Ye olde puberty | January 17, 2023

My son’s fifth-grade class recently had the Ye Olde Puberty Talk.  As far as I can tell, my eleven-year-old’s takeaway is that they said the proper word for the male anatomy SIX TIMES.

That’s fine.  As we all know, puberty and adulthood do not live in the same neighborhood, let alone the same time zone.  I personally went through puberty at the ye olde age of ten, which was great because my mom and I could have conversations about excess body hair and use my Barbies for illustration.  It was almost a year later that my teacher finally popped that puberty tape into the VCR, and I was dismayed to find out that my early development had meant I missed a very important milestone.

“MOM,” I shouted the second I walked in the door after school.  “The girl in the video got ice cream.  I DIDN’T GET ICE CREAM.”

We went for ice cream.

Despite the fact I had reached my adult height and, uh, other stuff before I entered Junior High, I was very much in the “I’m a big kid now” camp.  I played with dolls.  I watched Saturday Morning Cartoons.  I filled up Strawberry Shortcake coloring books on a regular basis (which I know is now an all-ages thing but the ‘90s were known for cocaine, not coloring).  My bedtime routine was one of two major points of contention for my parents because every night I spent fifteen minutes kissing and saying good night to my stuffies and then required someone to sit in the hallway with the lights on while I fell asleep.

As you can probably guess, they didn’t care about the stuffies (except that every time I acquired a new one it added two minutes to the process), but they really, really cared about sitting in the hallway as their 13-year-old drifted off into Strawberry Shortcake dreamland.

My parents’ second point of contention was that I didn’t hang with my friends outside of school.  Sure, I saw them at activities – I was, after all, the co-manager of the girls’ basketball team, as well as a lackluster ballerina (those two things were both related and not related) – but girls my age were interested in Aquanet and MTV, and I was perfectly happy coming home to choreograph solo dances to my Raffi records.  Besides, I told them, I wasn’t alone; I had my little sister and her friends, and they needed someone to choreograph their dances (and force them to dance to choreographed dances).

Every Friday morning my mother would say to me with the hope-iest of hope:

“Do you think you’ll need a ride to the mall this weekend?  I hear Brittany is going to get her ears pierced.”

And I would say, “Oh, no, all she wants to do is walk around, which is, like, so boring.  I’m going to categorize my Barbie furniture by room and color!”

This tete-a-tete went on well into the fall of eighth grade.  Sure, I had a couple of boyfriends during that time thanks to Brittany, who would broker the relationships with the boyfriends’ friends and then give me the news a few weeks later when we had broken up, having never said a word directly to one another.  And sure, I had started wearing Hypercolor t-shirts and tight-rolled jeans with penny loafers instead of sweatshirts with curly ribbon monkey tails.  And SURE, I suppose I changed my music taste from Raffi to Janet Jackson because that’s what was on the radio.  However, each evening I still flipped on the hall light and kissed those stuffies while my dad deep-sighed against the stairway railing.

That is, until one fateful day.

A few days before that fateful day, I was sitting on the gym stage with my co-basketball manager, Crystal (as well as Brittany, who was not a basketball manager but supportive of our efforts) while the team did warm-up lay-ups.  We were doing what co-basketball managers did best, which was to sing Little Mermaid songs.  As we hit the crescendo of “Part of Your World,” a boy named Chad Hart (I suppose this is where I should say that none of these names are real) popped out from behind the curtain.

“Hey,” he said to us.

“Hey,” we said back.

“I’m having a party on Friday if you want to come,” Chad Hart, who looked a little like Luke Perry and actually spoke to the girls he dated, said.

“Sure,” Crystal, Chad Perry’s current girlfriend, said.

“Sure,” Brittany said.

Chad Perry looked at me.  “Amanda?”

“Sure,” I said.

At dinner, I casually mentioned that I had been invited to a party.  My mother did her best to seem casually interested.

“A birthday party?”  She asked.

“I think just a regular party,” I said.

“That’s nice,” my mom said.  “Whose party?”

“Chad Perry,” I said.

My mom jumped up from the table, caught herself, and returned more composed and holding the phone book.  She flipped to the P’s.

“Here’s the address,” she said, showing everyone at the table as if our dinner depended on it.  “Dad will take you.”

“Brittany said her dad can drive us,” I said.

“Oh,” my mom said, choking back her glee.  “That’s nice.”

Chad Perry’s party was held in his basement.  He had covered the lamps with his football t-shirts so the room glowed red.  On the radio, Janet Jackson rocked.  There were twelve of us – six boys, six girls – and so we settled (crammed) ourselves on the two couches, boys on one, girls on the other.  Chad Perry lounged on the arm of the boys’ couch, talking about something that was probably worldly and important with the other guys.  On our couch, Crystal showed us her new slap bracelet.

The radio changed to “Red Red Wine,” and Chad Perry asked Crystal to dance.  They moved towards the back of the basement until they were fully ensconced in the red light.  She put his arms around his neck.  He put his hands on her waist – and then, after swaying back and forth a bunch of times, slid them down into the back pocket of her jeans.  And with that, as quickly as a teacher pressing play on a VCR or a mom taking her daughter for ice cream, I grew up.

Brittany’s dad brought us home at 10.  I got ready for bed, patting my stuffies on the head instead of my usual ritual.

“You don’t have to sit in the hall, Dad,” I said as he hugged me good night.  Teenagers who went to parties where people put their hands in other peoples’ back pockets weren’t afraid of the dark.

“Oh, okay,” my dad said, surprised.  He turned off the light, and I drifted off into UB40 (and maybe just a little Strawberry Shortcake) dreamland.

(P.S. In case my children read this sometime in the future and decide they can slow dance with their hand in someone else’s back pocket, there are two things they should know: One, none of the other party guests, including myself, got off our respective couches for absolutely any reason until it was time to go home. Two, being 14 in the ’90s was a lot different than it is now. Fourteen-year-olds then were only a few years away from carving themselves a wagon out of a couple of trees and setting off in order to raise a family and settle distance lands. Fourteen-year-olds now are expected not to swear on YouTube.)


The photo above was taken at my Bat Mitzvah when I was 13 (the man in the photo is my dad). I have that dress and the matching Dyeable pumps in my closet. If I could squeeze even one leg into that dress, I would wear it every single day.


Hope you’re hungry!  Minto is shaping up for the 37th annual bologna feed. (Grand Forks Herald)

Fargo’s Jacob Hansen will make his Carnegie Hall debut as a percussionist with the Honors Performance Series. (Valley News Live)

Lia Karjalainen of West Fargo, Heidi Holt of Bismarck, and Makenzie Vangstad and Lily Rokke of Fargo are some of the youngest athletes to participate in USA U18 National Curling Championship in Lafayette, Colorado. (Fargo Forum)

The “Ling King” has set a new record after hooking a 41-3/4” burbot. (Grand Forks Herald)

Best of luck to the University of North Dakota dance team, who are headed off to the Universal Dance Association College National Championship this weekend! (Grand Forks Herald)

Grand Forks professor Michael Lents is buckling up with Team USA  as they prepare to fly at the 2023 World Advanced Aerobatic Championships in Las Vegas, NV (fun fact, he placed 5th overall and took home Silver with Team USA in 2018). (Go Fund Me)


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