When I heard the news last week that author Judy Blume was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt almost as if I'd gotten word that a favorite aunt, or perhaps godmother, had just been diagnosed. Her characters were like family to me growing up; her books my road map to adolescence.
I was first turned on to Ms. Blume's canon in fourth grade when my teacher read aloud from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing . Peter and Fudge's exploits were the gateway drug; once I got that initial taste of Blume's first-person narratives, there was no turning back. From there I tackled It's Not the End of the World, the book that taught me that divorce, while totally sucky, could be survivable. And everything I knew about boys and "private" boy things, up until high school at least, I learned from Tony Miglione, the protagonist of Then Again, Maybe I Wont. Deenie was an early introduction to helicopter motherdom. Blubber made me thankful that no one in my fifth grade class was quite as cruel as the original "Queen Bee," Wendy. I never actually got up the nerve to read Forever --all the rage among my peers in sixth grade. But via playground chatter, it was impossible not to know what happened between the main character, Katherine, and her boyfriend on his sister's bedroom floor.
But there is little question the Judy Blume work that had the most profound effect on me was her 1970 classic, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I read it for the first of many times while in the fifth grade. The book was my initial glimpse into the possibilities and complications of interfaith marriage. Who knew back in 1977 that this would be the world I'd learn to happily navigate in my own adult life? And Margaret Simon, with her seemingly direct line to God, certainly got my personal spirituality going in a way that twice-weekly Hebrew school never fully could. I also became aware of first periods, bust-augmenting exercises, and the conundrum that comes with realizing the very cute boy you have a crush on might not, in fact, be the nicest guy in class.
So when my fifth grade daughter quietly told me earlier this summer that she might want to read one of those "Judy" books I'd been talking about all these years, I eagerly introduced her to my old friend, Margaret. Because while she may (fortunately) never have to deal with some of the slightly outdated references in the book like sanitary napkins, or even "Two Minutes in the Closet" (do kids still play that? I guess I should ask my middle schooler), she will need to deal, much like Margaret does, with both the nervousness and excitement surrounding impending adolescence.
I am starting to see subtle signs that it's getting closer. My daughter's suddenly gotten modest and has asked to switch to a female pediatrician. She no longer thinks all boys are universally gross. And she's asked to read a lot more Judy Blume books.
So, are you there, Judy? It's me, Sari. I just want to wish you a speedy recovery. And to say thanks for being there--from both of us.