For seven years I have facilitated a mother-daughter book group, established when Daughter #1 was in second grade. We started the group because the first signs of girl bullying were beginning to surface in the classroom, and so we gathered every girl in the class together on a Saturday to discuss the book The Hundred Dresses.
Over the years, the group has shifted from school-based to home-based and the membership has waxed and waned. It’s now comprised of a core group of avid readers, young and not-so-young, who have discussed everything from race relations in the South during the early1960s to dystopian societies of the future; dysfunctional and functional families; the complexities of mother-daughter relationships; and girl power: extraordinary and ordinary.
Our most recent book was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was followed by a group outing to see the film. The main character, who is a freshman in high school, deals with SPOILER ALERT suicide, depression, molestation, abortion, drugs and gay bashing, in addition to the typical emotional highs and lows of adolescence.
The girls, all but one of whom are in eighth grade, chose the book because they wanted to see the movie. Daughter #1, the first of her peers to read it, found it unexpectedly depressing. ”I can’t believe that the main character is one year older than me,” she said. So I starting reading the book. I found it riveting because it captured many of my own high school experiences (especially the Rocky Horror Picture Show obsession).
Did you read Catcher in the Rye, Go Ask Alice, Girl, Interrupted or Ordinary People? Depressing stories of depressed teenagers are nothing new (and Perks was actually written in 1991). But there’s a moment in the book, and also in the film, in which the main character is riding in a truck with newfound friends and a song comes on, the perfect song. He describes the way he feels as “infinite.”
A few days after I finished the book, there was knock on my door. A neighbor wanted me to know that the police had been called because one of the inhabitants of my house had broken into her house and set off the alarm. I looked at my charge, whom I still think of as young and innocent, and didn’t want to believe it could be true.
Hadn’t I spent years instilling good values?
At the beginning of the school year, a group of ninth-graders in my neighborhood allegedly stole a parent’s car, sped down a neighborhood avenue and hit a parked car, which mercifully protected them from the telephone pole behind it. The owners of the smashed car left it there for weeks with a note on it and on the telephone pole, the gist of which was: ”Dear Kids, If you’ve come to see the results of your accident, know that we are glad you are okay. Please take care of each other.”
I took Daughters #1 and #2 to see the smashed car and the note. ”I can’t believe the kids who did this are one year older than me,” said Daughter #1.
There were apparently marijuana-laced brownies at the middle school Halloween dance and whiffs of other pot rumors have been floating in the air. (Yes, I do live in Washington State, where we’ve just legalized recreational marijuana, but not for middle-schoolers).
My daughters and I watched a few episodes of My So-Called Life. It was depressing to watch fifteen-year-old Angela Chase struggle with questions of identity, which involved sneaking out of the house and having confusing experiences, before returning home, usually miserable and defeated, yet sometimes grateful to be back in her mother’s orbit.
Late one Saturday night, my puppy, who is perfecting his watchdog skills, spied movement at the abandoned home of our recently deceased neighbor. As he barked, teenagers came spilling out of the house and scattered into the alley. I wondered whether I should call the police. There are so few abandoned houses anymore, as there were in my youth, and this one is likely to soon be replaced with a modern duplex. My guess is that the kids inside were feeling infinite.
The other mothers were as riveted by The Perks of Being a Wallflower as I was. We discussed whether the book was too depressing for our daughters and C, who may sometimes be forgetful, but is always wise, said “Better for us to introduce these topics then for them to learn about them elsewhere.”
When our group came to discuss the book, we mothers told carefully chosen stories about ourselves in high school. The girls were fascinated. ”I can’t believe you’re telling us this,” said the daughter of the formerly raucous Catholic school girl, who became an emergency room nurse. ”We weren’t always the way you see us now,” we told them. ”We grew up.”
There is a scene at the end of the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in which one of the characters, who has been away at college, tells the high school protagonist what he has to look forward to: ”The world gets so much bigger,” she says.
Our daughters liked the film, but they were equally impressed with the art house theater where we saw it. It was the first time any of them had seen a film in a venue so funky and cool.
Their worlds will get so much bigger and I am glad they will have moments when they feel infinite.
I just hope they will take care of each other when they do.
For most of my high school years, I felt infinite at the Jersey Shore, specifically the boardwalk at Seaside Heights. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by Hurricane Sandy, especially the inhabitants of my former home state. Please continue to take care of each other.
I won’t pretend that I’m not apprehensive about the looming parenting challenges, but I have found one sure-fire method to bind the family together: potatoes. Specifically, the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. No matter how angry or uncommunicative or hormonal anyone gets, these potatoes bring them around, even me, a rice aficionado, who has never been a fan of making or eating mashed potatoes. These mashed potatoes are tangy and comforting without being too decadent. Anyway, sometimes it’s important to ignore the glycemic index in the interest of family harmony.
Here’s the recipe:
Zuni Cafe Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (serves four, but I always double it to serve four)
1 1/4 lbs. peeled potatoes (I use Yukon Gold), cut into chunks
2-3 T heavy cream (you can also use milk or half-and-half), warmed
2-3 T buttermilk at room temperature
3T melted unsalted butter
1. Boil the potatoes with salt until tender.
2. Drain and mash, while piping hot and then add hot cream, followed by buttermilk. Finish by adding butter.
3. Mash vigorously and add salt to taste.
4. Enjoy your family.