Tales From A Hungry Life

February 8, 2013

Puberty Night

by Maria Schulz

Back when I was a kid (way, way back, when dinosaurs roamed the earth), my parents interacted with us in very different ways than modern parents interact with their children today. I’m not saying it was better, just different.

Like my parents, the schools were happy to open the doors and let us kids go off to our own lives, with very little in the way of guidance or direction. You (or rather, I) would no sooner approach a teacher for answers to questions about God (yardstick alert!), creation (DON’T YOU READ YOUR BIBLE?), fashion tips (my teachers didn’t know how to dress either), and certainly NEVER EVER EVER did we ask about sex.

That’s why I was kind of amused to see an entire semester’s worth of planned activities surrounding the topic of puberty at my children’s schools.

First, there was Movie Night, for the parents. I wasn’t sure what I was in for, so I went feeling slightly ill. What I found was an auditorium filled with giggling, joke-cracking parents who interrupted the teacher, laughed whenever he said things like “raging hormones” and “your children need deodorant,” and talked incessantly throughout the very educational cartoon.

The cartoon was titled something like “I’m Growing Up!” and it featured a very congenial stick figure who had hair sprouting out in weird places, acne all over his face, neck and back, and who could at any time become a boy with new and interesting dreams or a sobbing girl who needed her stick figure mom to tell her about her newest friend.

I left there feeling glad that my children weren’t going to see this movie, because it confused me. I began to re-think my own hard-won facts now that Hermaphrodite Stick Figure shared his/her vast store of knowledge with us.

A few months later, all of the moms were invited to Puberty Night with their daughters. All of the dads were invited to their own Puberty Night with their sons. Thankfully, each event was held at different schools so we didn’t have to deal with all the girls trying to get noticed while the boys marched on in complete oblivion. And that’s just the parents.

“Hello girls and moms,” the facilitator said. “Tonight I’m going to help you all explore what puberty means to you.”

The girls broke out into peals of nervous laughter while the mothers fidgeted.

The facilitator went up to the white board and drew a picture of a stick figure girl. It looked sort of like this:

Life before puberty

Then she turned to the girls.

“Who wants to come up here and draw ONE THING that happens to you when you go through puberty?

About 10 different girls ran up to the board and scribbled something onto the body of our stick figure girl, so that eventually she looked like this:

Life after puberty.

Life after puberty.

The girls were beside themselves with laughter while one or two of the moms even smiled. I was wondering what was going on across town with the boys. Were there a lot of laughs, or were the dads and boys just as uncomfortable? My daughters left there mildly amused and not at all terrified.  They even received a handout called “Puberty Chit Chat—for Girls” that included interview questions for mom and daughter.  I can ask my daughters things like:

“What is your favorite music?”

“How are you feeling lately about yourself?”

“What are the biggest pressures you are feeling right now?

In turn, my daughters can ask me the following questions:

“What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“What was the greatest pressure you experienced when you were my age?”

“How did you learn about puberty?”

It was that last question that got me thinking about the ways I learned about life, death, and puberty.

When I would complain or whine about life being unfair, my mother, grandmothers or Uncle Don would come along and say helpful things like, “who told you life was fair. LIFE ISN’T FAIR!”

When someone I loved died, my father shared the news by saying helpful things like, “hey! Grandpa is dead. You can cry if you want.” See, there was no sugar coating where I came from.

But my favorite memories are the ones in which the adults in my life tried to explain their least favorite topic of all: puberty. I had managed to be completely oblivious well into my 11th year and probably would have continued that way for many months to come if it hadn’t been for the hit sitcom, All In the Family.

Those were the days.

Those were the days.

On one episode, Gloria is talking to her mother Edith, father Archie, and husband Michael, and she’s being really snotty and mean.

“Why are you in such a bad mood?” Michael says.

“It’s because I’ve got my friend,” Gloria replies.

Friend? What friend? I didn’t see any other people in this episode. Sometimes Gloria, Edith, Mike or Archie had a friend on the show, and that friend had a name, like Irene Lorenzo, Beverly La Salle, Stuart, or Stretch. But no matter how hard I tried to see the friend on screen, I just couldn’t.

The rest of the episode had Gloria acting like a total lunatic, fighting with her parents and husband, and being completely impossible. She kept walking around with a hot water bottle pressed against her side and an angry sneer on her face.

Sad Sally

Sad Sally

Finally, towards the end of the episode, Edith got Gloria and Mike to stop fighting by telling them a story about her mother and father and their fight about maple syrup. Everyone kissed and made up. I still couldn’t find her friend.

This perplexed me. I was usually pretty good at figuring out what was going on, but I could not make this entire story line out at all. So the next day, while driving with my mother to pick my father up from the 7 Train in Flushing, I asked her about it.

“What did she mean, she had her friend?” I said, as we drove down 45th Avenue and turned onto Kissena Blvd. “I didn’t see any friends on that show all night!”

I noticed my mother was gripping the steering wheel so tight that her knuckles were turning white. It was dark out, but the headlights from the passing cars and buses illuminated my mother’s face just enough so I could see her lips pursed in a tight line.

“She doesn’t mean a person,” my mother said, eyes fixed on the road ahead. “She means something else.”

My mother proceeded to tell me who, or should I say “what,” Gloria’s friend was. Then she actually connected it to my life by telling me that I would get my own friend, probably sooner then later.

I said nothing, but wished I could throw the car door open, run down Kissena Blvd into oncoming traffic, and say, “No way! I don’t want or need any more friends! What kind of friend is that anyway?”

There goes the bus!

There goes the bus!

But before I could attempt to change the course of fate and end up being run over by the Q27 bus, my father jumped into the car and our conversation was over. I felt nauseous. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t listen to my parents argue or “dialog,” as they used to say in their hippy-speak Marriage Encounter lingo.

Thankfully, my mother didn’t bring up the conversation again. But now light bulbs were starting to go off as I began to understand the many, many commercials that played during the day while my soap operas were on. I never wondered what any of those products were for, because when I asked, my mother or brothers would just say, “don’t worry about it.”

So I didn’t worry about it.

That is, until my 7th grade teacher sent home a note, sealed in an envelope, and yelled at us “to make sure we had our parents sign the consent form and bring it in tomorrow!”

I hand-delivered this missive to my mother and watched her open it.

“What is it?” I asked. I thought maybe I would have to donate one of my kidneys, or increase the number of pennies I put in my Mite Boxes. I was hoping it was the kidney.

Anything but mite boxes.

Anything but mite boxes.

“Mrs. Greene is going to teach you about puberty tomorrow.” My mother said.

I gasped. “She’s going to teach the whole class about it?”

“Yes, apparently,” my mother replied.

“I don’t want to learn about that with the boys,” I said.

“Oh don’t make a big deal about it,” my mother said. “It’s all perfectly natural. Your brother Chris has to learn about it too.”

Well, at least now I was laughing.

The next day, we all dragged our sorry selves into Mrs. Greene’s class and sat down. Mrs. G. was a tiny little lady with short black hair, big-rimmed glasses and a great big laugh. Mrs. G. always wanted the candy I hid in my bolero. She was a big fan of Sugar Babies and Reese’s Pieces, and that made me glad. She never asked for my Almond Joys. On most days, she greeted us with a big, ready smile on her face.

Fits easily into your Catholic school bolero

Fits easily into your Catholic school bolero

Unfortunately that wasn’t how it was going to go for us today. Mrs. G. grasped her pointer stick in her hands and wrote some terms on the blackboard. When she got to “hormones” and “menses,” one of the boys in my class burst out in gales of laughter. Mrs. G. whipped around and slammed her pointer on his desk.

Perfect for pointing at maps and silencing unruly children

Perfect for pointing at maps and silencing unruly children

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” she said, as she stuck the pointer in his chest. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you, or anyone else!”

So, we sat there in stunned silence and watched as Mrs. G. drew lots of chalk outlines of the human reproductive system on the board. At least, I think it was the human reproductive system. At one point, it looked like she had drawn a goat.

“And that’s how babies are born!” Mrs. G. yelled, as she smashed down her pointer. She was in a sweat and looked as unhappy as the day she told us her dog had died.  “Does anybody have any questions?” she yelled.

So confused.

So confused.

I wanted to ask, “What has a goat got to do with the human reproductive system?” but decided not to tempt the fates. Mrs. G. was so lathered up that if I said anything, she just might put that pointer right through my skull. I averted all eye contact and breathed a prayer until, thankfully, the bell rang and we all dashed out of the class.

I was really glad that no one else ever brought the topic of puberty up. I got my knowledge in the same places that everyone else did: SOAP, All in the Family, Dallas, Dynasty, Prince songs on the radio and daytime television. And of course, out in the street, in the bowling alley or in the locker room with all the other kids who didn’t know anything.


So good!

So good!

Maple Walnut Cookies


I chose this recipe as a nod to Edith from All in the Family, my honorary “other mother.” Enjoy!

The most lovable dingbat on the planet

The most lovable dingbat on the planet

So, Hungry Lifers: what’s your favorite puberty story? Did you learn about the birds and the bees from your parents, teachers, equally uninformed friends, TV or Prince songs? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!



  1. Way back when we didn’t refer to it as puberty. Anyway, Albee took us younger kids for a long walk around the block when we were about 6 or so and told us the facts which we accepted except for our parents which we argued would never do anything like that! Around eight or so most of us came to the conclusion we weren’t the result of another virgin birth. Then around twelve or so when my mother was making me neat enough to return to school after lunch she ask, “Junior, do I have to tell you anything about things you might not know anything about?”, to which i replied emphatically, “No!”. She sighed a big sigh of relief and I went up to the school yard to wait for the bell to enter the school. We never talked or broached the subject again. I should mention I was greatly disappointed in my Biology high School class because their version of sex and mine were completely different.

    Comment by Bglou — February 8, 2013 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

    • That is too funny! You made me laugh out loud. My friend Pam had five older brothers. She came running over one day and dragged me into the basement. She told me that one of her brothers told her that if you walk into somebody 3x and you say” I want to have a baby” you will get pregnant. We avoided crowds for a long time after that!

      Comment by Suzanne Tavel — February 8, 2013 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  2. Okay Maria, love this post. The word Mensies gets under my skin just as much as the word panties. Never use either one. Your right, why call it your friend?
    It should only be called that when you are hoping not to be pregnant. It’s so embarrassing. I was one of those parents who was laughing in the background. It is funny. No one ever told me anything about this! I do remember yelling at my husband on my honeymoon, don’t walk into me!(see reply above) i remember in the fifth grade they told us to write down our questions. Mine was”does your pubic hair match the hair on your head?” I thought that was such a great question. They said yes. I spent the rest of the time picturing Mrs. cronin’s highlighted pubic hair.
    Having never been told about puberty it came as a surprise to me while I was playing Barbies one day. I told my mother what happened to me and she asked if I knew what it was. I had no clue but I told her I did because I was so embarrassed. I’m still waiting for someone to explain it.

    Comment by Suzanne Tavel — February 8, 2013 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  3. Hilarious! An ancient priest came into our class in 8th grade and gave us “the talk.” I can’t remember what he said. I was probably traumatized at the time!

    Comment by wordimprovisor177 — February 11, 2013 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  4. This was so funny, Maria! I definitely remember “the movie” along with a lot of giggling. I also remember a boy in 7th grade who made some odd hand gestures that I’m still wondering what they meant. What a goofy time in our lives, and you captured it to a tee!

    Comment by Lisa — February 13, 2013 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  5. So Funny!!! This is what I have to look forward to for my 7 year old daughter!!?! I’m sending you with her on Puberty Night.

    Comment by Caroline Bock — March 20, 2013 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  6. […] The Birds and Bees don’t make much sense, especially when goats are involved (see my post, Puberty Night) […]

    Pingback by It’s A Small World | Tales From A Hungry Life — July 31, 2013 @ 6:34 am | Reply

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