Saturday, July 31, 2010

Are You There God, It's Me Wide Lawns

Being that we are both having girls, my sister and I started reminiscing the other day about all the books we most loved as children. We went up through the years, starting with Frog and Toad, then advancing to Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Little Princess before making it to about age ten or eleven, when everyone read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret, by Judy Blume. Everyone remembers this book, as well as all of Judy Blume's other young adult masterpieces.

I loved Judy Blume books too. As a kid, reading Judy Blume felt utterly subversive, yet totally allowed. The books were in the school library for goodness sakes. Did adults not know what was in them? They couldn't possibly or they'd never let us read them, yet, we were encouraged to read Judy Blume books. It was like every pre-teen girl shared an intimate secret with Judy Blume herself and our parents and teachers had no idea what we were really reading. Periods? Masturbation? Teen Sex? Wet Dreams? There was no way our parents would have let us read about that. Or so we thought. So reading Judy Blume books felt wonderfully naughty, yet sanctioned. Those books were perfect.

Except they scared the living hell out of me.

I did not realize that the books weren't written in the exact year in which I read them. I had no clue that many of the books were written before I was even born and that even in the early 80s when I read them, a lot of the information in them was already outdated. I lived in mortal terror of getting my period because I feared having to wear a maxi pad attached to a complicated belt of strings and cardboard. I had nightmares about this contraption. Even worse, I imagined having to wear this along with a back brace because after reading Deenie, I became convinced that I was going to have scoliosis too. Reading Margaret and Deenie caused me to imagine an existence in which I lived practically in traction with nothing but playing with myself to ease my suffering as I bled and bent my spine in preparation of woman-hood. Worse still, I read Then Again Maybe I Won't and couldn't pass by a window without thinking of a teenage boy watching me undress while whacking off through it. I was very vigilant about keeping my blinds closed at all times after that book.

If only I had felt comfortable enough asking an adult about what really goes on. I couldn't do that though, because in my mind, I'd be letting a grown-up in on the secret to the Judy Blume novels and if I did that, I knew I'd be depriving myself and all of my friends of slumber party read-alouds of the good parts of Forever. I would be betraying middle schoolers everywhere.

If only Are You There God, It's Me Margaret weren't outdated I would have known about modern day marvels like tampons and pads with adhesive backings (with wings no less!). I wouldn't have had to live petrified of some belt nonsense that no longer even existed.

I truly hope there are no young girls in 2010 who read this book and think like I did. There probably aren't though. I think all the eleven year olds nowadays are probably too busy pole dancing to worry about a belt and a sanitary napkin.

But still, I think that while Are You There God, It's Me Margaret is a classic, that it needs some serious updating. I actually had a dream that I updated it for 2010.

My version would go something like this:

First off, Margaret needs a name change. No one has named their child Margaret since 1965. I've heard of some cute retro Maggies, but no Margarets. Our Margaret would have been born in 1998. Her name would probably be Madison.  Her parents would be divorced. She would have to deal with two families and the whole theme of Christian vs. Jewish, well I've got that covered in a much more realistic way than in the original. I could just borrow a page from my own life there and throw in some nice family feuds caused by religious differences. Madison would have step-siblings and both of her parents would have not only joint custody of her, but also have had new children with each other in addition to the kids they brought from their previous marriages.

Madison would not write in a secret diary. Today's kids are far less secretive and far more narcissistic than that. They all want to be reality TV stars and want everything in their lives public. Madison would have a blog. She would be the victim of cyber-bullying. She might even experiment with cutting and she sure as hell wouldn't be wearing sweaters her Grandma made or be doing exercises to "increase her bust." There'd be much deeper body image issues than worrying about her friend growing boobs sooner than she did and the whole going to get the first bra thing would likely happen far differently too. Today's kids probably order a push-up bra from Victoria's Secret and call it all a day.

And the sad thing is, is that I wouldn't be writing a spoof or a satire of modern life at all. I've just described life for most twelve year old girls in 2010, or at least close to it. Compared to that, poor Margaret, who'd now be 52 if anyone's counting, couldn't relate. Worse yet, I don't think most current fifth and sixth graders would be able to relate to her anymore. I think we need a new classic, an update, a new Judy Blume for a very different generation of kids.

At the very least, we need a new heroine who is familiar with a tampon.


Living in Muddy Waters said...

Are you kidding me? I just finished reading Blume's adult book "Wifey" yesterday. That book really freaked me out but now your post just compounds that. I'm going to go hide in my bed now.

I loved "Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself".

Joyce said...

I think you just found your book project! It sounds good and I think I would read it (even thought I'm the same age as Margaret!)....

Jenni said...

sally j. freeman was my favorite, too.
i always thought blume's books stood the test of time. i was reading them as a twelve-year old in the mid 90's,and never knew they were written years before i picked them up until recently.
to be fair, though, i never read the one that cited the belt/maxi pad contraption.

Opening Stanza said...

My parents were so vigilant that, unaware as they were about most pop culture, I was absolutely forbidden to read Judy Blume. Eventually, I outgrew the Judy Blume stage of life before ever meeting dear Margaret. I must, must go to the library and check out some Blume.

Also -- do you remember the Sweet Valley High twins? I loved those books because I had managed to sneak a couple of them out in a stack from the library without my mom knowing what they were. Definitely not Blume-quality, but those were my "forbidden" books -- those and a book about babysitting (not Babysitters Club) that talked about getting a period. In 4th grade, I had no idea why a girl would be excited over punctuation, and then when I asked my mom about it and she gave me a very awkward "talk," I was terrified. She never explained that periods only come once a month -- I thought women bled constantly until they got old! I remember staring at my Barbie dolls in their bathing suits, wondering how on earth they could stand to go swimming while always wearing pads...

MtnMama said...

Being almost Margaret's age (yikes!) I still didn't know about them until it was "too late" - I was too old to get to read them for the info, and too young to appreciate them for their significance. I think I'll go check them out... after all, I have a 6 yr old daughter.

It's hell trying to raise a girl in a world full of pole-dancing Bratz wanna-bes, but I'm doing my best. So far, she scoffs at the other little girls who want boyfriends and try to be "sexy" (her words) because they're "too young for that stuff". Awesome.

I was, however, lucky enough to dodge the whole belt contraption - even though my mother had "lovingly" put one aside for me (I found it!) - by having a best friend who had 3 older sisters. On the day of my first period, they set me up with Tampax, and the rest is history. :)

kerry said...

I read Judy Blume but I don't remember the stuff about periods and sex. Maybe I should re-read them. :)

My mom did give me one of those horrid belt contraptions when I was a kid, though. I remember being really amazed and glad when I learned there were self-adhesive pads... the belt thing was not good.

I remember the Sweet Valley High books! I read all of them I could find for a while. Trixie Belden, too. And Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

Michelle said...

Yikes! I love reading you but have to tell you, you are so far off base. 11 year old girls now are very much like 11 year old girls in our day. They worry about the same things we did. They would not be caught dead in Victoria's Secret. They don't even want their friends to know if they are wearing a training bra and go out of their way to hide that fact. I don't know a single one of them that have a blog. Those who have facebook usually talk about what movie they saw, what book they read or what game they played. Oh, and how annoying their brother is. It is a bit older that all the stuff you described comes into play and then holy hell. 11 year olds are still relatively innocent though.

Heather said...

Hey - my little ones are still way too young to read let along know about Judy Blume, but there are these terrific books by the American Girl Doll franchise -

I would focus more on the children's books first - don't overwhelm yourself. :)

Dayna said...

I lived such a "we didn't have shit country ass childhood". AYTGIMM was not in my Catholic School Library. My BFF, did read it, and thought she was all that because she did and we didn't.

Paige said...

REally Michelle--you dont think they do? I had a friends 12 year old at my house today, and not only did we discuss her new bra--which is well past the training stage, but also how to keep those babies from bouncing around while riding horse. No shame, or embarrassment in that one, and I find the same to be true with the only other 12 year olds I know.

I just recently got a wild hair to re-read all the sweet valley high books, from my childhood--I used my whole allowance to buy them the very day they came out. I LOVED the. So I bought a lot of them on ebay recently, but I screwed up and bought SVH senior year--but I got abount 25 of them. I have read 1 or 2 a night since they came and I have had an absolute ball--but I am still hunting the originals.

I think those things you read and love at that 4th to 8th grade range stick with you forever--at least they do me. Some of my girlfriends are arguing over who gets the SVH seniors next--and we hare 38 years old with out 20 year HS reunion this weekend. They just take you back to a way easier time--even if it did not seem like it then

and I do not think Judy Blume can be beat

Did anyone read "Go Ask Alice"? TErrifying book-- I should hunt that again

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I read an article about how Judy Blume updated the pad information fairly recently because the belt thing was so out of date. I can't find the article again to see if anything else was updated, though.

Green said...

Once I got my period while staying with my grandparents in Queens. My grandma went searching through a closet and came out with a belt. I told her I'd only put it on long enough to walk to the nearest drugstore and get some normal pads (I wasn't allowed to use tampons b/c my mother was convinced they led to toxic shock syndrome and then, death

Ginny said...

YES. A thousand times YES.

sadi said...

I remember the belt. Ewww.

My mom had a starter kit for me. Yes, a starter kit which included the book, "It's Wonderful Being a Girl". They made it sound like a wonderful thing with butterflies and rainbows that comes every month. As I sit here almost doubling over with cramps, I can't help but feel I was lied to.

I only had the wear the belt once, because the adhesive ones came out about the same time I started. Thank goodness.

JoeinVegas said...

Well, write it. It's not a remake, you described a new story.

Michelle said...

I'm going to stick to what I said about my 11 year old and her friends. Maybe my daughter and her friends are super shy and your friends daughter is super outgoing?

Anonymous said...

Alas, I am older than most of you. I spent many years with the belts and, worse, the horrific rubber pants with the attachments for the giant pad. The belts chafed like a bastard. I spent years with a raw arse.

I felt very naughty because, tired of a chafed arse, I used regular panties and safety pins to secure everything.

Off to take my Geritol...


Wide Lawns said...

I'm glad to hear that Michelle's daughter and her friends are still shy and innocent. It could be because she's a good mom and it could have something to with where she lives. I don't know where that is.

I based my portrait of 11 and 12 yr olds on kids in my own extended family and reports from my friends who are middle school teachers. They tell me horror stories about middle schoolers. They all work in A schools in really nice, suburban areas, so this isn't about some of the unfortunate things that happen in poor, urban areas.

Remember though, that I live in South Florida. Bad parenting is rampant here and we seem to have a culture that really over-sexualizes kids at too young an age. I hope this is isolated to this area and that in other parts of the country it's not so bad.

Emily said...

Oh Lordy.
I read those books when I was a kid in the 90's (I'm 24 now). I hope kids keep getting to read versions with outdated information, because it made those books so much more mysterious and exciting to read.

They never scared me though. I had "Our Bodies Our Selves" for that. Given to me by a friend of the family (someone thought I needed guidance), it was hidden under my bed, because it was so embarassing. What with its frank discussion of teenage sexuality and all.

I was convinced, based on all the information inside, that I was going to get AIDS, and if I didn't get AIDS, I was going to get hepatitus which wouldn't get noticed or treated because we had no health insurance and then I would develop ovarian cancer and die.

Fun times for 12 years old.

Did any of you read the Scary Stories books? I think there were 2 or 3, collections of scary stories and urban ledgends. What made them so freaky was that they had really disturbing drawings to go along with each story. When I was a kid we had to have a parental note in order to check them out from the library.

Miss Kitty said...

WL, posts like this are why I [heart] you. You know, perhaps you should start an update on "It's Me, Margaret." Hell, Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea as a Caribbean update of Jane Eyre. Guess that turned out pretty well, huh?

And my word verification is "culat." Is THAT what the kids are calling it these days?!?

Frack It said...

I actually just purchased a Judy Blume collection for my 11 year old niece. I'm 23, and I remember reading the books and really relating to them. I think her work is pretty timeless. However, I have noticed the sexed-up preteens. I think it has mostly to do with the media. It's really sad. I was still rockin' a mullet and tapered pants at that age.

jenni said...

emily, i did read the scary stories books. i agree that the worst parts of those were the pictures--the bride being particularly horrifying if i remember right. one story from those books that really got me was one about a scarecrow that came to life and started killing people. awful. i had nightmares for years over that one.

paige, i tried to find some original sweet valley books last year and wasn't having much luck--it seems as if they are out of print. i managed to find quite a few at a used book store, and of course ebay and private sellers on amazon have them, but the prices aren't as reasonable there.

Ashley said...

Your post really isn't so far off! Judy Blume's "Fudge" series has been updated, because some of the references were too old-school for the current generation. (They were too old-school for my generation, but I didn't complain.)

At one point, for example, Fudge is talking about what television shows he watches, and he cites "The Electric Company." I can't for the life of me find my copy of the book in question, but it was updated to something more modern, like "Spongebob" or something.

It's all little things like that, but it definitely suggests that a reimagining of this book isn't really outside the realm of possibility.

Anonymous said...

Just had to throw in that I have a 13 year old named Margaret. :) She goes by a nickname, but I LOVE her name! And she hasn't read any Judy Blume books. :(

Anonymous said...

I too have a daughter named Margaret, and she was born in 2006, not 1965 -- named after a dear aunt. And we don't call her Peg, Maggie, or any of those many other variants. So far, no Judy Blume, just Laura Ingalls Wilder :)

Anonymous said...

When I was working at victoria's Secret part time while I was in college a few years ago, little girls would go CRAZY for the "Pink" line of "loungewear." I mean 10 year olds. The youngest I ever personally helped was a 9 year old girl who was looking for "really cute girly panties" and needed help finding the extra-smalls. (this in suburban upstate ny, not a big city or anything.) They also loved all the clothes with writing on the butts and stuff like that.
I remember when I was eleven I was totally embarrassed/nervous to go in to buy my first thong but I can tell you that Victoria's Secret has a bit different image now, and maybe girls are also growing up a little faster these days too because I don't see many girls who are afraid to come in. Even guys would come in to buy their middle school girlfriends stuff!

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