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Remembering the happy year of ‘tweening’

My neighbor, Zoey, celebrated her 14th birthday. I saw her before the big event and wished her a happy one. She smiled her sweet smile and said thank you. I smiled thinking she went from five to 14 in a hurry.

At the time, I wanted to say more than “Happy Birthday” to this lovely young lady as she walked barefoot holding the hand of her baby sister. She kind of reminded me of myself at that age. Being the oldest of six, there was always a younger hand to hold.

“Fourteen is a great age,” I wanted to say. “Treasure every minute of this summer because you will look back someday and remember it as one of your best.”

Now, I don’t know for sure that is how she will remember it, but it was certainly one of my best. The feeling I get when I let myself travel back to that time is incredibly happy.

I call the year I turned 14 “the summer in between.” I was a teenager, but not old enough to be into all the teen stuff that would later drive me crazy. You know that stuff — worrying over every hair that might be out of place, praying a pimple wouldn’t erupt at a bad time, wondering what friends were saying about what you wore, your hair, your make-up, the sound of your voice…

Anything and everything had the potential to become a major dramatic event. And that doesn’t even include the whole boy/girl thing that was going on too.

Nope at 14, there was a little of childhood left, but with a bit more independence. My friends and I still rode our bicycles everywhere. There was something slightly different about boys, but for the most part, they were just buddies we hung out with on hot summer afternoons.

We listened to transistor radios tuned to the Big Bam and sipped ice-cold bottles of Dr. Peppers with peanuts floating in them. There was a lot of giggling and silliness. It was great.

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer felt endless. Summer nights often found us sleeping over at each other’s houses. There was popcorn, a little twisting and shouting and lots more giggling.

It was a time of sweet innocence. Though it might sound cliché, I didn’t have a care in the world. The future felt nothing but promising.

As I watched my neighbor walking along digging her toes into the warm sand of our dirt road, I wondered if things are different now for kids. Maybe at 14, they know more about life than we did at the same age. There is certainly more opportunity for learning about things I never dreamed of until I was much older. (The jury is out on whether or not that is a good thing.)

They have the internet, cable television and cell phones instead of transistor radios and Saturday afternoon movie theaters. We had bikes. They have four-wheelers and ATV’s. And, I wonder if they’ve ever tasted a Dr. Pepper with salty peanuts in it. I sure hope so.

Mostly, I wanted to tell my young friend to enjoy her 14th summer. Live every minute of it. Walk barefoot a lot. Be silly with friends every chance you get. Give the boys a passing glance, but don’t worry much about them. That will come before you know it.

I wanted to beg her to take time growing into a full-fledged teenager with the drama that comes when that happens. Be innocent a while longer.

How quickly age 14 became age 16, then 18 and 25. Why I was in a rush to be “grown up” is a mystery. I guess I thought it would bring more freedom, and it did. It also brought more responsibility.

Being 14 was an experience of emerging independence without the weight of teenage angst or adult responsibility. It was a great time that passed in a flash.

I hope for Zoey, it’s just as great.

 

Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.