When I was at the end of my fourth grade year (same age as Max now) and everything had burst out in green and yellow and smelling of fresh grass and bitter dandelions, I used to run to the bike racks after school, haul out my shit-brown-recently-painted-navy three speed, and, from the little kids' side of the building, grab my seven-year-old sister. From there we'd ride the flat streets home.
Every day, almost without fail, I wore my hair in Laura Ingalls braids. Not because I admired her braids. Though I didn't NOT admire them. But because that is how my dad styled my hair in the morning. I imagine it was quick and easy and kept me looking somewhat decent.
As usual, I ran to the bike rack--unselfconscious and just wanting to get home. I remember pumping one foot down, ready to pedal away, when a popular boy and his equally cool friend stepped in front of me and grabbed my handlebars.
"Wear your hair down again tomorrow," he said.
If I'd had the language then, I would've thought, WTF?
I was taken off guard.
I did leave my hair down the next day and the same thing happened.
But to do that a third time would've seemed too acquiescent. As if I cared what the popular boy thought. And I might have cared a little. But I couldn't let him know it. I went back to asking my dad for braids.
Those couple of days were the beginning and the end. It took me another good year before I truly, painfully cared what a boy thought of me, at which time my caring turned into a six-year-crush that ceased only when I heard that the object of my tortured teenage desire screwed, at a party, a girl-whose-name-he-didn't-know. (He was better than that!)
As my fourth grade year waned, though, my dirty, sweaty, marble-shooting, tag-playing afternoons dwindled to almost nothing and I was introduced to the intoxication of nabbing male approval by presenting myself cleanly and prettily.
I sometimes shake my head sadly for the ten-year-old girl stopped in her tracks and told that a certain thing, a certain hairstyle, looked more attractive than another.
I'm Facebook friends with both popular boys now, as well as the one I spent so many days and nights thinking about from age 11 to 17, my longing leaving me breathless and nauseated.
I glance at their profiles with nothing more than a passing, flaccid interest.
I still care about being pretty and clean. I guess it was inevitable. But at the same time, I want to punch those stupid boys and their premature hormonal bossiness in their now graying testicles.
I want that braided girl back.