You know what’s great? Fashion tips from your kids. Like say, Do you think these jeans make my butt look fat? And my kid answers back without missing a beat, Yes! And gives me a high five on the butt because big booties are awesome. She’s always helping me with my low self esteem.
So the other day I’m hemming and hawing about what shoes to wear because I have amazingly small feet, and while they are cute and dainty, they make my legs look like colossal tree trunks extending into thighs of a speed skater (I so missed my calling). Picking out shoes to wear with skinny jeans can be tricky because I just feel like I have radishes for legs and maybe I need some boots or giant-soled doc martins to balance things out, you know?
She talks me into wearing my converse shoes and tells me with an exaggerated eye roll that scrunching my socks down is so nineties. Really??! I think she’s right. I’ve been hanging onto these quirky style habits from my high school days and it’s so hard to let go of them. Like they say, you will keep dressing the way you did when you think you looked the best, thus my side-swiped bangs and a ponytail forever until the end of time. I’ve tried parting my hair in the middle and sporting it like Bug does but I just can’t let go. 1990 forever!!
Anyway, these not-so-flattering skinny jeans sucked into my tiny shoes without any bunchy socks reminded me of a funny story. Well, not really a story so much but one of those snippets of memory that is clear. It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t from childhood.
It was fourth grade and we used to play four square a lot during recess. It was the thing. Everyone played, all the time. The whole blacktop was covered with painted four square courts and every court had a line. I wasn’t very athletic and I even played, which says a lot. Because you know, I’d much rather be out in the field looking for four leaf clovers but there I was with everyone else, pounding a big red rubber ball into the black asphalt.
There were so many rules too! No cornies (corners), no bounce-backs etc etc etc. We spent so much time fighting about the nuances of four square. Shouting matches turned into brawls and justice was served by the whistle of the yard narc. Things got so heated up regularly that one day my fourth grade teacher had had it and she marched out to the blacktop and gave us all a schooling in how four square was to be played from now on. It was like bootcamp for four square, yelled out by a teacher with long frizzy brown hair like Sarah Koenig and her glasses too. She was a nice teacher and super smart but she’d had it up to here with us and our constant four square bickering.
Four square got even better after that. There were tournaments and the teachers got involved. I remember you had to work your way up to the biggest court with the sixth graders and if you were really good you got to play an end-of-the-semester game against the teachers while everyone watched. It was great.
Anyway, against that backdrop, I remember one day I was playing this one girl and she was really mean to me. Always calling me out on the stupidest of infractions and I was constantly out, never getting much of a chance to hit the ball at all. I hated that girl. I remember going home and talking to my aunt about her. I’m sure my aunt gave me some lecture about taking the high road or something or other but I do remember her telling me this one story about when she was growing up in Japan. (My mom and her family were military brats.) She said, in Japan, the lowest of the low that you could call someone was “radish legs.” Radish legs?! That was hilarious to my little fourth grade mind. I couldn’t say bad words but I could call someone radish legs? Really? My aunt was encouraging this? It was empowering.
The next day I was ready and armed with my big new word. I was a shy girl who never said anything and regularly got bullied. So when that girl started calling me out on four square infractions that I didn’t commit, I screwed up my courage and yelled, RADISH LEGS! at her as loud as my little voice could shout.
It was great. Instantly three seconds of silence hit the court. She looked at me, her eyes bulged and then she started laughing. The whole court started laughing. The line of kids waiting to play started laughing. We couldn’t stop laughing. I think we laughed until the bell rang and then continued to laugh during class. It was a moment that got forever inscribed in my memory because of all the laughing.
And to this day, when I look at my fat thighs squished into skinny jeans that get narrower and narrower into my shoes, I think of radish legs. I imagine white tendril-like roots growing out of my converse shoes and it makes me smile. I’m sure teaching children to call each other names is not a good moral of the story but I do think that sometimes humor is the best way to disarm. That girl and I were never quite at odds again and every once in a while people would call her radish legs and we’d all laugh again.
She deserved it.
Edited to add: This girl did not have radish legs. She was quite slender and also cute.