What Happened When I Custom-Designed Bizarre Fortune Cookies For Girls At My Middle School Sleepover

I was a weird kid, and I was proud of who I was.

Awkward pre-teen laughing and smiling in front of fortune cookies Houcine Ncib | Unsplash, Nodar Chernishev | Canva

Most of us have at least a few awkward or embarrassing childhood memories of times with other kids that forever colored our life-long perspective of friendships. For me, one of the most poignant such experiences happened during a sleepover I had for a group of tween girls from my middle school I desperately wanted to like myself, and looking back, I can say with certainty that my mom and dad's parenting is what got me through it all.


I wasn't popular in middle school or high school. In high school, it was easier to deal with because I cared less, but things still weren't ideal. This information probably comes as a shock to no one. Being a kid is hard, and when you're a girl-kid with glasses, a big vocabulary, and an odd streak that is less" streak" and more "all of who you are", it can be even harder. And I've always worried about fitting in, although I think that's pretty normal too.

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We're human beings. We're social creatures. By design we are made to want to connect with others, to have the safety of a pack. To feel understood and a little less alone in this universe. I don't know for sure, because I am not them, but I suspect that watching me struggle socially was just as hard for my parents as it was for me. I thought of these days yesterday when I went to get on the subway and spotted a boy of about 12 standing with his mom and crying, "Why don't I have any friends? I just want friends!" The look on his mother's face sent me right back to those days.


To my memory, while I never sobbed about a lack of friends, my palpable anxiety about fitting in was something my parents, my mother in particular, couldn't help but be aware of. I tried all of the stuff that boys and girls tried at that age to blend with the crowd. I said things I didn't mean. I wore clothes I didn't like. I started hanging around the mall and scowling... Anything and everything I could do to be like the other kids I knew. But somehow, the others could still pick up the strangeness of me, almost like it was a scent.

That's why it was a big deal when I asked my mom if I could have a couple of friends stay over at our house one Friday night. My mom wanted to help me make it perfect, and when I wondered aloud how hard it was to make your fortune cookies, she was right there to help me figure it out. She probably saw it as a sweet gesture to welcome my friends. I saw it as a chance to write some amazing fortunes.

Photo: Yan Krukau/Pexels


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"All your house plants will die," said one slip. "It was you who farted," said another. I cackled to myself as I scrawled out another message. "Help," it read. "I'm stuck in a fortune cookie factory." Were these good jokes? No. Did I care? Not. I could only assume that when the girls came over they would be just as entertained by what I had done as I was. This was a fact that could not possibly have been less correct.

Making those cookies and presenting them would have been weird enough at our age, but writing bizarre and inappropriate things inside of them the way I did was akin to lighting myself with a neon sign that said, "She does not even remotely 'get' how to be one of you normal-type tween kids, but darned if she isn't trying." Looking back, I'm proud of myself for so wildly and eagerly embracing who I was. Nowadays, the moments when I embrace myself are just that — moments, points in time I am acutely aware of as they happen, that I have actively worked to achieve and feel I must applaud myself for if I ever want to have one again.



But at the age of 12, for all my outsider status, I didn't have to do work to simply be who I am, strongly and without fear. There were other sleepovers where I didn't do that. Like the sleepover where we played a game, I now call "What Becca Needs To Have Done (i.e., plastic surgery)", during which I stood in the center of a circle while being assessed by my peers and found to be deeply wanting. Then was the sleepover where the girl whose attention I was so desperate for was so outwardly snide to me that I started giving her items of clothing from my closet in order in my desperate quest to earn her favor.


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I pulled out the beloved sunflower-print skater dress — 90's much? — my aunt had bought it for me, and exclaimed, "You can have that!"  And she did. Although if I told you it endeared me to her, I'd be lying. If there's a concrete point in time when we learn that who we are isn't always going to be acceptable to others, for me, it happened sometime during the year when I was 12 or 13 — that year when I hosted these sleepovers at my house. (It's also worth pointing out that when I went to sleepovers at other girls' homes, I never managed to stay through the night. I'd creep to the phone, desperate not to wake anyone up, and ask my mom to come pick me up. And she always, always, always did.)

A lot of people don't get lucky when it comes to parents. Thankfully, I did. I have parents who love me unconditionally, and while they are not perfect human beings, as parents to an awkward pre-teen growing into an awkward teenager, they knew what they were doing. They gave me the foundation I needed to feel safe enough to be my weird little self, to stand on a chair in the kitchen because "I like how it feels", and to sing show tunes from Broadway musicals far too loud and far too often. Even when it was dark and cold and I looked around a room full of snoring, sleeping girls my age and felt utterly alone, I always knew my parents were just a phone call away, and I don't harbor any delusions that without them I'd be a far different, much less confident, and deeply less self-assured person than I am grateful to be today.


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer, editor, former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek, and former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango. She has a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime topics. Her bylines have appeared on Fatherly, Bustle, SheKnows, Jezebel, and many others.