Category Archives: growing up

It Was All About the Jeans in 6th Grade

Back in the Olden Days, as my kids call my childhood, I lived on the north side of Helena, Montana, in a neighbor with small ramblers filled with kids, lotsa kids.

In my neighborhood, we were nearly all the same.  We had moms and dads living in our homes.  Our moms sewed and gardened and made homemade cookies. We kids rode bikes, built forts, went swimming at the Municipal Pool,  and played baseball for hours in the old cemetery.

My life changed in 6th grade.  Our elementary school only went up to 5th grade, so we all trudged up Lamborn Ave. to another elementary school on the hill.

It was a newer building, with new playground equipment and unblemished sidewalks without weeds in the cracks. The building didn’t have crumbling stucco painted  institutional light green, but had new bricks with clean mortar.

More than the building was different in this new world. The kids on the hill wore new clothes. They went on vacations with their families. They skied. They had hair styles, not hair cuts, because their moms didn’t cut their hair. They had cool shoes and even cool tube socks.

Suddenly, my world had division -  THEM and US.

In my view, the biggest division came with the jeans. 


The kids in my old world wore jeans without name, the fancy stitching, or the pocket décor.


In my new world, the coolest girls wore HASH jeans.  They were $50.  I couldn’t fathom having or spending that much on one pair of jeans. At $.75 per hour, I would have had to babysit for 67 hours for one pair of jeans.  Wasn’t going to happen.


But a girl could dream how good she’d look in these jeans.

And it wasn’t only what was on the back pockets, it was what was in the front pockets.

I had lint, change and an occasional note from a friend, they had money.  Not change, bills.  When we shopped at Terry’s Convenience Store at lunch time or after school, they could buy  from any shelf in the store, while my friends and I hovered around the bottom shelf of the first aisle with the penny candy and the Ferrara Pan boxes that cost $.10.

On a Fall sunny Saturday, I  walked my little sister up to my new school on the hill and let her play on the playground. Another kid was already there, but he wasn’t in a friend-making mood.  From Terry’s, he had purchased an entire box of ice-cream sandwiches, something we’d rarely had. To keep our  ice-cream loving family of eight satisfied, my mom purchased a big bucket of vanilla and Neapolitan ice-cream weekly. It lasted a lot longer than a box of specialty treats.

He sat on the swing and ate and ate and ate.  My sister and I must have glanced his way more than once, and he knew we were mentally counting the number of ice-cream bars in the box, the number he could reasonably eat, and the number of people on the playground. I expected sharing to be a universal language.

He stood up, pulled out the last two ice-cream sandwiches, held them out towards us with a sick grin, then mashed them between his fingers, smiling the whole time.  I can still see vanilla ice cream and bits of mangled chocolate cookie dripping between his fingers.

I was filled with shame because he had noticed our desire and took joy in crushing our expectation of kindness.

During the year I was also educated on what else those allowances could buy. Another unfaded memory is one of the Snob Knob (the hill with expensive houses)  kids explaining to me what pot was, why they would want to smoke it and how beer tasted.

As the year progressed and I experienced THEM and US morphing together into the 6th grade class, I learned a lot of important life lessons.

  • There were nice kids and mean kids from the top and the bottom of the hill.
  • Having money didn’t mean you’d be happy, nor did the lack of money mean you’d be unhappy.
  • How much or how little you spent on your clothing wasn’t as important as how you behaved in your clothing.
  • Anybody could achieve success in academics or athletics.
  • Differences don’t have to divide.  They can just be differences.
  • There were labels you bought and labels you earned, and the latter couldn’t be easily changed.
  • Girls in HASH jeans and girls in Plain Pocket jeans could  be friends.
  • Being content with what you had was easier than longing for the impossible.
  • I saw that families could cause pain. It made me extremely thankful for my big, happy family and being raised with the wealth of love and laughter.

Walking up that hill in my JC Penney jeans into a new world was a great experience, because in 6th grade, my life was changed.

It wasn’t about the jeans, after all.


I’m Like Totally A Cool Mom

It’s a joyous milestone when kids grow up and dress themselves.  We watch with parental pride, admiring their independence and finesse as they flounder to put on their socks or put both legs in the same pant leg. As with every stage, we praise and support our very, lovely children.


I didn’t mock them when they put a shirt on inside out. I would gently point out the tag is a flag to be waved on their back, inside their shirt,  and help them readjust.

I wouldn’t hurt their feelings and tell them a purple and orange striped shirt didn’t match a green and pink polka-dotted skirt. But, I might carefully praise their choice, ask them to choose which item was their favorite, then direct their decision to pick something that matched.  It was to keep from scarring them for life when they’re showing childhood photos to future spouses.

When they wanted to wear their dress-ups in public, I bore the quizzical stares and the raised eyebrows as a mother martyr would.  I allowed them the freedom to express themselves. I didn’t make fun of their style, not at all.  I didn’t walk really fast and pretend I wasn’t with them, no matter what they wore.  I didn’t roll my eyes at them, or heave patronizing sighs, or change my mind about going out with them in public.   I might release myself from the shame of the moment by saying, “Isn’t it cute what kids wear when they dress themselves?” 

The next milestone isn’t so joyous, the one where they pick out their own clothes, shoes and hair style according to what their peers have deemed cool.  Armed with newly-found discernment and their parents’ cash, they shop and get most rad hairstyle the ‘rents will allow. When fully clothed in cool, their eyes wander to those ‘rents who just funded their makeover and become painfully aware of their lack of style. They cringe at the jeans that don’t have the right width of pant legs or the right depth of the waistband.  Hair color and style are evaluated and gray hairs they caused will be randomly pulled from your head when they dare stick up around the new cool kid.

Imagine my surprise when they hit this milestone and didn’t  offer the same support and the  freedom to express myself I freely bestowed upon them just those few short years ago. The undying love and adoration they always felt for their ‘rents becomes slightly scribbled over with childish embarrassment as they realize their ‘rents are NOT cool.



WHAT?  Me, not cool? Are you, like, totally, like, out of your mind?


My clothes match, I don’t wear anything inside out or upside down, and I quit wearing dress-ups to the grocery store a few months ago.


What does it take to be a cool mom?


Dress just like her daughters?  No, that’s just wrong.  Moms can dress in style,  that’s ok, but like their daughters? No way. We’ve all seen those women.  We can’t become those women.

Use the hip phrases of time?  DUDE just doesn’t sound right on mom’s lips, even though it is contagious and sometimes we slip.Besides, when you use their words, you stand to be lectured on what those words mean and if you’re using them correctly.  Dude!  It’s just annoying!

Hairstyles?  A mom is supposed to have one? So combing my hair once a day whether it needs it or not doesn’t count as a hairstyle? Does anyone else find it ironic that the very ones who basically refused to comb their hair and brush their teeth for the first 12 years of their lives now find it necessary to monitor their parents’ grooming skills?


Who gets to define cool?

Her kids? 

Her kids’ friends?

Her husband? OK, if a husband doesn’t  notice new curtains, a haircut or new shade of lipstick, how can he be able to rank his wife’s coolness factor?  Besides, the kids who spent his hard-earned money to morph into coolness probably have their coolness radar detector out on Pops, too. And it’s probably not bleeping very much.

So, who gets to define cool? 

How about They should be pretty neutral party, doncha’ think?

Let’s use some of their definitions to see if I rank on the coolness factor.





Yep, that fits me.  I don’t get excited when the ones I used to dress criticize how I dress.


I remain calm when they say, “Mom, you’re not going to wear that, are you?”


When they say, “Um, you’re kinda’  old to be wearing that,” I stay composed.


I remain cool when they face disaster by saying,  “You would look 20 years younger if you’d flat-iron  your hair.”









Apparently, my coolness can even diffuse a situation. When they realize their parents will never measure up to their standards, their intensity will lessen. Their disappointment will cool their earlier zealousness for converting  parents to coolness.

So, that, my friends, proves my point.


I am a cool mother.


And it’s a good thing my kids don’t read my blog.  It’ll keep them from using my line, “Isn’t it cute when my mother dresses herself?”

Making your home sing Mondays

I’ve Eaten Rattlesnake

In 1977, my seventh grade homeroom teacher was a Vietnam Vet.  Mr. Jewell was enthusiastic and encouraging, and  seemed too young to have the few streaks of gray hair that kept the girls from obsessing about him. But when he shared the rare stories of being in the jungles, we knew he’d earned his silver.

He tried to make Science fun.  For a bunch of teenagers more concerned if they could afford HASH jeans or if they were going to get asked to slow dance during the first Helena Junior High school dance, it was a challenge.

On a Saturday in September, he foraged into the Montana wilderness with a friend, a snake pole and a cage.  He came back with our new classroom pet, a rattlesnake.  The snake lived in the corner of the room where he was constantly watched by kids who absorbed his identity.


Having the only teacher with a rattlesnake in their homeroom, made you cool.

Snake was fed various creatures, but usually not during class time.

Growing up in Montana, you learned to watch for rattlesnakes, the original settlers.  You watched the sunny rocks while hiking, you listened for the rattle noise in the bushes. In the olden days, we were told to cut an X over an accidental  bite to suck the blood and venom and spit it out. We were taught to identify snake head and pattern shapes to know friend or foe.

Mr. Jewell taught us the foe could also be a friend.

Then, after a year of being the cool kids with the rattlesnake in their classroom, we took one step further into the adventure.

We ate our pet snake.

I know this sounds like a scene from Lord of the Flies, but there wasn’t anything ritualistic or sadistic about it.  He cooked the snake at home and brought it in, still snake shaped, in aluminum foil.

Mr. Jewell, the coolest teacher in the world, presented it to us in a way we couldn’t resist. It was our chance to do something unusual.  It was our chance to push ourselves to do something we were afraid of.

He told us, “You can brag about this the rest of your life.”

I listened to his urgings and like the majority of the other kids in the homeroom, timidly took a bite.  It tasted like chicken.

That summer, I moved from Montana to North Dakota. In trying to impress the flat-landers, on more than one occasion I was able to work into the conversation, “I ate rattlesnake one time.”

In college, when much bragging was done inside and outside of classrooms, I was able to casually mention, “Well, I’ve eaten rattlesnake.”

Moving to the the west coast where people love all kinds of exotic and ethnic foods, I’m still able to assert, “I’ve eaten rattlesnake.”

It wasn’t just about the snake, I know now.  It was about confidence and conquering.  It was about taking chances. It was about having no regrets.  (I’ve never been offered rattlesnake again.)  Overcoming fear.  Listening to an adult who knew more than you.  It was a life-changing experience.

Cuz’, you know what?

I’ve eaten rattlesnake.



I Love Being A Grown-up!

When I was a kid, I thought grown-ups had it made.
Those rare occasions when Mom and Dad went out,
I would watch mom get dressed in her beautiful clothes,
rat her hair and coat it with enough aerosol hairspray
to be responsible for the hole in the ozone,
carefully apply her makeup and accessorize with jewelry,
and I’d long to be a grown-up.
Now, I’m weary of having to do my hair and make-up every day,
and would love to wear the same thing for a whole week in a row.
I might try that sometime, you just watch.
I would hear them talking after we went to bed,
and I’d wish I could stay up past 9pm.
Now, I wish I could go to bed at 9pm!
Sometimes, the smell of popcorn would waft under my bedroom door
and I would protest to myself, “No fair!”
Now I have to hear my children complain about the snacks
 we consume after they get sent to bed.
It seems fair now!
In my mind, adults had a wonderful life
and I could hardly wait to grow up and experience everything.
Too soon, I realized adult life is more full of responsibility
than spontaneous and never-ending fun, as I once imagined.
Sure you can eat ice-cream any time you want,
but you have to pay for it, then wear it forever.
You can stay up as late as you want,
but you still have to get up early in the morning for work or children.
I find myself looking at my children’s lives with a bit of envy,
longing for their lack of duties,
all their free time,
and their carefree minds unburdened by responsibilities.
But, the other day I was a consoled by a huge benefit of being a grown-up.
That big heart-shaped box of chocolates is now MINE,
all MINE,
(thanks, honey!)
and I can eat it any way I want.
I discovered something new about myself this year.
I AM one of those people,
who takes one little bite out of each chocolate.
Just because I can.
Just because,
 I’m a grown-up.
What do YOU do
just because you’re a grown-up?
Do share your secrets!