This whining sounded familiar to my mom — too familiar. None of her children had come through adolescence easily.
"Isn't there a statute of limitations on these kinds of conversations?" she asked.
Apparently not. There are women who, with a wave of their French-manicured hand, can make us feel as if we are still in junior high. My parents had always assured us that the popular girls — the ones who already seemed to have it all together, even at age 12 — would "burn out early." My parents were wrong. These gals stay with us, through every stage of life. And if we don't want them to keep making us feel bad — the way we did when Susie Wilkins told us that the prom decorating committee "didn't need any more members" — we'd better learn how to recognize and deal with their adult incarnations.
The Leader of the Pack
Do I really have to tell you who she was in junior high? I'm sure you remember all too well the Patti/Debbie/Carol/Sheila who wouldn't let you join her little suck-up posse in the lunchroom. The grown-up version is still in charge of the seating plan: She's the one who invites the entire preschool class to her kid's birthday party but excludes your child. At work, she jokes with the woman in the next cubicle, but barely acknowledges your greeting. Don't brood. Do what you did in eighth grade: Collect your own group and have fun bonding over how much you despise/feel sorry for/are bored by her and rejoice over how incredibly superior you all are by comparison.
The Boyfriend Stealer
She was your friend just long enough to sidle her way into your guy's line of vision. Today, she is more dangerous. Enter Exhibit "Attached Male" A, and all of a sudden, she's chattier, wittier, flirtier, and what's with the hair flicking? You could try shaming your husband ("Can you believe how obvious she is?"), but chances are, he can believe...and he doesn't care. Don't try matching her, push-up bra for push-up bra. Just keep your distance — and make sure your guy keeps his.
The Class President
She played brilliantly to every constituency: the kids who elected her, the teachers, even parents. Today, she is the PTA president who makes the committee assignments — and somehow you always get stuck on clean-up. I say, let her knock herself out finding drones to stay up all night packing gift-wrap orders. I'll be packing for a big spa weekend.
"It's Only Fair" Frannie
She stole your big part in the school play after her mother complained to the principal that you were the star last year. You didn't invite her to your sleepover? Her mom was on the phone again, this time to your mother. Such protectionism must be genetic: Today Frannie's the parent with the timer in hand making sure no team member has more minutes on the soccer field than "Son of It's Only Fair." You don't need to fantasize revenge here. The other kids will be so annoyed by her manipulations that the only way her son's being invited anywhere is when she gets on the phone...well, you get it.
The Fashion Goddess
Even as a preteen, she could wear an old blanket and still look like the cover of Seventeen. Today, she may be classically chic or funky cool like Sarah Jessica Parker. Don't bother asking her where she shops or otherwise suggesting you are or could someday be peers. Just accept her superiority. If she is nice enough to pass on any pointers, maybe you can learn how to drape a scarf around your shoulders.
The Wild One
You could always find her in the girls' room, blowing smoke rings and talking about how far she went with her boyfriend last night. She wasn't mean — she just wasn't interested in you, your friends, or anything to do with school, for that matter. Today, she's the clerk in the Returns Department who is not going to take your package until she finishes her coffee and phone conversation. ("Be right with you, hon.") And you know what? If you can figure out how to handle this one, write to me care of this publication. Your idea just might be featured in a future article.
Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, The Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.