The summer between 7th and 8th grade, Natalie read an article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times that rankled her. I told her being rankled was the perfect condition to be in to try writing her first Op-Ed piece. She had already watched me on many a occasion work through my own “rankled moments” by getting my thoughts and feelings down on paper. She also knew how difficult it was to get something published (the Los Angeles Times receives hundreds of op-ed submissions each week). She decided she was up to the challenge of short deadline and word count: 750 words or fewer.
A day later, she submitted the following 469-word op-ed to the newspaper. Within hours, she received an email acknowledgement. I told her she would hear from the editorial staff within a few days.
I am thirteen. So, by now I should be wearing short-shorts, ignoring adults, swooning over boys, and tucking all of my toys away in a corner of my closet, claiming to be “too old” for such things, right? According to society, yes.
On my 11th birthday, everybody gave me the classic greeting, “Happy Birthday! Are you doing anything special?” Next birthday, it was, “Twelve? Don’t give your parents too much grief!” And on my 13th birthday, I got a slightly amused look along with, “A teenager! Uh oh! Nothing but trouble now.”
This summer I was taking group swim lessons at a neighborhood pool. After a few sessions, my teacher asked me, “How old are you, nine?”
I shook my head. “I’m thirteen.”
My swim teacher looked startled. “Thirteen? Really?” I could see her brain working this out as she added, “Are you from here in Los Angeles?”
I do not look young for my age, but I did say “hello” before each lesson and thanked my teacher at the end of each lesson. Apparently, thirteen-year-olds aren’t supposed to be so friendly. If they are, people will go to such lengths as to suppose that the teenager is from another place (like Mars or something)!
I have a very good friend, also 13, who lives just a few blocks away. We try to get together at least once a week to play with our well-loved “American Girl” dolls, or go up into the attic (also known as Gryffindor Tower) to visit our LEGO world, sometimes laughing so hard we fall over at the funny stories we make up together. And yes, we will both be going into eighth grade this September.
This morning, while searching for the comics, I happened to notice the front page of the Business section. I had to stop and stare at it for a few seconds, so shocking was the photograph I saw: dolls wearing boots with high heels so high that their feet are almost vertical; skirts so short they are really more like underwear; heavy make-up, and mean smirks on their faces. No wonder girls are becoming rude and disrespectful by the time they are thirteen. I know that when I was five and six, I looked up to my Kit and Molly “American Girl” dolls, who in their stories were nine. They were my friends, and still are. If five and six year old girls are looking up to dolls like “Monster High” dolls, when they are a bit older they will surely start attempting to be like their beloved “monster.” Even though they are dolls, they are examples, and as the girls who play with them reach their teen years, these examples from their past will collide with current peer pressure, and these girls may very well become monsters themselves.
A few days later, Natalie received a polite email rejection from an editor. She was disappointed but not surprised. Then I suggested she edit down the piece and re-submit it to the “Letters to the Editor.” I told her it would require ruthless editing, but that it would be wonderful practice in getting her message down to its essential elements. I sat next to her while she went to work cutting out 300 words to satisfy the 150-word length limit. Here’s her published letter, which the editors titled “Golly, what dollys!”