I’m in the sixth grade. I’m wearing stone washed overalls and a straw hat. I’ve drawn extra freckles onto my cheeks with a friend’s eyeliner and I’m sucking a piece of straw. I’ve got a rubber chicken hanging from a rope that I’ve tied around my waist.

It’s the Halloween dance and I’m looking HOT.

So what if the other girls are dressed like slutty cats and nurses in mini skirts?  What could be sexier than a chick with a chicken? It’s a good thing I’m looking so good because this is my big chance to woo “The Crush”.

I’m going to dance with him.

It will happen.

Laura said that Haley said that Holly said that he is totally going to ask me. So it must be true. Each new song brings a rush of anxiety – “Funky Cold Medina” – retreat, retreat. I do not want to be asked to dance to a fast song, there will be no contact, no eye gazing, no hands on the hips. “Stairway to Heaven” – yes yes yes!! I make myself visible. This song is perfect. We will tell our children that Led Zeppelin brought us together.

No dice. We stare across the room, shrouded by our friends.  Then, just as I begin to think that all is lost, “The Crush” gets up the nerve. He saunters over with a group of guys and they push him towards me. He trips from the impact and falls into me. He’s so fucking cool he’s not even wearing a costume, just a button down shirt doused in cologne. He’s got broad shoulders and a post-pubescent voice. He’s a year older than me. He might as well be Zeus incarnate for all the manliness he’s oozing.

“Wanna dance?”he sort of whispers under his breath.

I know what will happen next. I’ve been playing it out in my mind all night. We are going to croon and I’m going to leave this dance with a real live boyfriend!

But suddenly I’m speaking, and the words are not the ones I’ve rehearsed. I do not say, “Yes crush I’d love too,” or even “uh huh, sure.” Instead I aggressively blurt, “Not before you dance with my chicken!”

I’m dumbfounded.

He looks utterly confused.

Not knowing what to do I untie the chicken from my waist and slowly hand it too him.

“Ok,” he says.

“Ok,” I say.

And he dances with the chicken.

And they never play another slow song, the whole rest of the night.

End of story.

For months after I wanted to bring that rubber chicken to life just so I could murder it.

I thought the dance was going to be my “how I met your father” story.

But it was just the sorry tale of a lame chick losing a guy to a piece of synthetic poultry.

That is until the other day, twenty years later, when a mother of two told me her girls had just attended their first Middle School dance. And it suddenly dawned on me that the whole chicken debacle just might transcend its lameness. It could become the funny tale that I tell my daughter when she some day goes to her first dance. I can see it all play out in my head. She’ll nervously sit before me in her “too short” skirt, anxious to just go already and I’ll say, “Before we head out, there’s a story I need to tell you.” She’ll think she’s getting the sex talk or something and will quickly grow confused when I start speaking of a rubber chicken. As I get deeper into the tale she’ll lean in close, I’ll see her begin to relax. By then end I’ll have her laughing. When it’s all done she’ll head off to the dance completely liberated. She’ll know that no matter what she does, no matter how she embarrasses herself or screws things up, there’s absolutely no way that she’s going to be a bigger moron than her mother.

Suddenly I can imagine re-purposing all of my teen tales of embarrassment. Like the time I stapled my maxi pad to my underwear so it wouldn’t fall out while I was running the hundred-yard dash during the annual seventh grade track and field day. And how because of the staples I ended up with little scrape marks on my thighs that left me walking like I’d just humped a porcupine. Or the time I French kissed a VCR just for practice and got a nasty shock on my tongue. Or the time I tried to Nair my upper lip and ended up with a moustache made up of burn marks from leaving the chemicals on too long. All at once every middle school mishap seemed to have a higher purpose. They’d help me bond with my teenager. They’d show her that she’s not alone. They’d reveal the universal ridiculousness of being twelve and then thirteen and fourteen.

Maybe they’d even help her avoid the whole Middle School mess altogether.


But, more likely, they’ll simply keep her from making my exact mistakes. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of in all of these tales it’s that puberty is hard. It’s an ocean full of weird sea creatures and twenty-foot waves. She’s bound to have a wipeout. No matter how hard it will be to watch her fall, no matter how much I’ll want to save her from all the embarrassment, it just won’t be possible. She’s bound to take out a tampon instead of a pencil in math class or get caught kissing a vacuum cleaner or accidentally dye her hair the shade of puke. It’s going to happen. And as she sits there feeling like her world is over I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Honey, one day it’s just going to be a funny story you tell your kids.”

No teenager wants to hear that!