washingtonpost.com
Being 10 in 2010: Monnik Williams and LaDaysha Lucas

Sunday, December 5, 2010; W10

Think of your life as a popsicle. The years are layered, flavor upon flavor. At the center, hidden by time, is the popsicle stick. You can add 50 more flavors, or lick them all off, and there it will be: the quintessential you -- ever-present, unchanged.

That stick is you at age 10.

You were stubborn or reflective or effervescent or introverted. You were full of certainty, confidence, bluster. So what if you didn't know what you didn't know? There was no Who Am I yet. You could still locate the thinnest ray of light in the dark and skip in it. Blue moods didn't last so long; a hand at the back pushed you forward. Maybe it was a Darwinian survival skill; maybe it was God's way of protecting you; maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was just the magic of being 10.

But what about 10-year-olds growing up now? Wars rage, terrorism lurks, the planet is warming, jobs are vanishing, poverty is growing, there are more children diagnosed with disabilities. There are the influences of the big M Media (Miley Cyrus pole dancing?) and the little m media -- video games rated M, for Mature; XXX Web sites; Explicit music; texting and sexting and sexual innuendo permeating even the bubble of childhood.

What does it feel like to be 10 in 2010? We decided to take a stab at it.

We won't pretend that the three profiles of Washington-area children we publish here reflect every 10-year-old, or even most of them. Nothing that grand. But we'd still venture to say that, despite all the bad influences and grown-up-world worries that surround kids today, there remains something timeless and magical about being 10.

***

MONNIK WILLIAMS AND LADAYSHA LUCAS

By Monica Hesse (hessem@washpost.com)

When Monnik and LaDaysha turn 18, they are going to live in an apartment together. It will have a pizza place in the living room (but not gross pizza, like at the school cafeteria) and a McDonald's, which will be open 24 hours a day and will serve them unlimited triple cheeseburgers. Monnik and LaDaysha will pay the cashiers one dollar an hour, which is a lot of money, so the cashiers should be ready to work really hard. There will also be a buffet, a racecar track, a movie room that will play all of the "Bring It On" movies, including "Bring It On" movies that have not been released anywhere else, and a separate cheerleading practice room. No boys will be allowed; Monnik and LaDaysha don't think anyone should date until they are --

"Twenty!" Monnik says.

"No," LaDaysha says. "Twenty-two!"

"Okay. Twenty-two!"

Monnik Williams and LaDaysha Lucas are best friends, and they do everything together, the way best friends do.

One time, LaDaysha's family went to Georgia for a wedding, and they invited Monnik along, and there was a Jacuzzi in the hotel.

One time, they went out for McDonald's with Monnik's mom, then she dropped them off at LaDaysha's house and they pretended they hadn't eaten yet, and they got to go to McDonald's again.

One time, during snack time at the Mount Vernon recreation center in Alexandria, where they go in the afternoons, LaDaysha took two Ritz Bits packets even though everyone was only allowed one. But when a boy said he was going to tattle on LaDaysha, Monnik said, "Mind your business," even though the crumpled evidence was right there. Another time, when LaDaysha's dog Lightning peed on Monnik's leg, LaDaysha didn't even laugh, even though it was really funny.

That's how you know when someone is your best friend.

If you ask Monnik why else she likes LaDaysha, she might squint one eye and shake her head and say, "I don't know."

"She's lying," LaDaysha says flatly. "I can tell. When she's lying she does this." LaDaysha can do really good Monnik impressions, like now, where she's squinting one eye and shaking her head. "She knows why she likes me."

"Well, she's funny," Monnik says.

"She's funny," LaDaysha says. "She does crazy things," like jump off of the swing when it's really high.

Monnik and LaDaysha met forever ago, when they were 7. Monnik had already been going to the rec center for a while -- they both live in Alexandria -- and LaDaysha was the new girl. At first, everyone was making fun of LaDaysha. "We were saying her eyes bug out," Monnik says, embarrassed.

"It's okay," LaDaysha says, matter-of-factly. "Everyone says that. Everyone says I have bug eyes."

But then Monnik went over and talked to her and found out that LaDaysha also liked cheerleading, also belonged to an extracurricular league and that LaDaysha, as short and thin and wiry as she was, would make a great cheerleading flyer -- a good match for Monnik who, with her strong legs and tall, solid frame, was already a great base.

At school -- Monnik goes to Jefferson-Houston, and LaDaysha goes to Mount Vernon -- LaDaysha has another best friend named Alia, and Monnik has one named Nia. But after school and on the weekends, it's Monnik and LaDaysha, LaDaysha and Monnik, staying at each other's houses so much that sometimes their moms say it's as if they live together. They barely know about each other's other best friends, and the times they've met, it was kind of weird.

A 10-year-old needs a best friend. A 10-year-old is nothing without bests: best friends, best dresses, best teachers, best meals.

As we get older, we might dilute our bests -- we have foods we love, but not singular favorites. We have friends we are close to, but not friends who are best, at least not that we proclaim out loud, for fear of hurting someone else's feelings. To declare someone a "best friend" is to set high expectations of them, and to make yourself more vulnerable. But a best friend is crucial for all of the requirements of 10-year-old existence, when life seems designed for pairs: school bus buddies, field trip buddies, P.E. keep-away buddies, the buddy who stands in front of the bathroom door and makes sure that no one looks underneath the stall. A best friend is the thing that makes navigating the tween years possible.

Today, Monnik and LaDaysha are sitting in front of ACKC, a chocolate shop in Del Ray, and they are drinking Oreo milkshakes, which Monnik had never tried until LaDaysha told her to get one, so she did, and it's the best flavor. Last year, they couldn't do this because they were only 9, but when you're 10, you get to sign yourself out of the rec center and go downtown or to the library, which the girls rarely do because it's much more fun to play outside. When they do go to the library, they usually hang out with Monnik's older sister, Monet, who is 17 and always studying.

Monnik is wearing a green shirt and jean shorts, with her hair in a ponytail. LaDaysha is wearing a skirt with Lycra shorts underneath so that when she does cartwheels and walkovers no one can see her underwear. Modesty is important. It is also a tricky issue for 10-year-olds in 2010, who are brushing up against the age's inherent feeling that underwear is humiliating at the same time that they are shopping in department stores selling Bratz dolls and teeny-weeny tops. Modesty is, at this age, the purview of moms, who still hold the wallet and the "No"-power. There is one girl that Monnik knows, and her mom lets her wear skirts up to here, and Monnik and LaDaysha think that's just a little "inappropriate."

Mention to Monnik's mom, Romona, that Monnik seems fairly innocent for her age, given what's out there, and she will smile and then say, with both pride and trepidation, as if she is not sure exactly how much longer Monnik can be kept in this bubble, "I know."

You know what else is inappropriate? Monnik asks. The way that all the girls in school are so boy-crazy. "Most of fourth grade has a boyfriend. How it works is, they keep asking you and you say no, and then they ask you and you say no, and then they ask you and you give up and get so annoyed and you say yes."

"And the fifth-grade boys date the fourth-grade girls," LaDaysha says.

"And the fourth-grade boys date the third-grade girls."

"And the third-grade boys date the second-grade girls --"

But Monnik and LaDaysha don't date anybody, because it's all just silly, because the dating couples don't even do anything, not even sit together at the cafeteria because seats are assigned.

Besides, their moms would probably kill them if they dated anybody, and their moms would find out because their moms always find out. Their moms have all of these rules, like "all A's and B's, or no cheerleading," which is pretty easy to follow because they are both good students, even though Monnik is a little better at math. Monnik is also a really good runner -- but LaDaysha was elected queen when the rec center had a pretend prom. Their moms, both of whom are raising their daughters as solo parents, always ask all these questions like, "How was school?" and the only way to get them to stop is say "finefinefinefinefinefine" over and over again until they give up.

The milkshakes are gone, and there's a weird spider on the wall, so Monnik and LaDaysha decide to walk back to Mount Vernon and hang out on the playground. Someone has hung a hula hoop from the jungle gym, and LaDaysha comes up with a game where you ride a scooter really fast toward the hula hoop, then jump through the hoop at the last minute. Monnik doesn't think the game is as fun as LaDaysha does, but she tries it a few times to be a good sport.

What else can the girls offer about friendship?

"Your best friend?" LaDaysha says. "If your best friend told you something and asked you not to tell anybody, then you wouldn't tell anybody?"

Does this mean she knows some of Monnik's secrets?

LaDaysha clamps her mouth shut, sphinx-like. Of course she would never say.

In the media, you read a lot about peer pressure. You read a lot about bad influences, and online bullying, and all of the ways that toxic friendships are created at increasingly younger ages. It almost seems fashionable for girls to hate each other these days: the best-selling "Clique" young adult series specializes in this trade. So attuned are we to frenemy culture, to the queen bees and "Gossip Girls" who make life miserable for others, that one might reasonably assume all young girls are hiding behind their backs a sharp verbal knife, ready to annihilate. You worry about the ways that self-esteem is developed, and you wonder what will happen to our girls.

But in the middle of this world, there are best friends who are supportive. And it's nice to know these girls are all right.

Being 10 in 2010: Bobby Whalen | Everett Stubblefield

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company