The Postman Hardly Rang Once

Nearing the homestretch of Momalom’s five-for-ten challenge, the theme of lust knocks furtively upon Monday’s door…

It was late in seventh grade when I was invited to my first “boy girl party.”  I was thrilled to be included, but the murmuring rumors about what might happen there echoing along the green linoleum corridors of Lincoln Hall put a lump of fear in my throat.

I had heard that at a recent party, one of the many to which I had not been invited, one of the cool boys put his tongue in a girl’s ear.  I’d never heard of such a thing, nor could I imagine why George or the girl would want anything to do with that, but George was clearly someone who knew what he was doing and I clearly was not.

In the Wednesday fish-stick smell of the cafeteria we sat nerdily discussing if there would be spin the bottle at the boy girl party.

Come Saturday we approached the host girl’s townhouse, a girl I hardly knew who lived with her mom (and no dad).  The mom was vivacious and showed us three nerd musketeers through the kitchen and into the heart of the party:  bright lights, scratchy plaid couch, awkward tension.

I sat alternating handfuls of Fritos and M&Ms for what seemed like hours.  There was no dip, only me (the drip) and chips.  Dancing happened, but I remained sewn into that couch (although my comparatively cooler friend busted some moves that made me realize he’d been watching “American Bandstand” rather more closely than I would have suspected).

It was announced that we would be playing, not spin the bottle, but “Postman.”  The rules were set forth:  one person went to a private room and sent a letter or package to a second person.  A letter was to signify a kiss, while a “package,” or the number of stamps on the letter were code to clue the recipient about whether they would be going to first or second base or, gasp, beyond.

I was too nervous to fully take in the rules, but as the party went on and a few popular kids went back and forth up the narrow stairs to a land unseen and unknown by me, I grew bored and resigned to the notion that one could “play” Postman and never actually get any mail.

I was picking crumbs out of the Fritos bowl when someone whispered into my ear that I had a letter.  I had so completely checked out by that point that I had no clue about whom it was from, but my heart raced as I climbed the stairs and entered a tiny bedroom where a girl stood in the dim light of a slatted closet.

Dreamy yet trepidatious I approached this towering girl—the very tallest child of all the kids in my class while I was the shortest of the boys.  Wow, who would have possibly guessed that she was into me?  She leaned down and planted a kiss on my cheek—about as sexually charged as being kissed good-bye by one of my mom’s friends.

I briefly thought about making a slightly more aggressive move, given that she had invited me up there and put it on the line like that when she said, “Maybe for your letter, you should pick someone who hasn’t been picked.”

All at once the briefest illusion about being desired, about being part of the cool kids, about being part of the Postman game crumbled around me as I realized that my letter was a Jerry’s Kids, March of Dimes sort of missive, a “please give,” letter and not a “Postman always rings twice” deal.

And so I picked a girl who no one thought was hot, although I really did think that she was cute, and when she came upstairs I kissed her innocently on the cheek as I had been taught, but I skipped the motherly suggestion and let her breathlessly request one of the oft-chosen boys who already had a sack of mail and probably needed some Chapstick by this point.  And so I turned and trudged languid and bittersweet down the stairs to bring my message to the kissable boy—my last bit of action in the Postman game.

As a parent I look back and am delighted with the tall girl who was so kind as to include me, even if she wasn’t mature enough to leave me thinking that it wasn’t merely charity; but then again, now I’m also mature enough to consider that she might, just might, have actually liked me, but would have been too shy to admit that (and I certainly was too clueless to pick up any sub-sledgehammer level clues); maybe she was like me—too self-conscious to actually believe that anyone would really like her, being so tall and different and everything.

In a way maybe her tallness, her differentness, was also a sort of foreshadowing, as Andy tells me that she was the very tallest kid in her class and felt self-conscious and awkward about it in middle school.  I almost always liked girls taller than me, sort of a Boris and Natasha archetype perhaps?

While we all want our kids to know that they are beautiful, wonderful and more than good enough, every one of them will face moments of uncertainty, feelings of being the imposter, the loser, the disappointment or the ugly duckling.  Yet as parents we can stand together, not comparing and competing, but rather sending the big vibe, the big care-package that’s more nourishing and sustaining than a middle school letter here and a groping moment there, intuiting that all these splendid children will consciously join our group one day, but that even now, today, they are already in—loved and recognized as an inexorably part of our unity—that the group wouldn’t be a group without them.

So, as we struggle to not “go postal” in our darker moments (no offense to our valued actual mail carriers), neither rain, nor sleet, or snow nor gloom of night will stay us couriers from the swift completion of our appointed task:  to love our world and all its collective children.  Thus, ask not for whom the doorbell tolls, it tolls for we.

Namaste, Bruce


22 Responses to “The Postman Hardly Rang Once”

  1. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    What a poignant story, and so beautifully told.

    This is what I fear most about being a parent (the second part, not the first part): “While we all want our kids to know that they are beautiful, wonderful and more than good enough, every one of them will face moments of uncertainty, feelings of being the imposter, the loser, the disappointment or the ugly duckling.” Say it ain’t so, Bruce. (I remember, by the way, in a flood of post-partum hormones, rocking my older son when he was less than a week old and crying about the idea that he would one day have to enter a cafeteria and might not have a place to sit. Spending ten years as a secondary school teacher might have afflicted me worse than I yet realize.)

    So I’ll definitely stand with you, and, I think, the parents of your tall classmate who must have done more than a few things right.

  2. Stacia Says:

    Oh, I remember those days, those games, those feelings of being both participant and outlier. Like you and Kristen, I dread those days for my own children, though I know full well it’s all part of growing up, figuring out the “important” things, and discovering who they are. I hope I can always make them feel part of a safe, supportive in crowd.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And when we cannot, at least we grown-ups can comfort each other and trust that mentors, friends and lovers will show up in our children’s lives and that we cannot, and should not, be everything to our kids. It’s not that my children’s pains do not tear my heart to shreds, it’s that I also see how wounds survived make for soul.

  3. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point Says:

    I think about this all the time, Bruce. I have friends who have kids old enough to be bullied. One even started a non-profit organization called Beyond Differences whose mission is to teach kids to be more inclusive. I love your idea of sending a big care package to the group.

    Thank you for a beautiful post. Great to meet you through 5-4-10.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      How great to hear about kids feeling so empowered and caring as to start an organization like that. When the message that it is cool to be kind and inclusive comes from kids it has the most impact on kids.

      Great to meet you too, Belinda, and hats off to Jen and Sarah—isn’t 5-4-10 in its own way a non-profit project helping us grown-up parents be inclusive and move beyond differences to find our common love and concern for all our collective children?


  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Oh, this brought back memories of the horrors of those clueless years – and not being one of the popular kids. (Geek wasn’t chic back then.)

    Lovely, Bruce. And funny, and endearing.

    And reminded me of this – which I hope you don’t mind if I share. (What was it with the tongue-in-the-ear thing, especially in Junior High??)

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I remember chuckling at that post of yours last December 🙂 As for those clueless and geeky years, I like to think they helped give us soul—I also like to think that they might have even fueled deeper erotic inner lives to inform and sustain the later passions we come (pun intended) to so appreciate.

  5. Corinne Says:

    Wow Bruce. Just wow. I was one of those ugly ducklings for years, and this brought back so much. So much worry for my kids, and hope that it can be different for them. Somehow.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And, hopefully, the realization that the beauty that serves us best in the end must come from the inside and then make its way out, but especially our own ability to the the beauty in everything—particularly in the painful.

      Perhaps the happier and more happily connected we are as grown-ups, the more convincingly we represent being kind and accepting as a path to happiness (and help kids realize that people, including kids, who feel truly good about themselves are generally kind). Thus cruelty is as often about other people’s insecurity interacting with the naivete of the young and the sweet.

  6. Aging Mommy Says:

    Stopping by from the Momalom challenge. Reading the first part of your post brought back so many memories of those childhood parties and games and those hopeless yet still hopeful feelings we all had. Oh my, makes me glad I am no longer young 🙂

    At the same time, I too think about all my now three year old daughter will have to face in life, the highs and lows and I wish I could take all the lows and bear them for her too, but it is part of growing up, of preparing for life ahead, to go through it all and as you say, all we can do is be there, encouraging and loving them through it all. Great post.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It’s hard to know what was in our parents’ heads when we were young, but I really doubt that my dad or mom delved into my feelings (or even knew exactly where I was or what I was doing) back in the day. I’m hoping that our level of attunement might take some of the edge off our kids’ potential suffering… or so I hope.

      I find if we’re less alone things are more bearable, but still sometimes we have to buckle our seat-belts and ride through the pain with our kids however it shows up in their lives.

      Thanks for visiting and connecting in this way, it seems we’re all getting a lot out of this five-for-ten experience.

  7. Natalie Says:

    My old high school boyfriend just friended me on facebook. His new wife is a lot taller than he is. That’s all I’ve been able to surmise thus far.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      That does happen—and his kids may thank him one day (as my boys are wont to do as they grow past me).

      So, are you able to hope that the ex’s wife also nice? I find it a liberating threshold when we arrive at that place where we truly want the best for our ex’s. Depending what they were like, I suppose, and the circumstances of the ending, for some of us that might be easier than others (or so I’ve seen in my friends and clients).


      • Natalie Says:

        I’ve always wished only for his happiness – it’s the number one reason I broke up with him ten plus years ago, after three years of on and off. He deserved something real. It looks like he’s finally found it.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Even if we all love each other, it’s hard to fathom why one thing is a match and another is not. I intuit that your selfless loving attitude has come full circle back to you, bringing the family you are blessed with and the peace of knowing (or at least rooting for) your old boyfriend’s happiness as well.

  8. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla Says:

    Bruce, what a lovely post. I know we didn’t go to the same school in Chicago, but we could have! That dreadful awkwardness, that overthinking on the couch, wondering if anyone would pick me ever, such excruciating experiences! Even if the tall girl told you, still it was so kind to not leave you out of the fun and leave you open to the other boys’ possible teasing. And how nice of you to pass it on.

    And, on a lighter note, love the Boris and Natasha comparison!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Yes, in virtual terms we practically were at that same school, that same party, those same feelings. And to think how far we were then from this sort of honest interchange, and yet we somehow arrived here—it helps me have hope for all our kids and for all of us.

  9. ck Says:

    I love how you wrote this post. The angst and nerves of the situation and how you twisted the perspective in the end. I feel like that’s one of the best things we can give our kids – the ability to be bigger than the situation, and to battle what could seem like rejection with compassion.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thanks, and I like how you put that. I sometimes think about parenting as being like a bowl big enough to hold our children’s fears and feelings until they grow to become bowls of their own.

  10. Larry Says:

    I have to weigh in, cause I may be the only guy to comment and just feels like some yang is needed 😉 So, thought I’d throw in this perspective…

    I remember the make out parties and all the nervousness. The combined feeling of excitement and being afraid. Really uncharted territory. It makes me think about how our culture seems to repress our nascent sexual expression so early on. I’m Jewish, but the classic George Carlin routine about sin is great, copied below…

    ‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!
    It was a sin for you to wanna feel up Ellen. It was a sin for you to plan to feel up Ellen. It was a sin for you to figure out a place to feel up Ellen. It was a sin to take Ellen to the place to feel her up. It was a sin to try to feel her up and it was a sin to feel her up. There were six sins in one feel, man!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      So in middle school I might still have been innocent, because I’m not sure even did WANNA… but by high school I guess I was in deep bad stuff. And I’m six for six with Ellen—but that will have to wait for another post 🙂

      Thanks for bringin’ the yang, Larry

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