There are many scientific reasons why adolescence is the worst time in your life, second only to menopause (and maybe even nosing ahead). At least you’re not spending menopause trapped in a confined space with other menopausal people. At least you can take it out on your spouse, kids, and co-workers. At least you’ve got a glass of cabernet at the end of the day to stave off the malaise.
Adolescence in the 90s was not “Saved by the Bell” and “Full House,” but I wanted it to be. I wanted Zack and DJ’s boyfriend to rescue me. Instead, my middling years were spent scrapping for attention in my cool Gap overalls (their first go-around) and running my insecurity out on the soccer field. It was incense and black light posters above my CD player where Bush and Alanis Morissette yelled their bleeding hearts out. It was paranoia around every turn.
Was she staring at me?
Is my hair doing that weird thing on the side? That cowlick-y thing?
Did he just whisper to his friend about me at lunch?
Do I have to tell my brother to buy sanitary pads for me if he makes the grocery run this week?
Should I not have eaten the refried beans on Taco Day before the timed mile in gym? Why weren’t all the other girls eating on Taco Day anymore?
Does “will you ‘go’ with me” mean the same thing as “will you be my girlfriend”?
Do we need to have a DTR?
This is just sixty seconds’ worth of adolescent thought. That ticker-tape ran all day. The mind of a junior high girl is a miasma of insecurity, sparked at intervals with crystal-clear insight into exactly the kind of woman she will be.
Which is why I am already girding my loins (and hers) for when my daughter hits her ‘tweens. Apparently, this is the highest stress zone for mothers too. None of us want to walk down that dark alley.
I’ll tell you what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to have her read Preparing for Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change by Dr. James Dobson, which is what my parents did. This was in replacement of “the talk” and any talk about anything that had to do with hormones, sex, hair, babies, or emotions. This stellar gem from 1978 hit all the highlights. I mean, with chapter titles like “Something Crazy is Happening to My Body” and “A Notion Called Emotion,” what else could possibly be said?
So I’ve figured out what not to do, but my list of “to dos” is bare, with the exception of a few blank-faced emojis, the ones with straight lines for mouths. I mean, I plan to have the sex talk well before she hits adolescence. I want her nine-year-old self to process it first before the hormones eat her brain.
What about after that? So far, my plan is to get her to age 12 and then say, kindly and with all seriousness:
“This is it. This right here, what you’re about to enter, is the worst it’s going to get. This is the armpit of life. This is the sweaty funk you always think is someone else. This is the weird stray hair you could have sworn wasn’t there yesterday. This is the lint ball in your navel and the neuroses that sprout like acne. This is the long look in the mirror you never have to take again.”
Then I will add this, because all is not lost:
“When you get that sweaty, gunky, hairy-pit feeling, I’ll be here for you to wipe it off on. I did it to my mother, just as your daughter will do to you. So the cycle goes. When you survive it (because you will) you will remember this moment, the moment I said you could wipe all that angst on me.”
She will ignore me and we will begin, because just as bad as adolescence was, the mothering of an adolescent might be worse. Who knows. We’ll see if the funk is just as bad when we get there.