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27 October 2009

When you were growing up, how did you know... [More:]what radio station everybody was listening to?

How to get your parents to buy you what everyone else was wearing?

if the other kids got Easter baskets (or whatever) too, or if it was just something weird your family did that you'd rather people not find out about?

how to dress for a sports event?

how to act when you go to a place or type of event that you're sure everyone else has been to but you?

how not to die of embarrassment when your mom announced things like "This is the first time he/she's ever done/seen (fill in something everyone else has done/seen)"?

how on earth everybody else got their hair to look that way?

I could go on...not sure what the point of this post is, except to hear "you weren't alone" ...I think it's fashionable nowadays to say things like "I hardly ever let my kids watch TV" or "My kid doesn't eat at fast food restaurants" and I guess my parents were ahead of the curve on those things, but in reality the parents let the kids watch plenty of TV and eat fast food at least once a week, whereas we didn't. I didn't even know the other kids got their music from the radio, which was pretty much how you heard it at the time. I thought they just somehow knew which music was cool through word of mouth and the occasional TV concert. I thought kids my age would think radio was old-fashioned. (My parents had no radio in the car, and only listened to serious radio at home.)

I suppose my parents were extremely judgmental about not doing things their way, so much so that it never occurred to me to do things like turn on the TV on my own. Thank god for siblings.

Did I just have too much fear of being laughed at from speaking up in order to find out what was really going on? Does everyone have to get laughed at in order to get a clue?

Am I just venting about typical adolescent angst about needing to fit in? Anybody care to join me? Any other insights?
It's horrible not to fit in, and yet, at this great distance in time, I'm glad I didn't. I "paid in advance."
posted by Obscure Reference 27 October | 12:10
Given what I perceived as the high school correlation between smoking and social status, I've always thought of nicotine addiction as a "popularity tax".
posted by Joe Beese 27 October | 12:21
It was so easy to underestimate the size of the world then! I was self-assured about most things (and I was fairly systematic about watching people for a long time before trying to fit into any group) but on at least one major point I was sure I was the only one who... and I couldn't talk to anyone about it. Figuring that out was an unspeakable relief.

Anyway, the answer to your question "how did you know..." is what I just said - I watched and listened a lot before I moved in. I think it's pretty cool to have the confidence to act freely and not worry about what other people think; but I think it's also worth developing the skill of reading people and groups a little bit. Both things are useful. Sometimes LURK MOAR is actually good advice, though I don't think LURK FOREVAR is.

Oh - and I never figured out how to get my parents to buy me what everyone else was wearing. In hindsight, having food on the table was the better choice.
posted by Wolfdog 27 October | 12:36
My mom wanted to buy me what everyone else was wearing--we had the money, and she really wanted me to fit it. Still does, really. My non-conformity wasn't due to economic need, but my own personal quirkiness.
posted by mrmoonpie 27 October | 12:52
I had four older brothers and sister, each with slightly different musical taste and personal style, so I got exposed to music and fashion through them as well as through the osmosis of school and community.

Each of my siblings moved away (to college or boarding school) while I was in middle school, which was freeing in a way. That meant that, when I discovered college radio and embraced new wave and punk rock in the early '80s, there was no one bigger hovering over me teasing me and revealing to my friends that just a few years ago I was listening to Sesame Street records and disco collections.

But I was --- let's face it --- a big dork. All the musical exposure in the world didn't help with that.

How to get your parents to buy you what everyone else was wearing?

OH GOD CLOTHING. This is one arena in which my dorkiness was unchallenged. I had a lot of hand-me-downs, and they were from the 1970s. This was a cruel but necessary household economy. Getting dressed for school was an exercise in anticipating humiliation, until I got older and started exploring the fringes of punk.

One bright patch in this shadow of dorkdom: my parents didn't buy us a ton of clothing, but my mother sewed. This meant I could usually talk her into making something with clean, simple lines and plain colors for me, and I could wear all those pieces together, which was a relief from the tumult of pattern and color in the hand-me-downs.

My parents also gave us a small monthly clothing allowance, separate from our weekly allowance. We were allowed to pick the articles of clothing, within reason. That way, we had no one buy ourselves to blame for the choices.

Getting into the counterculture was pretty freeing: in middle school, I started making my own clothes, making crazy art-project clothing, wearing repurposed or refashioned accessories, shopping for clothes in vintage shops and for jewelry at the hardware store... it got to be fun instead of a chore. I have pretty fond memories of a lot of that gear. OMG TINFOIL DRESS I LOVE YOU.

My childhood best friend (and current blogmate) had a well established sense of offbeat style, inherited from her funky artist mom. Said mom used to take me shopping with them, and occasionally even bought me something over my protests. It only recently occurred to me that she was trying gently to take me under her wing, to help me blossom, to give me a chance to be less dorky. It didn't work, but --- so many years later --- I'm intensely grateful to her for trying.

It's only in recent years that I've started seeing how disengaged my parents were by the time I was growing up, and how that shaped me.
posted by Elsa 27 October | 13:07
I was really pretty much left to my own devices as a child. I didn't get a phone in my room until I was in middle school. I got a TV in my room the summer before 8th grade (so about 12-13ish).

I was known to be a bit...odd throughout school. I used to get my ass kicked on a regular basis when in elementary school (and I was sent to daycare every day afterwards, which was where the most of it would occur). I started playing volleyball pretty regularly in 4th grade so I missed out on a lot of those activities that children got to do. I didn't really go to many sleepovers and when I did, they were always something that my parents would tell me were bad if I was avoiding something else to go to one.

In HS, I knew a lot of people, but I wasn't exactly friendly with them. I thinks more of that was due to the way the school was structured than actually learning how to deal with people. Same sort of deal in college, but I was viewed as a bit scary then, for some unknown reason. (Srsly, I slept through most of freshman year. How is that scary?)

It hasn't been until fairly recently that I've slowly started to figure out what parts of my personality are genuine and what parts I've just manufactured in order to get by.

As far as clothes and whatnot, I pretty much just sucked it up and wore a lot of crap. My mother keeps buying me shit she thinks I'll wear (such as dresses that look appropriate for little girls, but scaled up sizes and things that HOT NEON PINK) and she keeps getting disappointed when I return things. Plus she hasn't been able to figure out what size I wear. Ever. And then she fusses and will cut the tags out of clothes.

My father and I have had our...disagreements in the past, but I'm slowly coming to realize that I'm closer to him than I am to my mother. They both have agendas that they are constantly pushing, but at least he is open about it, whereas she will try to hide it behind bullshit smiles and lies.

Then again, I was pretty isolated as a child. I wasn't allowed to play outside (not even in our own yard) or go to friend's houses (unless my parents could drive me over and pick me up themselves). I couldn't talk on the phone without having conversations listened to. I developed a code to write in my diary (that I still remember to this day and can even still write just as quickly in it as normal English). I remember making my own board games and setting up different pieces and then just taking turns playing against myself, since we didn't have a complete board game set.
posted by sperose 27 October | 15:04
Oh hey I have a bit to say about this, but I think I just experienced one of those moments that serena mentioned:

I didn't get a phone in my room until I was in middle school.

Is this normal? Who talks on the phone before middle school? I never had a phone in my room. I don't know anyone who did. (now, of course, it's irrelevant with cell phones and all).

The idea of a tv in my room still weirds me out. But that's just a me-quirk.

posted by gaspode 27 October | 15:33
I remember it being a BFD at the time to have a phone in my room, but that was probably because cordless phones were expensive and so if you wanted to talk privately, you would have to unplug and then replug the corded phone.

Or else have to listen to everyone have conversations. We had issues with the phone line at the house for many years and as of now, there's 2 phones in the entire house. One cordless in the master bedroom, one corded in the garage.

I remember hearing all the kids talking about talking on the phone in elementary school, so it was definitely a sort of status crap thing.
posted by sperose 27 October | 15:37
None of the kids in my family had a phone in their room. This is a little bit of a generational thing: phones were bigger and not cordless, though certainly I knew friends who had their own phones or, in a few cases, their own phone lines.

I did have a tiny tv in my room starting around middle school, which was a big honking deal. At slumber parties, we could watch SNL in my room, eeeeeeeeee!
posted by Elsa 27 October | 15:39
On the surface, a lot of my answers would be "we talked to each other." Kids have their own culture, that they create and shape and pass on and inherit below the radar of adults. Comparing notes on all these things, teaching skills, bragging/whining about conditions in your own home - all these are social interactions that occur whenever and wherever kids get together. I got most of my information about the world outside my family just by observing and asking.

When you were growing up, how did you know... →[More:]what radio station everybody was listening to?

I didn't really care. My parents brought me up with music. I had my own radio by age 8 or so, and I was entranced with it. I just loved turning the dial and finding interesting things. I settled on an AM oldies-to-today station from about ages 9 to 11, and to this day people often remark on my bizarre knowledge of novelty pop from the 60s and 70s. When a song got really popular with kids, we'd hang out in their rooms and sing it to each other and try to learn the words. We'd even sit with the radio and troll the dial until we found it playing, eventually. I remember doing that exact process with "I Will Survive" and "Shadow Dancin'" and "Bad Girls" and "Oh What a Night," among many others.

How to get your parents to buy you what everyone else was wearing?

Bwahahahahahaha. (Did not happen)

if the other kids got Easter baskets (or whatever) too, or if it was just something weird your family did that you'd rather people not find out about?

Compared notes with my smaller circle of closer friends. We knew a lot about what we all did/had to do at major holidays. My neighborhood had a lot of people of various faiths, Christian and Jewish, and a lot of kids of immigrant descent, so there was enough variety that we talked about stuff a fair amount.

how to dress for a sports event?

I don't recall anyone ever telling me that. Dress warm for football...that's about all I knew.

how to act when you go to a place or type of event that you're sure everyone else has been to but you?

Go slow, observe, enjoy, ask questions of trusted companions, act fairly blase with everyone else, wait for other people to do stuff before you try to do it. I'd say self-taught on this point.

how not to die of embarrassment when your mom announced things like "This is the first time he/she's ever done/seen (fill in something everyone else has done/seen)"?

My mom had been so embarrassed so often by her own mom that she was acutely aware of not embarrassing me. This might sound fantastic to some people, but she took it to such an extreme that I sometimes felt a little lost.

how on earth everybody else got their hair to look that way?

I still don't know that. At some point, some of the girls started hanging out at each other's houses experimenting with hair and makeup and clothes. This bored me, and I didn't feel like I was cute enough and was self-conscious, so I avoided those situations mostly. And my friend group changed accordingly, becoming more hippie-ish/misfit/artsy-fartsy in high school, splitting off from people who knew about hair and thus gained admittance to the popular crowd. As a result of not doing the girly stuff, though, I missed out learning about a whole lot of things I'd have been better off knowing, at an earlier age.

But in general, this is what kids do with their friends in their kid world. Find things out, compare notes.
posted by Miko 27 October | 16:56
(phones in rooms were out of the question. I took the phone and strung the cord out the door and sat on the back porch, even in winter, or if it was really too cold, on the floor of the pantry in the dark. TV in rooms also out of the question).

I do have one endearingly clueless memory from high school. We were freshman, and it was October. We'd been in high school about 5 weeks and were still shellshocked. The first dance was announced! My best friend and a satellite friend of hers and I arranged to go to the dance together, getting a ride from somebody's dad. We met up at the satellite friend's house, all dressed identically - like kids from the 1950s. I mean we all had long skirts on with nice blouses, and I do believe, hair ribbons. Pantyhose and nice shoes. We looked like we were going to church.

I think we were all under the impression that high school style really was /em> 1950s style. I blame Happy Days and Archie comics. We all seemed to instinctively think for whatever reason, that a plaid wool skirt and poofy blouse was a rockin' lock for the fall dance.

Imagine our dorkiness when we got there to find everyone in jeans, or oversized Flashdance-type sweaters and leggings, or looking as Belinda Carlisle as they could. And instead of dancing (with BOYS) they were standing in same sex groups, hopping up and down.

It just didn't jibe with our TV- and literature-based expectations.
posted by Miko 27 October | 17:02
I don't think that I ever expressed a preference about clothes to my parents, I just wore whatever was in my dresser. I think that I was born sartorially oblivious and have never figured out the whole clothes thing to this day.

In general, my parents never really told me what to do or restricted me much. My mom called it her philosophy of benign neglect; she figured that we were smart enough to make our own decisions and wasn't going to interfere.
posted by octothorpe 27 October | 18:11
Stupid idiot jerk driver || I signed up for National Novel Writing Month.