Sunday, September 28, 2008

“Way Better Than I Thought”

A few weeks ago, before the school year started, I had a phone conversation with my 14 year old niece, Maggie. It was a few days before she was going to start high school and her mom—my sister in law—had told me that she was nervous about it.

“You know,” I said to her, “I remember I was nervous about starting high school. I mean, there would be so many kids who were older than me. I mean, the difference between a 14 year old and a 17 year old is pretty big. The seniors even looked like they were bigger than me.”

“That’s exactly it,” she replied. “They will be a lot older than me.”

“It’s going to be OK,” I said in what I hoped was an assuring tone. I had gone to a microscopically small high school, just like Maggie does. “You’ll meet the seniors everywhere, and you’ll make friends with them. You’ll sit next to them in band, you’ll play sports with them, and all that stuff. And yes, some of them will be jerks and some of them will hurt your feelings. It’s just life, you know? You’re going to meet a jerk everywhere you go, right?”

“Yeah, I know that,” she sighed. I could hear the tension in her voice, and my heart broke just a little bit at hearing it.

Her first day of school came and went. The first week came and went, too. I held back on calling her to find out how it went, because I wanted to give her a chance to settle into it first.

Tonight I called her, “So, you’ve been in high school for a few weeks now. How’s it going?”

“It’s way better than I thought,” she replied, excitedly. “I am having a lot of fun.” She told me about how for the first few days she hung back and tried to get the lay of the land. Then a senior girl she knew approached her and introduced her to some people, and now she’s making friends every where she goes.

“There’s this weird boy in my grade, everyone calls him weird. And, well, he is weird. But one day I talked to him, and he’s so cool! We’re really good friends now,” she reported.

“The weird ones are almost always the more interesting ones anyway,” I mused. I love hearing about the world from the perspective of my nieces and nephews. Maggie told me how her French teacher is “so weird” and I thought back to the odd French teacher in my own high school, and how the Spanish teacher is always made fun of in every single high school all over the US. She went on to tell me about how she asked her math teacher why certain theories are true, and the teacher basically responded with “That’s just how it is.” Maggie expressed her frustration at that answer, just like I had at age 14. I sat there wondering if things had changed at all since I was in high school. I heard her talking about some of the same exact things that I observed when I was in school. Then I shared with her one of the more important things I learned about math.

“Maggie, there are certain things in math that are just given, and you’re going to have to accept them. You are curious and you want to know the why about the what. But it’ll make you nuts. If you just accept that certain things just are, then you’ll be a lot happier,” I advised.

We talked some more about her friends, and she said “You know, I can see it in the other kids how they try to be cool, and all I just say is ‘Hi, I’m Maggie’ and I am making friends and having fun, you know, just being myself.”

I sat there holding the phone and listening, as I grinned ear to ear. Maggie has stress induced alopecia. Just before the school year started, her hair fell out of her hair in clumps, to the point where she wears a hat or a bandana to cover it. And tonight she expressed such confidence and such comfort in her own skin. This 14 year old girl has lost most of her hair, and already knows that all she has to do is just be herself and she’ll have a blast in high school no matter how her hair looks.

I have never been more proud. And I have never been more inspired.



Blogger The Creeper said...

You definitely helped her get through it. Sometimes the parent can't. Sometimes it takes an aunt, uncle, friend, or just other adult who has been there, done that, to get through to the kids. Good job, Auntie Beej!

September 29, 2008 at 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Auntie Beej,

Living with Alopecia for over 17 years it took me some time to realize that they only person I could be was myself. The fact that your niece already get that is amazing.

Currently I am spending my spare time trying to get that message across to other Alopecians.

Perhaps you may enjoy looking at our website with your neice., it is a social networking site for people living with Alopecia.

Thanks for the inspiration.


September 29, 2008 at 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good job telling her something that probably wouldn't have seeped in coming from a parent!

If you don't take "because it is" as an answer in math, then you have to get used to the idea of "proofs."

My best friend went to graduate school in mathematics. "Because it is" works just fine for me.

September 29, 2008 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That is great that you could help her through that transition. Sometimes it's just another voice saying those words that helps it sink in.

September 29, 2008 at 6:40 PM  

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