Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Pool Bag

It was the most beautiful bag my young eyes had ever seen. It was the latest thing from Xhileration at Target -- a green and yellow transparent plastic patchwork masterpiece. It was very 90s mod; all Austin Powers, Eurotrash, and oh so very Spice Girls. Naturally, I needed to have it.

All the best life decisions are based on these ladies.
Luckily, I had a "good" reason for needing such a bag. Ashley's pool party was coming up, and ALL the other girls in my Brownie troop were going to be there. If I didn't have a beach tote like they all had, I knew I would just die. I was already having enough trouble fitting in after our last outing -- horseback riding -- when all of the other girls teased me mercilessly for not having real riding boots (that incident made me so ashamed that I almost didn't go on the trip -- luckily my mom intervened).

This time was going to be different. This was Ashley's party, and she had invited me. Now, I grew up in the 90s, so there was a whole pack of Ashleys in my class, but this was THE Ashley. Petite, blonde, and popular -- she was the queen bee of my Brownie troop, and the girl that everyone else wanted to be. There was no way I was going to screw this up.

This wasn't just a popular party. No, this was a BOY/GIRL party, and I was reeling with excitement. The only boys I had ever had at parties were my cousins, so this was a huge deal. In my head, I showed up to the party looking svelte and beautiful, somewhere between an Olson twin and Cher from Clueless. I would sparkle, laugh, and have a good time, and he would see me. He would see me and want to hold the HECK out of my hand. It didn't matter that I was just a dumpy third grader with no social skills whatsoever: this party was going to change everything (and it was ALL because of my shiny new pool bag).

The day finally arrived, and I triple checked to make sure everything was perfect. My new bag was packed with my towel, sunscreen, and a copy of the latest American Girl magazine; all carefully and artfully placed, visible through the shiny, green vinyl. I had butterfly clips in my braid -- the kind with the wings that really moved-- and they matched the blue butterflies on my swimsuit (thank you, mom, for these concessions to my adolescent vanity). I felt like a totally unstoppable babe. I probably looked more like this:

I learned two valuable lessons at that party. 1) If an invitation seems unusual, it's because her mom made her invite you, and 2) Never, EVER wear the same butterfly clips as the most popular girl in school. No one even looked at my super trendy bag. I was immediately accused of copying the birthday girl, and spent most of the party trying not to cry in the kitchen, surrounded by a bunch of waspy moms who were drinking white wine and talking about sending their girls to cheer camp.

I'd love to say that this was the day I learned that appearance and trendy trappings have no effect on how people see you or how you see yourself, but this is not the case. I spent years after this doing the same goofy things, trying to get the attention of the same types of people. Even when I went through my gothy phase, it was because I had people I was desperate to impress.

I didn't learn this lesson until years later, when I was jumping into another pool (fully clothed) with a group of people that I had never had to try to impress. Years after the shiny green pool bag had been sacrificed for bigger and better things, I was resting on the still-warm pavement with my friends, watching the sunset and feeling more comfortable than I ever had before. There was no purchase necessary for this happiness -- no frills needed to make it a perfect day.

Growing up is never as perfect as we all seem to think it should be. No one ever learns a lesson the first time they make a mistake, and there are no dramatic transformations that immediately make us who we want to become. However, we are given one bit of peace in this whole mess: in spite of all of our mistakes and our eternal human fumblings and awkward moments, there are still perfect days to be had.

And I learned that all, indirectly (and slowly), from that glorious, shiny, cooler-than-cool pool bag. May it still be awesome, wherever it is.

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