I’m going through puberty again. No my breasts are not budding and I am not consulting Judy Blume books, but I am transforming into a grown up…again. This time I have twenty years of hindsight and hard-knocks to guide me. This time instead of doing what my friends do, I am out on my own figuring it out. I am not slamming my master-bedroom door or hiding behind loud music. Not that I wouldn’t like to. This period of blooming does not allow for complete self-absorption. I have three children about to enter their first puberty. Are You There God It’s Me Margaret ( we must, we must, we must increase our bust) is not going to help.
In many ways this transition period is more difficult (self-awareness bites sometimes). Instead of a quasi-confident, inexperienced girl-woman with a new body and wide-eyes emerging from the cocoon wondering what the world has to offer her; this time the butterfly is a broken and repaired but stronger and wiser woman with a respected body and greater (yet incomplete) knowledge of her imperfections and gifts, wondering what she has to offer the world.
Body Then and Now
In my early teens I was average to thin as far as body build goes. Today’s standards would probably consider 13-year-old me a little meaty and puffy (although I was never a Blubber outcast or scapegoat). I’ll blame it on the inflammation I was no doubt suffering from due to all the simple carbs I consumed (Lucky Charms, Pringles, Little Caesar’s bread sticks). Nevertheless, the 80s gave me some wiggle room to jiggle and I did not have major body issues.
I had skin issues. I inherited a genetic defect called oily skin. I treated this defect by regularly sitting inches from a blazing sun-lamp. Can you say skin cancer no-no? My skin was my Achilles heel and my sister knew it. Yes, I’ll take an extra helping of humility pie with a side of Clearasil.
Today I feel I am in better shape physically than I was in the 80s. Although I used to use the weight room that overlooked the high school gym, it was mostly to talk to boys (or wait for them to talk to me). Fitness plays a much bigger role in my life now. I am mindful of how much time I sit on my ass and how much regular exercise I take in. I now know if I eat a whole bag of candy corn I am going to silently slip into a coma; my body shutting down like a Burger Chef franchise. If I start to feel puffy or meaty I know what to do. I lace up my Asics and get moving. I eat more protein to stay lean, fuel my muscles and awaken my brain. I actually enjoy eating well and exercising. This round of puberty I care for and cherish my body instead of assuming it will always be there to lug me around to the mall and the arcade.
As for my skin, it got better. Thank God. In high school I did a very limited (thank God) treatment plan using the prescription acne medication,Accutane (since proven to cause third arms and cyclops eyes in babies). I also started to eat better, exercise more, sleep more, drink plenty of water and stop touching my face. It took me many years to realize a genuine smile and an inner-glow go a long way to obliterate flaws that are only skin-deep. A few years ago a new friend complimented me on my great complexion. I hurried home and wrote it down in my journal. Dear Diary, I think the secret to glowing skin is being comfortable in it.
My mom was famous for saying, I’ll give you rope until you hang yourself. My friends were jealous. They all had curfews and a big list of what not to do to keep them in line. My parents relied heavily on common sense. I don’t remember any defining moments when I stood up to my parents or told them off. I was not a door slammer or an I hate you! yeller. I never had the desire to peel out of the driveway in my ’79 Grand Prix with my middle finger reflected in the rear view mirror. During my first puberty I actually wanted to be closer to my dad. I loved my friends but, of course, relied heavily on my mom’s support and my dad’s teachings. Unfortunately, I was unable to acknowledge and verbalize my appreciation then.
During this second transformation, I’m OK with saying, I love and am so grateful for my parents. Sure, they don’t pay for my orthodontic bills or my 7-11 slurpees anymore but their emotional support is priceless. I’m growed-up but I still like their advice regarding boys, family and life. I’ve hung myself on the rope more than a few times but somehow there is always more rope.
As I parent my own children, I notice I am growing with them. I make sure to acknowledge and verbalize my love and my flaws. I see the importance of granting freedom and providing a soft place to land. It’s my turn to extend the rope.
Kiss Off Peer Pressure
My first adolescence hinged on a gaggle of sweet, dear, fun-loving friends. I remember that period as a giddy blur of giggling, dancing, sleepovers and passing notes. We moved through school as a herd of bright and insecure kids with small town idealism.
Sure there were cliques and crushed spirits. I took my turn as the loser of the week. Everyone did. I clung desperately to the latest fashion trends. I knew Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Benetton sweaters were my invitation to the ball. My grandma gave me perms in her basement so I could have hair like everyone else.
But there was a way to differentiate. Music played a big part in my first round of blooming. All my friends were into it. I would walk to the music store after school with my 8th grade boyfriend(?) and his two sidekicks and listen as they played Ozzy tunes on the store instruments. I would hang out at the record store with my girlfriends, buying band buttons for our jean jackets so the owner wouldn’t kick us out for loitering.
The best thing about music and my friends – they all liked different sounds. There was a sense of freedom there to choose what speaks to you, not just what everyone else bought. We all owned Prince’s Purple Rain and Michael Jackson’s Thriller but the rest of our collections varied from the Butthole Surfers to Iron Maiden.
I admit to wanting to be part of the in crowd for many adult years. It was easy to follow suit – choose where to live, what to wear, how to raise children, based on what others did. I didn’t have to think. I just had to look around. I bought Thriller and Purple Rain and figured I was good. I missed the Butthole Surfers.
I don’t move in a herd anymore, but I do have a tribe. The difference is a tribe relishes each voice. Instead of being limited to the people in your school or hometown you get to choose kindred spirits from anywhere in the world. Each member is cherished for their compassion and spirit and listened to for their wisdom, not their status.
Now there is peer pressure to be mature and limit giggling, dancing and note passing. But this puberty I am asserting my independence by saying, Kiss off peer pressure! I want to dance, sing, giggle, live and experience. It’s OK to disagree with others. It’s miraculous to love and respect differences. It’s mind-blowing when friends find you based on your true essence.
Will You Go With Me?
Remember the adolescent fumbling and first love of Judy Blume’s two high school seniors (Michael and Katherine) in her controversial novel, Forever? The book intended to show a responsible sexual relationship between two teenagers who loved each other. Because of the content, most of us had to wait our turn for the dog-eared paperback as it got passed around among curious inexperienced teens on the titillation black market. I admired the respect that seemed present in their relationship (but disliked the pet name Michael had for his penis, Ralph). The book hinted at two humans connecting rather than focusing on two bodies joining.
In my teen years I crushed on guitar players, wrestlers and class presidents. I had no idea who I was, so I loved whoever paid attention to me. My love interests were diverse and largely based on their cuteness and passions.
In love is where the hard knocks and broken parts have formed and scabbed over. It’s been my biggest arena for public and private transformation. Each hurt I caused or felt inched me closer to full development. Lessons I had to learn in order to bloom.
Today, as I further define my self, I feel I have more to offer, more to share. I am less likely to become a reflection of a partner’s personality and more likely to look for opportunities to inspire and love them fully. I won’t be waiting around for them to lead me. I know I am complete all on my own. I can meet or leave them as a whole person with my own ideas and light. I expect the same from them. That said, I also realize uncertainty and pain coexist with beautiful love.
Now it’s not about what a partner offers me (nightly phone calls and a date for Homecoming). It’s about sharing experiences and being in love when you are together. That doesn’t mean googly eyes and poems with I’s dotted with hearts. It means love flows from each of you freely. You want to give to each other and can because you know you are still whole even if you extend yourself. You want them, not need them.
How to Know When Puberty is Over?
There’s a saying that goes, Personal growth is fabulous when it’s over. I’m not sure it’s ever over but two signs of maturity are the ability to care for yourself and the ability to be self-less. These two signs seem contradictory but they go hand in hand. We must know ourselves first in order to feel at ease and compassionate toward others. Our second puberty is all about knowing yourself (the good and the gawky), finding strength and peace in the awareness and using it to share and love others. It’s also about using self-knowledge to move in the direction of your most powerful calling. Take chances all on your own. There is no peer pressure for this, just a knowing that it’s the right thing to do, like giggling, listening to music and sharing Judy Blume books.