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Chapter 1 – 4th Grade: No Bra – Free and Easily
My grandma says everyone has their crosses to bear in life. Some people think their hair is too flat or too curly, or that they are too fat or too skinny or too tall or too short. After all, almost no one I know completely loves the way they look, especially when they’re growing up. It’s always too much or little of this or that.
My problem is—my boobs are too big. I know, I know, most girls envy that problem, some grown women too. I see my friends clasp their hands together in front of their chest, pressing together while chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” Or they wear padded bras or stuff them with tissue or rolled-up socks—weird, but kinda funny. To my knowledge, none of these works. But if it did, they would understand that even crosses that seem sent from heaven all have a little devil in them.
My name is Katie R. Sorry, Katie Reed. I’m used to writing Katie R. In my school, it’s typical for kids with common names to have more than one Bobby, John, or Karen in the same class, so to avoid confusion, the teacher refers to us with our name and the first initial of our last name. I don’t mind it too much, but it makes you hate having a common name. Every year, there’s more than one Katie in my class, so I’m used to putting the last name initial on everyone’s first name. A few times, I thought it would be fun to meld the two together and be called “Katier.”
For my eleventh birthday, everyone gave me books. I like to read. My uncle gave me a book of important words called the “Superior Persons Book of Superfluous Words” and a book about you, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My uncle says the first book is full of $10, $20, and $25 words that will get me through life. I guess the “price” is a joke about the complexity of the word. And he said the book about you would show me how to live. I like that idea. He’s a lawyer, but he calls himself a “people’s advocate.” He knows I want to be a lawyer when I grow up, or maybe an actress or model; I still haven’t decided. After reading your story, I’m definitely leaning toward lawyer or judge. You were as tough as nails and didn’t take crap from anybody, no matter what. Sometimes I wish I was that way.
My mom gave me a diary. She had one when she was my age, and it helped her during this “difficult period”—that’s what she called it. I know, right, an actual written diary. Who does that? Some older kids post every thought and feeling that comes into their head on social media, but I’m too young for that. Most of my friends aren’t on social media yet. I like the idea of a journal to write my thoughts down and clear my head. But writing in a book and to “Dear Diary” all the time seems so old-fashioned. I mean, who is dear diary? My mom bought me this book, so I should use it. But instead of diary, I’ll write to you, my new favorite hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You were so tough that you even had a nickname, “The Notorious RBG.” Very cool.
Fourth Grade is rough. I’m sure you remember. Everything’s changing. You’re not a little kid anymore, but your not a teen or even a pre-teen. I don’t know if they even have a name for this age. Just kid, I guess. Over the summer, I had a huge growth spurt. I’m now five-foot-three-inches tall. Compared to many adults, this is not tall. But in fourth grade, it’s tall and awkward.
My grandma says I’m blossoming into a flower. I sure don’t feel as beautiful or as graceful as a flower. Are there ugly flowers? Most of the time, I feel like a lowly green seed in the dirt, like in those potted gifts everyone always made for Mother’s Day in first grade. Just an ugly seed stuck in the mud.
Now my flower seems to have buds. In Health class, they call it “puberty” or becoming a woman. I started my “womanhood” last week. I got my period. And even worse, it came at school. I got up for recess, and there was blood on my chair. Normally, I would’ve thought I was dying, but my mom also bought me a book about getting your period a few months ago, so I knew what it was. Thank God for that Judy Blume book. I looked it up online too, but it was confusing and didn’t explain it much. Sometimes books are better than the internet.
Why did have to get it at school? How embarrassing. I didn’t want anyone to know, so I stayed seated and told my friends I would catch up with them. Then I told my teacher, and she took me to the bathroom and then to the school nurse to get a tampon. They had some emergency underpants for this and other “accidental” occasions. Nothing got on my dress, so it could have been a lot worse. The school nurse showed me how to use a tampon. Yikes, it was hard and hurt a little bit, but the school nurse said I’d get used to it. I think the whole thing is gross and uncomfortable, but I’m sure you know that. You are probably used to it by now. I hope I will get used to it soon. I really thought I was too young to get it, but my grandma told me that every woman in our family is an early bloomer. Great.
And this week, I got boobs. They just sprouted up overnight. My grandma says things always happen in groups of three. I guess this is my third in the blossoming game – height, period, and boobs, like win, place or show if growing up was a horse race. It’s not a big deal. I mean, I didn’t think anything of it at first.
But today it became a big deal. We took our class picture. Most of the entire class stood on risers, and a few kids sat cross-legged on the ground and held a slate commemorating the class name and year. Did they do those in the “olden days” when you were in school? I bet your class picture was in black and white. I think they did that back then.
I’m now the second tallest kid in the class, and the photographer put me and some of the other girls, who also grew taller this year, in the back row. My mom says boys don’t have their growth spurts until after eighth grade. I guess she’s right because the entire back row was girls. But I hope she’s wrong. I don’t want to be looking down at boys for four more years, and even worse, I don’t want them looking up at me.
My friend Sandy stood next to me. Sandy is really tall too, even taller than me. Plus, her hair is huge, curly, and frizzy, so she looks even taller. Most of the boys are about a head’s height below us in the back row. And yes, it’s the perfect spot for them to stare directly into my “blossoming bosom,” as my grandma puts it. Turns out I’m the first in my class to get “boobies.” Lucky me. When I grew a foot up, I think they grew a foot out—or maybe just half a foot. It’s weird. No one else in my class has them.
We have thirty-two kids in our class. My teacher says our school is overcrowded because of all the new houses going up in the neighborhood. So, we were squished really tight to get everyone in the picture. I heard some snickering and saw a couple of the boys in front of me, turning around one by one and then turning back and laughing to each other. This kid named Matt C. turned around, pointed at me, and said he could see THEM poking through my dress. He pulled his shirt out at the chest and laughed with the other boys and some of the girls. I looked down, and yes, my boobs were standing at attention, straight out under my dress and undershirt. It looked like the top of a tent. I wanted to jump off the riser and just run away. Boys are really stupid, and so are some girls. Sandy saw they were making fun of me, and she punched Matt C. in the arm and then looked at me and smiled. That did it; they all stopped laughing. The teacher didn’t see anything. She was too busy getting the rest of the class to line up in the front rows. Sandy is always doing stuff like that to help me. She’s a true best friend.
I wish these boobs never came in. I know all women get them, but at eleven years old? They make me feel more awkward and uncomfortable every day. Especially in gym, when we have to change into our gym suits. They’re these awful one-piece Kelly-green jumpers that snap up the top with elastic-bottom balloon-like shorts. I don’t know why we wear this gym suit instead of shorts and a t-shirt, it looks like something from the old days. And of course, when you’re “blossoming,” the gym suit now barely fits in the chest, and there are gaps—big gaps. We all have to change in front of each other in the locker room. Anything new has a spotlight on it, and they’ll definitely all look at my boobs, even just out of curiosity.
Sure enough, ALL the girls pointed and stared and snickered to each other, everyone except Sandy. She thinks it’s no big deal. She says she has big hair, and I have boobs, so we all stick out somehow. She’s great. When she sees the other girls staring at me, she stands in front of me to block their view. It helps, but sometimes I just wish I had one of those invisibility cloaks, so I could disappear in the locker room. If I could fit inside the locker, I would dress in there every day. I would love to tell them to get over it. After all, they’ll have these someday too. But today I have them, and they don’t.
Last week, I had an idea. I brought my gym suit home to be washed and then wore it underneath my clothes to school the next day. I wore a dress that day, so I didn’t have to change. I could just take my dress off and then put it back on after gym. I thought the dress would hide the gym suit, but it didn’t. It was bulky and very noticeable. You could tell I had something on underneath my dress. It looked weird, so they laughed all day instead of just at gym. I’m never doing that again.
School pictures came out today. I’m horrified. You could see my boobs right through my undershirt and dress. Not like an x-ray or anything, but they looked like two small cupcakes with cherries on top planted on my shirt. Of course, there was a round of snickering and giggling when everyone saw the picture. The whole class got that picture and will keep it forever. It will NEVER end.
When I showed the picture to my mom, she said it was time to get a bra. I barely know what that is, but I don’t want one. I’ve seen ads for them, and they look like torture devices. At our family’s annual Halloween parties, I’ve seen my mom’s friends dress up in corseted pirate and witch costumes and even saw a lady once in a Playboy bunny costume. It didn’t look comfortable at all. All night they tug on it and pull it up. Nope, not for me. I told my mom I don’t think I need one. I mean I have boobs, but not like a Barbie doll. No one in my class has one, so I don’t want one. But my boobs are starting to be noticable, and sometimes you can see them through my clothes, like on picture day. Maybe it would make it easier to change for gym class. OK, I’ll get a bra, if I have to. I know you always made tough choices and did what you had to do, RBG. I guess I can too.
Today my mom took me to the store to get a bra. I couldn’t believe it. There were racks and racks with all different kinds. There were pretty lace ones, ones with padding, and all different colors. Some even had princesses and other characters on them, and some had flowers or bows. They looked like a short undershirt with an elasticized bottom and matching underpants. Those didn’t look too bad. Some of them were cute. I found one that I liked with a little lace on the sides by the arms and a green bow in the middle. But my mom said those wouldn’t work for me because I needed something to pad me, so I don’t poke through my shirts and dresses. Like I need these to be bigger? No way.
In another area, she found bras in boxes with pictures of girls on them. I didn’t think they were for me because the girls in the pictures looked much older, like junior high or high school. The boxes all had numbers and letters. There were letters from AAA to C. I thought maybe it was like the grades in school, A, B, C, etc. In school, I always wanted to get A’s, but I usually got B’s, so I grabbed the B box out of habit. I would get more A’s if it weren’t for math and science. I stink at those subjects. But my mom explained that the numbers are for inches and the letters are the size of the cups. I wonder why they call them cups? They don’t look like any cups we have at my house. I tried on a couple of bras in the dressing room. They were really hard to get on, so my mom helped me. I had to lean over a little, put my arms through the straps, and then she clasped it in the back. It was so tight I could barely breathe. And it was really scratchy with these wire hooks that scraped my back. The straps held me up. I felt like a puppet with someone above me pulling the strings. My mom says that’s their job, to keep you up. At least it makes my posture better. I’m always getting yelled at for hunching over too much.
The straps have plastic buckles that you can make tighter or looser. After trying on a few, we found one that fit—32A. At least my mom says it fits. I think it makes me look like I have two arrows in my shirt pointing outward. The only nice thing is the bow on the front, in the middle of the boobs. It’s cute, but I hate this bra. It’s uncomfortable and makes my shirt look bad. I think it looks worse than before when I was just poking out. My mom says I’ll get used to it. I hope so. I wonder if you did. I bet you probably got away with no bra because you wore that big black robe all of the time, RBG. But why do I always have to get used to things? Is that what life is about, not liking something but just submitting?
This work is copyrighted (c) 2020 Suzanne Rudd Hamilton, all rights reserved.