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The ‘Awkward’ Years: Brace Yourself

The ‘Awkward’ Years: Brace Yourself
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By Jill Matlow

I don’t need Daniel Stern to do the narration of my “wonder years” because I’m still wondering how I made it through them.

Remember braces and pimples?

I do like it was yesterday. The metal braces (which had to be painfully tightened frequently), the night brace, the retainers – I had it all. My dad had to leave work in the middle of the day once when I was in junior high so that he could drive me to the orthodontist after I ate an entire box of Milk Duds and the wire from my braces became detached.  Ever leave your retainer on the cafeteria tray? I did.

And those pimples? Ugh!

So many awkward moments and experiences. If only I knew back then what I know now.

What would you tell your 12-year-old self today? The answer lies ahead but first, a walk down memory lane…


My Love (of TV)

True confessions – I had a major crush on Greg Brady. My mother ‘alleges’ that I would dress up in my bell bottoms and embroidered peasant blouse to watch the Brady Bunch, convinced that Greg could see me through the TV set. When the Brady Bunch sang “It’s a Sunshine Day”,  I swear Greg’s eyes locked with mine.

One day, I sent him a fan letter, and got a signed postcard back and thought he actually wrote it. I still remember how cute he looked in his black and white striped sweater that he used to wear before he moved into his ‘groovy pad’ in their attic, where he donned leather fringe vests and sunglasses.

My “relationship’ with Greg lasted many TV seasons.

The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style always followed the Brady       Bunch on Friday nights. I used to ask myself  “how could anyone go out on a Friday night and miss this fantastic line-up?”

I watched a lot of TV back then.

Room 222, Julia, My Three Sons, Get Smart, Mod Squad, Dragnet, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (I loved how Mrs. Livingston called him “Mr. Eddie’s father”), Speed Racer and Gilligan’s Island were some of my favorites.

It always amazed me that, after all those years, Speed Racer couldn’t figure out that behind the mask, Racer X was his long lost brother. Why didn’t Trixie ever let him in on the big secret? And we all wondered how the Professor on Gilligan’s Island could make a phone out of a tin can but couldn’t figure out how to make a raft to rescue them from the island.

Saturday morning cartoons. The Children’s Film Festival with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Skinny and Fatty and all the other wonderful movies.  H.R. Pufnstuf, and The Land of Hatchy Milatchy with host Miss Judy, who would peek through her magic mirror.

With all that TV watching, who had time to read books? I did manage to read a few good ones during that time: “Catcher in the Rye”, “That Was Then, This is Now”, “The Red Balloon”, “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t”, and “Are You There God, it’s Me Margaret”, which was life-changing.

Toys and Board Games (and never bored)

I had fabulous toys and board games growing up too. Incredible Edibles. Easy Bake Oven – Did anyone else ever eat that little cherry pie that we cooked by a battery operated oven and thought  it tasted good?!

Operation, Kerplunk, Sorry, Hands Down, Candyland, Monopoly (where my older sister Jody was always the banker and won each game – Umm, she always hid the orange $500 bills under the board. All those years, I thought she was so savvy about how she managed her “finances” during Monopoly).  I was always the shoe, clicking along. By the end of the game, all my properties were mortgaged and my houses and hotels were sold.

The School Years

Many days, I sat with my chair in the back corner facing the wall. Those were on the days I wasn’t kicked out of class for behavioral problems. I still managed to get good grades, and I think my behavior has improved considerably.  I did clown around a lot back then and was voted ‘wittiest’ my senior year so I guess all my shenanigans eventually paid off.

On the subject of “clowns”, I was a cheerleader in junior high, and my saddle shoes were SIZE TEN! They didn’t come in red and white in that size (which was the color of my football team and my shoes had to match our uniforms). I had to literally paint them with red nail polish. I was mortified to be seen in those “clownish” shoes at football games, cheering from the sidelines.

I was also taller than most of my peers and felt so awkward about this. In the romance department, my first french kiss – 7th grade – happened when I was sitting on our porch with a cute boy named Seth. He removed his Dentyne gum and you can guess what happened next. I thought it was gross at the time.

So many self-conscious, embarrassing memories etched into my mind from those impressionable years.


If I could do it all over again, what would I tell my 12-year-old self?

I’d tell my 12-year-old self not to worry so much – eventually the pimples will go away, your teeth will be straight and you’ll find someone more attainable than Greg Brady (but probably not as groovy).

I’d tell my 12-year-old self that it’s probably better to read more books and watch less TV, but that a healthy balance is always important in life. And that even though you might not have felt like you fit in back then, someday you’ll embrace being quirky, funny and tall. And no one really cares what your shoes look like, because in the end, it’s what’s inside that counts. And always put money away in a safe place (not under a board game) for a rainy day.

But most importantly, I’d tell my 12-year-old self to just be who you are, be kind to yourself and dare to be different.

And now I wonder, what would you tell your 12-year-old self if you could rewrite that chapter of your life? I’d love to know.

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