I taught the last of my Spring semester classes on Thursday, so yesterday I took a break from my grading piles to meet A (not her real initial) at a mall cineplex to see Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which was as good as the book we both grew up on.

A and I have been celebrating the almost-end of semesters with root beer for more than fifteen years, at least. This tradition is so entrenched, we selected a movie venue not because it is equidistant between us, but because it’s about twenty minutes from our regular purveyor of fried seafood and ice cream.

The movie was wonderful, and equally so was the conversation A and I had afterward. Are You There God is about many things: periods and boys and bras, for sure, and spiritual quests as well…but both the book and movie are also about female friendship.

The movie more than the book depicts the frustrations of Margaret’s mother, Barbara, who quits her teaching job when the family moves to the suburbs, and it also highlights the loneliness of Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia, who in one heartbreaking scene quietly crosses “solve crossword puzzle” from a daily to-do list whose only other item is “dust.”

Happily, by movie’s end Margaret learns the value of true rather than fake friendship, and both Barbara and Sylvia find new passions: Sylvia by saying “yes” to new love, and Barbara by (eventually) saying “no” to soul-crushing PTA tasks.

My favorite aspect of the film is that it both begins and ends with scenes of spontaneous girlhood joy. Much of becoming a woman is, frankly, a hassle, as Margaret learns when she tries on her first bra then admits she can’t wait to take it off. (“Welcome to womanhood,” Barbara knowingly intones.) But among the headache and hassle, there are moments of sweetness, whether that involves jumping into a pond at summer camp or driving an hour or more for lunch and a movie with your bestie.

Root beer goodness

For the past month or so, A (not her real initial) and I have been looking forward to the end of our respective fall semesters and the chance to reward ourselves with root beer, ice cream, and French fries. It’s not that we haven’t had root beer, ice cream, and French fries this past semester…we just haven’t had the time to sit down for a long, leisurely, and high-caloric weekday lunch since we walked at Mount Auburn Cemetery and ate pancakes (and I drank the unbelievably sweet, neon-bright raspberry lime rickey pictured below) at the Deluxe Town Diner back in August. If you’re in tune with an academic calendar, you’ll recognize the pattern: August was our last hurrah before fall semester classes began, and this past Friday, when A and I made good on our mutual root beer promise, marked the last push before semester’s end.

Raspberry lime rickey

At some point over the past month or so, “root beer” became a kind of code for “the celebratory lunch A and I will have after we’ve both submitted grades.” When you teach for a living, you get used to the fact that no one except another instructor will remember the precise chronology of your “busy” and “down” times. Yes, everyone assumes my summer schedule is lighter than my winter one, and everyone knows that school resumes sometime around September. But only someone like A knows that if we have Getting-Ready-for-a-New-Semester Pancakes in late August, it will be roughly 15 weeks before we can have a refreshing glass of Thank-God-It’s-Nearly-Over Root Beer in late December.

In about a month, A and I will have a serving of Spring-Semester’s-Almost-Here Potato Pancakes, then another three months or so after that, we’ll indulge in some version of I-Have-Piles-of-Final-Papers-to-Grade Cheesecake. If you know what it’s like to measure out your life with coffee spoons, you’ll recognize this pattern. For every milestone, there’s an accompanying meal anticipated in advance and enjoyed over conversation, the savor of a leisurely, high-caloric treat being the perfect reward for a busy semester with little time to socialize.

The site for this past Friday’s root beer reward was Joey’s Diner in Amherst, NH, which I’ve featured here previously. Both A and I enjoyed our anticipated root beer and fries: A’s with a crock of turkey soup, and mine with a bacon cheeseburger. We saved, however, the ice cream for another day: next semester’s reward, perhaps?