• Madelynne Juenger

Cheers to the Teenage Years

At thirteen years old I was still recovering from the tragic disappointment of not receiving my Hogwarts letter in the mail two birthdays ago. This was a rather large hit to my eleven year old heart as I was fully ready to exchange my Catholic school uniform for robes and a pointed hat…something the sisters might have looked down upon, but what can I say? I was a rebel at an early age. Instead, however, I was stuck in my plaid jumper and only got through the following years by reassuring myself daily that the owls only got mixed up because my family moved around so much that even magic couldn’t keep track of us.

A few years later, (and with the disappointment of eleven still hanging over my head) thirteen seemed to hold promise. Most twelve year olds look forward to entering into the illusive society of teenagers due to the tempting promises of makeup, boys, and frequent trips to the mall. I, however, looked forward to becoming a teenager because every Disney movie I had seen promised that when I turned thirteen, I would either a.) become a mermaid, b.) move to Halloweentown, or c.) turn into a leprechaun. I was hoping it wouldn’t be the latter, but at this point I was willing to take whatever I could get.

Now, while I can’t actually reveal whether or not any of this really came true (the mermaid confidentiality code is very strict), I can tell you that thirteen felt pretty magical. I was finally in eighth grade and ruled the halls of my middle school with all the confidence that comes along with sporting rainbow braces. Pig tails were a frequently worn hairstyle and I spent my afternoons partaking in a club called Academic Challenge (which we lovingly referred to as Nerd Squad). And, as you might have guessed, I was not the most popular child in my class. But I didn’t really care because I had finally found a good group of gal pals who enjoyed spending our sleepovers writing weird poetry and working on songs for our girl band. I got through the teasing and frequent pencils thrown at my head by keeping in mind that someday we would be famous and our first song, “Make a Miracle”, would be a hit.

At some point down the line, though, I think the “caring too much” factor of my personality started to kick in. I became aware of the fact that all the “cool girls” hadn’t touched pigtails since elementary school and none of them ever went around openly discussing their Hannah Montana jam sessions. So in an effort to be more like them, I drove to the mall after school with my mom, bought out every overly priced t-shirt clothing store, and became a walking talking advertisement for Aeropostale for the next two years. I never quite lost the pigtails though. (And here is photographic evidence of this exact outfit.)

The first day of high school was when it finally hit me that being a teenager was not going to be anything like what I had seen in the movies. I was not going to be viewed as the quirky, yet cool nerd who gets popular halfway through her film when she discovers the magic powers of contact lenses. I was never going to be able to rock the cool laid-back beach style that came so naturally to everyone else. Heck, I’ll be twenty in a few days and I still don’t think I’ll ever figure that out. At nineteen I am currently rocking bright purple glasses and wearing more mismatched layers than ever before. (But I think thirteen year old Madelynne would be quite proud of this as she never really enjoyed Aeropostale very much anyways.)

It seemed like everyone around me was growing up much quicker than I could keep up with and at fourteen, I was still caught up in my fairytale version of what I wanted high school to be.

But my first dance was less of a Cinderella moment and more of an “oh my gosh Mom please pick me up right now. I don’t know what kind of dancing this is, but it’s certainly not the Macarena” moment. Class presentations were a nightmare of social anxiety and I still have flashbacks of the popular girls giving each other looks of “aw poor baby” as if I were five years younger than them instead of the exact same age. And on top of all this, I hadn’t really worked out the whole aspect of making friends quite yet.

It wasn’t until I found the nerve to audition for our theatre department that I ever felt like I truly fit in somewhere. It was on our high school’s stage that I finally experienced my Cinderella moment and discovered how to speak without sounding like I was on the verge of tears. I wore funky dresses and learned choreographed dances and recited monologues like my life depended on it. I may not have been the best, but I was so freaking happy and for once, being a teenager didn’t seem so gosh darn awful.

During my sophomore year, I took the song “Fifteen” by Taylor Swift very seriously. I made a pact with myself to follow the lyrics exactly and somewhere in the second chorus Taylor mentions a first kiss. So obviously, I was going to make this happen. I couldn’t let my role model down. However, things weren’t looking too great for awkward sophomore Madelynne who now sported a closet of ill-fitting thrift store dresses and colorful converse to match. It wasn’t until a boy was cast as my dance partner in our school’s musical that my chances finally started to look slightly better. If he hadn’t been forced to spend every afternoon with me for three months, though, I doubt we ever would have made any actual contact. However! I seized the opportunity and made an attempted effort to flirt! Somehow my Harry Potter pick up lines worked their magic (pun intended) and my first kiss came later that year. Oh, how I wish I could say I was great at it and it was a scene even Princess Mia Thermopolis would be jealous of, but alas, I was an awkward bumbling mess and I distinctly remember apologizing for being an awkward bumbling mess. It took place on my living room couch with my mom twenty feet away cooking dinner and I also remember pointing that out too. Basically, typical Madelynne rambling ruined everything yet again. How romantic. Long story short, that was the only kiss of that short lived relationship and we broke up not long after. (We did get back together a few years later though, so I still have faith in the power of Harry Potter pick up lines. Take notes ladies.)

The rest of high school was spent navigating friend groups, learning the art of group messaging, and then figuring out how to get as far away as possible from both of those things. Obviously, I made absolutely lovely friends who I still talk to today and love very much, but I was oh so ready to move on to college when senior year ended.

And then college came! And though I was thrown into a completely unfamiliar place with people I had never met before, I had never felt more at home. I could spread out my arms and take up space and yell out in excitement! I placed all of my stuffed animals and pillows methodically on my bed, so that each one had its own spot. I covered my walls in flowers and photographs and watched as the cream paint grew slowly less visible as the year went on and more pictures were added. I strung lights around the edges and hung snowflakes from the ceiling in the winter time. I rarely ever went to sleep at a reasonable hour, because it always seemed to be around midnight when my roommate and I would get a life changing idea. The floor was covered in paint from design projects thrown together at 3 a.m. The room was extremely tiny, but could fit in all of our friends if we squished and forgot about personal space for a bit. It was small and slightly resembled what I imagine a prison cell might look like, but it was mine and it was home.

And I watched as all these strangers slowly transformed into a second family. People I hadn’t known the previous year, became people I now couldn’t imagine my life without. And whenever my high school friends meet my college friends it is the most wonderful feeling of all my worlds colliding into one.

And so now here I am! About to enter into my third year of college and my first year as a 20 something. I can finally update my Instagram bio and feel hip. It has been quite a bumpy road to get here, but today I had one of those revelations of “wow, hey I did this thing!” and that is what inspired this entirely too lengthy blog post.

So maybe real life isn’t exactly like the movies. But sometimes it’s better. If my first dance had gone perfectly well and I had clicked instantly with the group of people that I went with, maybe I never would have joined the drama club to make friends. I would have missed out on the absolute best part of my high school career. If I had chosen to follow the same exact path as the “cool” kids and didn’t stray out on my own, then maybe I would never have discovered graphic design and wouldn’t be studying in Philadelphia and London right now. I would have missed out on my biggest adventure so far. And if all of my dates had gone perfectly smoothly, then maybe I’d be a bit better at the whole relationship thing, but I would have missed out on a lot of funny stories. And honestly, those awkward cringe worthy moments are some of my favorite parts. Being able to laugh at your past self is a wonderful part of life.

And so being a teenager is messy. It takes a lot of getting used to and some people might not ever. I know I certainly didn’t. But I also think that’s part of the reason I survived. I held onto my inner child and never stopped waiting for my Hogwarts letter or my mermaid tail. And I held onto the childish hope that everything is only ever going to get better.

And it does. I pinky promise.

So here’s to the teenage years! Here’s to all the braces and the fun times I had coordinating the colors to the closest holiday. Here’s to my first car named Hank and my first summer road trip in which Hank decided to no longer have working AC. Here’s to all the hair dye I wasted in an attempt to be “artsy” and all the damaged hair that came out as a result. Here’s to my first ever date who I left stranded in a bowling alley after I sprinted away because I was too nervous to kiss him. Here's to driving to school early every morning just to hang out in the fine arts wing with my absolute favorite people in the world. Here's to moving into my first apartment and all the blanket forts and movies nights that happened there. Here’s to finding my people scattered all the way from South Carolina, to Virginia, to Pennsylvania, and now to London.

The teenage years are a total mess. But they are the greatest adventure I've been on so far.

(Here's me pretending to be a classy adult drinking wine on a rooftop. In reality, I took two sips of the wine and went back for water instead. Cheers!)



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