I was an unstoppable bookworm as a child, and at the core of my essential reading was anything by Judy Blume. Blume came to popularity more than a decade before I was ready for her, but the occasional confusing pop-culture reference didn’t matter in the face of a greater truth: her work made me feel normal.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was my coping mechanism when I found myself a lonely fourth-grader after moving to a new school in a new town. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great helped me to understand that I wasn’t the only kid who was afraid of stuff. Then there was Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret .
It was hard for me to talk about my body growing up, and though I struggled with body image issues as I navigated through childhood and into puberty, I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could ask about things. Breasts, after all, were “private parts,” and modesty dictated that they should be discussed only with a physician, and even then probably only at gunpoint. Imagine my mortification with the other changes that were happening.
The fifth grade book fair was a game-changer. That’s when I took my own cash and ponied up for a paperback copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Margaret was working through all kinds of issues, from her quest to find her spirituality to the mind-warp that is puberty. And she talked about it. She talked about periods, and about sanitary napkins, and about buying bras. Margaret even played spin-the-bottle, and did exercises in the effort to help her breasts grow. It was so scandalous. I wondered if my mother would let me finish the book, if she knew.
For the first time, I understood that growing up is an impossibly awkward business, and that the only way to survive it was simply to wake up every day and embrace it. I decided not to get swept up in the nonsense of it. I bought a plain white t-shirt that said “I am a nerd” in Courier font, and I wore it to my first day of middle school, confident that I was not alone.
Thank you Judy.
On her blog this morning, Judy Blume revealed a story that is perhaps far more personal to her than those I read as a child: her own breast cancer diagnosis. I am in awe of this childhood hero of mine for the honesty and clarity with which she writes of her own journey, even as she charts her course through these tender weeks post-diagnosis.
Blume wrote, “When it comes to breast cancer you’re not alone, and scary though it is, there’s a network of amazing women to help you through it.”
Keep talking, friends. Your honesty and compassion will help someone else to find his or her own way. You might be the reason someone else discovers that she is not alone.
And Judy? Thanks again.