Experiencing "Are You There, God?" with My Tween -- for the First Time

Syndicated

When I was on the precipice of puberty, all the girls in my class were reading Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Except for me.

My mother was 44 when I was born, ancient for that era. She was raised in the South, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. She was not allowed to play cards on Sunday or take the name of the Lord in vain.

By contrast, I grew up in the Ice Storm70s. Parents were swapping car keys at parties, smoking weed with their kids, divorcing to "find" themselves and parading a series of lovers in front of their children. So the fact that my mother deemed Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret too racy for me to read made me feel freakish.

I would hang out with the other girls during homeroom, all of whom, it seemed, were reading the Judy Blume classic, and listen to them compare bra sizes and confess that they were practicing the breast-developing exercise described in the book -- "I Must, I Must, I Must Increase My Bust!" -- while erupting in giggle fits. I would stand flush-faced on the edge of the group and pretend that I knew exactly what they were talking about.

I knew the gist. I knew the wildly popular book was the first to explore, in straightforward, unapologetic fashion, the obsession with body changes and sexual development that seizes kids as they approach puberty. I knew, from hanging at the sidelines of Are You There God? discussions during homeroom, that the book dealt not only with developing breasts, but with menstruation and the first sexual longings. I was angry, and embarrassed that I was denied access to the Judy Blume club by my mother, who would clench her jaw, lip quivering, when I got old enough that she could no longer avoid buying starter bras and sanitary napkins to have on hand "when the time comes."

So when my daughter and I were browsing through a bookstore recently, and happened upon Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret, I bought it so she and I could read it together -- both for the first time.

Franny is ten, and her hormones are starting to kick in. She has the slight curve of nascent hips, tiny breast buds noticeable enough to warrant half-camisoles from Target.

She will no longer let me in her room when she's changing. She wears pale pink lip gloss, carries a purse and reads Tiger Beat.

Recently, she has begun complaining about the appearance of blonde hair on her legs. "No, you cannot start shaving yet," was my answer to her inevitable question.

She tells me which of the older girls in school has their period, which are wearing "cup bras." Her American Girl book, The Care and Keeping of You, has been read multiple times cover to cover, the pages about bras and periods dog-eared.

So it seemed like the right time to pull Are You There God? off the bookshelf and read it at bedtime. Franny has always enjoyed being read to, but she's not a book lover the way I was at her age. She is, however, enrapt with the protagonist Margaret's odyssey into adolescence: the bra-fitting, the discussion of which girls are "fast," the slow shift from seeing boys as another species to objects of desire, the waitingwaitingwaiting for the first period.

Since this is also my first time reading the book, I too feel like I'm being let in on a secret, one that was verboten when I was my daughter's age. Story time usually takes place around 9:00 pm, after a glass of wine (mine, not Franny's). Exhausted from a full day's work at my office job, I often find myself breezing through the words, focused more on the mountain of damp towels that need to be piled into the washer, or the e-mails I need to respond to before I pass out midway through Jon Stewart.

Not so with Are You There God?, however. I am right there with Margaret.

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