The Secret To It All Is Twirling (for KWM)

Fall, 1999. I was fourteen years old and it was my first homecoming. My first “dance” and entrance into high school and the years of “teendom” that plague every one of us. I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to go to the game, be a part of the marching band, the dance, and the dress.

The summer before, I had fallen in love with the ugliest dress known to man. It was a bluish, charcoal colored dress with capped sleeves and a print of black pineapples along with bottom. It was also not my size. It was a misses’ size eight, and I wore a junior’s size three. But, I begged my mom for it anyway, promising I would wear it to a dance that following school year.

“It is too big for you; you know that right?” she asked. “And it’s not really you at all.”

It was $10.00 on clearance and I thought it was just perfect. So, I defied all human logic and bought it. It remained in my closet all summer, and I had my heart set on wearing it.

Then, two weeks before the dance, I pulled it out to try it on and model my beautiful dress again for my mom and dad.

It looked like an ugly potato sack. It hung loosely on my shoulders and I looked like a little girl playing dress-up in her grandmother’s closet. My mom had been correct, and the dress was truly the ugliest creation known to man.

I walked out into the living room with my moo-moo on and wanted to cry. What on earth had I been thinking? It was a suitable only to be a thrift store reject and I’d purchased thinking I was ready for the Oscars.

My mom stifled a laugh. Or maybe she didn’t because I don’t remember. I do remember her telling me that she thought we could do better and she had an idea. She was going to take me to my favorite store for a new dress.

Later in the week, we headed to the Fashion Bug in Lapeer, not far from my childhood home. In no time, I had “the” dress.

It was a formal, black velour with a high halter. It had a rhinestone pattern along the front and side. It had a small slit on the right side that allowed me to show off my fancy shoes. And! A matching jacket.

The day of the event, my friend Lindsey’s mom came over to do my hair. She did my hair in a long, blonde French braid and my mom threaded baby’s breath through it.

My date for the evening was my first boyfriend. He was dashing in his formal wear and bought me my very first corsage. We went to dinner with our friends and our moms snapped photos before shuttling us to the dance at our high school.

It was a perfect evening. The “stuff” that a teenaged girl’s dreams fill.

I kept a photo from that evening on my dresser for years. Long after high school romances end and friends grow and change both together and apart.

Last Saturday, seventeen years after my own first homecoming, I got to see the first homecoming of a young friend whom I love with all my heart.

She’s the daughter of our family’s friends, and when I was seventeen, she became the first baby that I ever loved, and she was the first young child that I ever wanted to spend time with.

Ready for her first big dance, she looked like a prima ballerina.  Her pink dress and silver shoes sparkled and when she did “the twirl” she looked better than any princess that Disney has, or could ever, create.

She was perfect.

And this wasn’t the first time I had seen her dressed up for a big event. When she was nine, she stood as my maid of honor in my wedding. A spot that only she could occupy then, and now. But at the time, she was a lovely little girl. Now, she’s a beautiful young woman.

Last weekend, she was stunning.

She was charming and fun, full of energy and excitement as she posed for photographs with her friends. I was overwhelmingly proud of her.

There she was: a teenager.

And in the back of my mind, my fourteen-year-old self, in my black velour dress was smiling at me too.

Today, I don’t often get to put on a fancy dress. I suppose I could, but it might look strange going to work in a formal gown. Then again, it’s me… who would think it’s all “that” bizarre?

I have many great memories of growing up and having fun with my friends. We always laughed and had adventures, or misadventures, it depended on which way the wind just happened to be blowing that day. And if I trace the roadmap of my teenaged life backward, it all began with that dance.

My entre into the world of “teendom” began with my first homecoming dance. And I remember it being fun and exciting. I remember laughing with my friends and thinking that it would never end. I don’t ever hear Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll” without thinking of my friend Kim. And I have a framed photo of me and my best friend Jil at age fifteen, still sitting in my office, right next to the one we recreated this past spring.

Truth be told, being a teenager isn’t easy. In fact, there were many days that it was pretty horrible. Being “dumped” the night after your sixteenth birthday. Having the “new girl” immediately hate you and begin talking about you behind your back. Watching your friends grow up too fast and being powerless to stop it.

Those are the times I wish I could waive a wand and keep away from my young friend.

I wish my young friend the kind of teen years that don’t leave her scarred. I hope she remembers what it feels like to just “be” and be young.

But, if she’s anything like me, and selfishly, I hope she is, she’ll remember to twirl. Because if she can twirl her way through the labyrinth known as the “teens”, she’ll be fine.

And by the time she’s an adult, she will be one hell of a dancer.



Adam, thank you for your permission to use this photograph.


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