about why that neckline isn’t the best for her, about not accepting any boy’s random request to bend down and pick up a pencil for him, and also, about not agreeing to any jumping jack contests with anyone, especially when you are not in the gym but rather, the school cafeteria….About why the hell she has to start considering, now, at twelve, the lurking, insulting, scary, uncomfortable, unwanted, things that other people may be thinking without leaving her with a sense of shame about her body? Without leaving her with a hatred for her body? Without instilling a crippling sense of self that is incorrectly, unjustly, bound to her body?
How do I do that? Because it’s time….