Lanyard kids

By Diane Shepa

My twin and I were born in "cosmopolitan" Niagara Falls, NY with all kinds of kids, Italian delis, the park, 400-year-old cemeteries, Canada right there including Canadian relatives. Kinda like eastern Michigan. Rust belt, represent!

Our parents looked a lot younger than they were but acted a lot older and far more conservative. They were SO not hippies. Mom did hair. Dad was going to be a Bell Labs rocket scientist after Vietnam. But then we came along.

Tom boys like us weren’t afraid to get hurt.

When the factories closed, we left The Falls for Scottsdale, AZ. Mom worked and gramma's cousins found Dad a job, so at 7 we were latch key kids (lanyard kids, really). But we had no idea that we were poor. We hung out with other Italians and their teens, made cannolis, listened to Boston and Journey, got our ears pierced at the Piercing Pagoda. Life was good.

Then in October of 1980, we moved near a small farm town. Thanks to Kristy McNichol, Tatum O'Neal and Jodie Foster, not even a sprained wrist, strep and a really bad concussion could knock me down. Tom boys like us weren’t afraid to get hurt.

The new school was better but no one considered two little Italian girls white enough, rich enough or Christian enough. You really can't bully twins so what we saw in this closed-minded town just surprised us. The elementary school principal wanted to stop girls from wearing shorts but our mom and other non religious moms reminded the administration that it was ARIZONA and too hot not to let us wear shorts.

John Hughes was trying to tell us that those were bad things to be. Wasn’t PE bad enough?

Then we got MTV and were excited about all the cool music coming out of Europe. Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, Thomas Dolby, Eurythmics. Until puberty caused everyone to lose their minds. Our friends from 4-6th grade became all “if you ain’t tall, blond, Mormon and rich, you ain’t poop (Mormons don't swear)”. The bullying ramped up even more when the pop princesses found Madonna (we called them Madonna-bots). John Hughes was trying to tell us that those were bad things to be. Wasn’t PE bad enough?

Like the school looking the other way when the wrestling team made Mod-Buster shirts and started beating up the more femme boys among us. Or when football players got mad when we borrowed their bus OFF SEASON to go get national accolades with our band show. Or when the principal refused to let a friend run a teen pregnancy story in our school newspaper because “that doesn't happen here”.


So we joined marching band in ‘86 to get out of PE because half of them were our people already: Punks, New Romantics, New Wavers and Mods (more like proto-goths). An English teacher even let us hang out in his room before class and at lunch to play the local alternative station. Still friends with a lot of these weirdos and there’s no question that music influenced my design career. Yet that small town still colors how I see organized sports, rich, bland, trendy people and especially xenophobic, isolationist towns.­

Because we still don’t care if you want to bully us. Or try to.   

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