Thursday, August 12, 2010

What I Longed for at Age 13 -- Chapter 10 in My Life Story

Gretchen on her 13th birthday before a family dinner out
July 26th, 1991 was circled and circled about a thousand times on my calendar.  I added stars, balloons, hearts and stickers to the small square.  It was the day I would become a teenager!  Yes, I looked forward to my thirteenth birthday as if I expected to step into a new colorful world like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz does when she leaves her black and white world and steps into the brilliant land of Oz.  Perhaps the city of Billings would send fireworks into the sky announcing "Gretchen is Thirteen" on that fine night.

Opening gifts on my 13th birthday
Well, my birthday actually came and went a bit more quietly, believe it or not.  My Grandma and Grandpa Benzing and cousin Aaron were out visiting us, and we spent the day driving to and touring Cody, Wyoming.  By this time, touring the surrounding sites was a pretty typical part of life, and we all were used to the very long drives. I remember Aaron and Nathan rode in the far back of our Suburban -- behind the 3rd row of seats, because we were packed so full.  We didn't mind.  We ate out to celebrate my birthday at a steakhouse we all loved called JR's.  I remember eating outside on the beautiful covered patio there -- not something you can do just anywhere in July!  My Grandma gave me a bracelet, and it was either silver or gold (I can't remember), but I do remember being really excited that it was real.   

By the pool in my swim suit -- this pose cracks me up
Another exciting part about "growing up" for me was that my mother let me start shaving my legs!  I had been looking forward to that for some time, especially since the majority of my friends (most of whom were already teenagers) were shaving theirs.  It was the sort of thing that would be at the forefront of your mind when you had a swimming pool and all the older girls who had crushes on your brother were constantly inviting themselves over to swim.  If I had read Pride and Prejudice at that time, I would have felt like Miss Darcy, who was "doted" upon by the Bingly sisters in order to gain her brother's attention.  Of course, I did not fall for it, like Miss Darcy did. . . I could see what those girls were up to, and felt pretty slighted by it!  I felt rather like a child because I was a skinny-scrawny 13 year old who had in no way begun to fill out.  Those hot '90's fashions just didn't do much justice to the non-curvy figure!

I waited all summer to begin my stint as a junior volunteer at St.Vincent's Hospital.  All of my homeschool friends as well as me and my brother signed up for this program to become "Candy Stripers", but I couldn't start at the beginning of the summer because I was not yet 13.  A couple days after my birthday, however, my mom dropped me off at the big front entrance of that hospital and wept as I walked in wearing my red and white striped jumper, french braid and sporting white tennis shoes with my freshly shaven legs.  She told me later that seeing me there brought back memories of my difficulties at the start of my life and she couldn't help but cry to see me so grown up.  

Me and Jennie working at the Cheri Nook Snack Bar
I was able to continue volunteering once a week, even after school started because I was homeschooled.  Several other homeschool friends and myself worked in the "Cheri Nook Snack Bar" for about 4 hours every Friday.  The other volunteers at the hospital during the school year were elderly, and I enjoyed making friends with Candy -- an elderly gentleman who always manned the soup station at the snack bar.  I liked to do the sandwiches, so we made a good team.  Lots of the older volunteers would come in and order funny sandwiches like braunschweiger with sweet pickles and "Arnold Palmers" to drink.  My outgoing personality fit this job well, and I often took extra shifts for people when they asked me to fill in for them.  I worked in the snack bar the whole school year, and then when the next summer came, I was first in line to choose a new volunteer area.  I immediately chose the Maternity Ward -- the most coveted volunteer spot where newbies usually weren't able to work.  Who didn't want to take gifts and flowers to new mamas, hold and rock babies in the nursery, and fill up water pitchers with ice water?

But before that opportunity came along, my brother and I made a sneaky discovery.  We had a hunch my mother was expecting another baby.  Sometime that late fall we found her vitamins in the cupboard and once Nate spotted her looking at her profile in the mirror (such small things to go on, it's true!  But we were just positive we were right).  Oddly enough, for a 14 and 13 year old, we decided we were quite worried for our older mother.  She was over 44, and we already had a baby sister!  Why exactly did she feel the need to have another at this age?  We were being overly dramatic, but at the time, we shared our secret and our worries only with each other.  Sure enough, mom made the big announcement, but unlike the time she told us about Emily coming, our response did not equal that level of jubilee.  Anna was excited, but Nathan and I had already been harboring our fears about Mom's health (so silly!  She was entirely healthy), so we couldn't quite get enthusiastic about the news.
8th grade picture, growing out the bangs

Looking back, I see that my main hang up was my own self-centeredness.  I was all about my life, and being obsessed with boys (I wrote often in my journal how much I wanted a boyfriend), homeschool activities, and just looking and being cool.  It was not the same rebellious selfishness that I embraced at eleven, it was just foolishness, and immaturity that is so common to age thirteen.  My new huge hoop earrings and LA Gear matching jeans and jacket with the pink and white twisted shoestrings on them were just so much more important to me than another addition to our family, as terrible as that sounds.

It would be way way too long to list all the fun homeschool activities of my 7th grade year (in Montana where there were so very many homeschoolers, we saw friends nearly every day at sports practices, skiing, ice skating, roller skating, and bowling outings, as well as field trips, and our "student government" organization "THWAP"), but I must mention a couple.  One really exciting Christmas activity was being in the Billings Christmas parade.  Our THWAP group-- Teen Homeschoolers With A Purpose-- built the float, showing an old-fashioned cowboy Christmas on one side, and a modern day cowboy family on the other.  We all worked together building the float, and then were allowed to walk in the parade.  I chose to be on the old-fashioned side, and my mom had me made a pioneer dress and bonnet for the occasion.  It was below zero during the parade, so I had to wear snowpants and earmuffs underneath the costume, and our smiles about froze on our faces.  But cancel?  Never!  The streets of Billings were teeming with viewers, despite the cold.  I remember my hands were so swollen afterward from the tight layers of shirts and tight wrists of my costume dress.

After Christmas, our homeschool organization went skiing together every Thursday.  We did extra schoolwork in advance to make up for those ski days, and enjoyed a full, long day of driving to Red Lodge to ski.  I loved it -- the lifts, the wind blowing in my face, eating lunch together in the lodge -- but my inferiority complex sometimes got the better of me, robbing me of that joy.  I was not the brave skier that many of my friends were, and no matter how much I wanted to go along, I just couldn't get the courage to attempt the black diamond runs.  I also could tell that the girls who wore the skin-tight ski pants were getting an awful lot of attention from our guy friends, and I felt like a kid in my poofy snowpants.  My mother did not approve of the shiny show-off-your-rear-end type pants, and would not buy them for us (looking back, I'm so thankful for her discretion).  She let Anna and I wear long johns under our jeans and ski in those, however, and we were happy with that.  Because, as everyone knows, looking cool while skiing makes or breaks the fun.

We all 3 ran track that spring, on the homeschool team.  My dad would take us to track practice in the early morning while it was still dark, so we could use the public school track before school began.  I was on the JV team because I was technically still in 7th grade, but I ended up being pretty good, and would fill in on the varsity relay teams.  My friend Jessie was the best sprinter, and it was fun to be one of the best together with her!  We might not have been the "hottest" girls, but we excelled on the track team.  I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach the morning of our first meet, and I prayed, as I walked across the green field that I would win just one ribbon -- any color, it didn't matter, but just win something.  I ended up winning several blues and reds!  I remember celebrating with our homeschool team and my dad making up a cheer that we all shouted with vigor.  I was on CLOUD NINE!!  Running was so fun.  We traveled to Great Falls, and Bozeman for track meets, where I won more ribbons, but the best meet of all was the state meet right there in Billings.  Our 4x100 relay teams (JV and Varsity) were pretty good, but we couldn't top Billings Christian School, until that meet.  I remember crystal clearly running my leg of the relay -- rounding the corner, and passing every other runner except the BCS girl.  I slapped the baton into Jessie's hand, and pantingly followed her down the final stretch.  I could see our parents cheering wildly in the stands -- we'd won first place!!  Jessie had leaned into the ribbon, besting the BCS runner, and beating them in the state competition!  Though it would be hard to top that moment, when our JV team ran, we easily won first, and discovered afterward that we had beat the junior high state record!  Once again, I was on cloud nine.  Even falling flat on my face during the finals in the 100 could not take away my excitement (I truly did do that.  My legs just could keep up with how hard I was trying to go, and I WIPED OUT.  We have it on video, and it is pretty funny to watch).

Homeschoolers from all over the state came together on several occasions that year.  One was for our state convention, and we got to stay together in the lovely hotel we'd stayed in when we moved to Billings.  For days, we were surrounded with homeschool peers, and could not have had more fun hanging out.  There was a dinner with a talent show for the teens, and Anna and I were part of a mime to the song "We are His Hands", which we performed for the 100 or so teenagers there.  Later that spring was our spring formal!  It was common there to rent formal dresses, so we all chose dresses from the same shop so we wouldn't overlap.  There were only a few dresses that came in a small enough size for me, but I loved the royal blue one I chose.  Mom bought me a flower comb to wear in my hair, and my dad gave me a wrist corsage to wear.  I remember getting ready for the formal was entirely more fun than the activity itself, and to this day, I pretty much feel the same way about formal occasions.

Holding my newborn sister Abby
Well, the conclusion to this long chapter must now come -- with the birth of my littlest sister.  Mom was induced on Friday, July 17th -- which happened to be the same day I was scheduled to work in the maternity ward.  I could walk into labor and delivery to visit my mom in between my responsibilities, and I recall holding her hand during difficult contractions.  Her tight grip scared me!  By that afternoon, not long after I finished my shift, my sister was born, Abigail Katherine.  It was just a few days before my 14th birthday, and just a month after my mom's 45th birthday.  Here she was, another addition to our family.  I am ashamed to recall that I was not as excited about Abby as I should have been.  Emily was so cute and so fun, I didn't feel like I needed another sister!  In the years that followed, however, my eyes were opened to see how precious it was for my parents to have another baby in the house.  Poor Mom had to endure the "Sarah and Isaac" jokes, but bore it well, looking a full ten years younger than most of her peers -- radiating with youth and mothering her new baby.  

I'm linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales where we're writing our stories in 15 chapters.  Note:  I'm going back through some of my posts and adding more pictures, since I got a few pics over the weekend.  You can click the "Life Story" label below to read them all.


MommaHarms said...

becoming a "teen" was huge in my book too! So funny the things we think are important when we're young!

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Oh mine...I could hardly get through this without tears...I had number 6 at age 45, and my daughter was with me through delivery, it was a home birth.and she was 14 at his much of this story is hers also...but she was born in 1991!!!
I am sure that baby is the joy of your family as ours has been....isn't God just awesome!!
Loved all your home school stories...I wonder how mine will tell theirs!!!
Enjoyed soooooooo much!!! See even home school kids go through different seasons...oh, she also had the older girls, and still does, want to be her friend in order to be around her brothers...single brothers ages 24 and 21!!!

Emily said...

Great post as always!
Imagine how lonely my life would have been without that last little baby! :) I am thankful for Abby every day!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I had forgotten about some of those things!:) I guess I never knew that you guys weren't as excited about Abs as I was...I remember Rachel Miller and I in the nursery (watching Emily!) talking about how great it would be to have baby sisters. It really seemed impossible, so when mom said she was expecting, it was something I had WANTED for so long....Hmmm....where have my maternal instincts gone!? >:/ (maybe I used them up!) haha
Oh man, I was SO jealous of you being a candy striper. Cute little jumper, working in a REAL snack shop, and delivering flowers. hmph.


Emily said...

You should put up the picture of you in your formal. I used to LOVE that picture, I thought you were soooo beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gret, I get tears in my eyes each time you mention your mother, she was such a loving mom, and I believe all you kids have the same memory of your kind mother. She worked very hard while she was carrying Abby to keep her health at the best level she could.


Jenny said...

I love picking up words from others' storie that I've forgotten about - like LA Gear. :)

You are so lucky you got to be a candystriper. I never got to, but I really wanted to wear one of those outfits. We lived too far from a hospital, though. When I started college and we moved to a new town, I immediately volunteered at the hospital. I didn't get the cute striped outfit, though; I had to wear a bubble gum pink jacket.

Neat perspective to read about someone who was homeschooled as a teenager - I loved school, but we are homeschooling our kids so far.