We Comptons are an abnormally open family.
When we rent a movie at Red Box, 8 times out of 10 Hoffa will watch it lying on the living room pullout couch in his boxers and white mid-calf socks, the rest of us sprawled out around him or on the other couch. Our spontaneous family friend Sarah used to drop by unannounced (we like it when people do that), but after the third time she walked in and Hoffa was still only wearing underwear, I think she’s been permanently scared off.
Then there are boobs. We met and began playing with a younger family on the beach today. Like us, there were three girls and a boy, aged 9, 7, 3, and 1. While I was lying on my stomach, propped up by my forearms next to the small pool we were digging, I commented on their impressive bathing suit tan lines.
“I’ve been here all week,” I said, “but I don’t really have anything to show for it.”
The seven year old boy pointed toward my chest. “No, there’s a tan on your, uh…”
His older sister interjected – “He doesn’t know what to call them.”
“Boobs,” I say matter of factly.
Others get uncomfortable. We call it like it is. Even when I’d rather we didn’t. So here’s the story.
When I was eleven, I was not omitted from the socially awkward pains of puberty. All of my friends subtly and suddenly just started wearing training bras. Sure, we made fun of each other when we wore white shirts. Yes, we pulled the elastic strap in the back when someone turned around, but I don’t think they endured much humiliation beyond that. My friends did not have three unrelenting little siblings, fascinated by these two new bulges on my chest. Had they just whispered in my ear every once in a while, “Jessica’s getting boobs!” these memories from long ago would probably have been washed away in the outgoing tide of short term recollection. But oh, no, not the Comptons. Once Georgia, RoRie, and Cain figured out what was going on, they were merciless, unyielding I tell you. They received endless joy and amusement every day of my fourth grade existence by cupping their hands to their own flat chests and taunting in an overly seductive tone and a shaking of the shoulders, “Woogie, woogie!”
This mockery was not limited to the privacy of our own home, though. Public places were preferred. It happened all the time – in the produce section of the grocery store, after school in the hallways, at the neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It even made it into the 2004 Christmas letter. Great Mom, let’s just announce to your 500 closest friends that your eldest has boobs now. Awesome. When it first began, I was embarrassed and mad. Later, it got so that I didn’t even blush. I, attempting to invoke an aura of maturity, would shrug and sigh a heave of disapproval. Shaking my head like the little adult I was, I would say, “Kids,” as if I wasn’t one myself. Seriously, I did that. What kind of weirdo fourth grader was I?
I remember thinking to myself that it was just a matter of time. Someday, my sisters will hit puberty, too. But Georgia remained as flat as a flour tortilla well into high school. (Don’t be fooled, folks. The small curve from sixth through tenth grade was only a 32 NA padded bra. That’s supposed to stand for “nearly A.” I think it’s original abbreviation is more appropriate – “not applicable.”) By the time new pairs of boobs began budding in our house, I was too old to be making fun of my sisters, and in truth, we were all grateful to discover that Georgia wasn’t abnormally stunted after all. After fifteen high-pitched years, I’m still waiting on Cain’s voice to crack.
But, oh, my how the circle has turned. Now, as we frolic in our bikinis on the Costa Rican beach, Rosa Marie gets the teasing. Despite her long daily runs, the girl has grown from berries to pomegranates while I’ve been in college. She has the body of a goddess. Narrow waist, stomach of steel, lean legs…and these breasts that cascade into perfect, perky cleavage. As a joke, she shot a model picture on the beach. Georgia hacked her phone and posted this:
The laughs. We even e-mailed it to our grandparents. After they heard about the 5.6 earthquake here a few days ago, my grandma responded, “Now I know what triggered the earthquake!”
My poor father. Hoffa is both dismayed and in awe.
“Mama, why did you let her get that top? Nothing is covered! It might as well be a bra.”
“I didn’t, David, she bought it herself.”
“What am I going to do, Hoffa?” RoRie pleads. “I can’t help it!”
Yet, as she moseys out of the clear ocean water, oblivious to all, he definitely checks out his own daughter. And, while the father in him wants all three of his daughters covered in nun habits, silently, I know the man in him approves.
As for me, every time I see her without a shirt on, I can’t help but burst into a giggle. She knows why.
“Jessica! It’s not that funny.”
“Oh, but it is, RoRie. Look who gets to say woogie woogie now.”
Then there are the hugs.
If you haven’t experienced a signature Compton hug before, hold your breath. That is my warning, meant to be taken quite literally. Upon first introduction to a stranger, normal people shake hands. We tend to hug. These are not limpy acknowledgements from the side of the waist, either. A Compton hug is a full, front on embrace, complete with smiley eyes, a joyful heart, and a much-too-tight squeeze.
Our hugs are a manifestation of the love we have for another. They are unadulterated, and they are plentiful. One early Costa Rica morning when everyone had arisen, as usual, by six a.m., Hoffa asked, “Has everyone hugged each other?”
Now let me interject that though we frequently hug, it’s not part of the morning routine. But when Hoffa gets his mind fixed on what he thinks should happen, you can’t really disregard him; he’s a persistent (and, dare I say, persnickety?) old man. He then proceeded to individually interview members of the family and insist we all do so.
Apparently, these instances of adamancy are more frequent, and all of my siblings have become almost as easily put out as he. I, however, have been out of the house for two years. When he posed this question, I couldn’t help but smile. No other father forces his teenagers to hug each other. Yeah, it’s weird, but it’s pretty sweet, too.
While life is still like this in Charleston, our isolated time together in Costa Rica has allowed us to focus on each other even more. When I’m at school, I miss this so much – the harmless banter, the laughing, the weirdness, the true love of physical affection and verbal affirmation. We are a forward, innocent, and funny group. I love that boobs and hugs and underwear are normal parts of our lives. I even kind of love our almost total lack of privacy; there is not much left “personal” in our personal lives. There is unusual security in this kind of life, too. My family has me, and I have them. I know them deeply, and I trust them. These are the people with whom I seek counsel, I talk, I run, I snuggle, I hug. For most, these are the uncomfortable things, even with family. Don’t talk about boobs. Hugs are greetings after long separations. They’re wrong, though. In these things I have found the most comfort. It is the woogie woogies and the suffocating squeezes that assure me I am home.