15 Things I Remember About Being 15

15 Things I Remember About Being 15

By Aline Weiller

1. Me and My Calvins – Brooke Shields and I were simultaneously 15. If she could rock a pair of Calvins, so could I. And rock them I did, in every wash available. I’d imitate her limber poses from those print ads in the full length mirror my sisters and I shared, pretending my brown locks, too, were wind blown. Unfortunately, I didn’t have her God-given gams and stood a mere 5’2. But I bought and cherished those Calvins, and wore them thin.

2. The Dorothy Hamill – How can I forget my Dorothy Hamill wedge – the go-to haircut first unveiled at the Olympics? Though I relished my sought-after perm (applied though I already had curly hair), I willingly traded it in for “The Hammil” like all the girls who took a torn People Magazine page — showing the famed skater — to their local salon. I was thrilled with my upscale bowl cut, the perfect complement to my cheerleading and gymnastics garb, with nary a barrette needed. It was fashionable, yet practical; bold, yet subtle; Dorothy, yet me.

3. Christopher Cross – I couldn’t escape this 1980 phenom. That year, Mr. Cross won Album of the Year (aptly titled Christopher Cross), Record of the Year and Song of the Year; he was a bonafide triple threat. Not to mention his singer-songwriter vibe and careless curls that transcended his less-than-svelt physique. And those signature “Sailing” lyrics that spoke to my soul “Just a dream and wind to carry me…and soon I will be free.”

4. That Second Ear Piercing – I yearned to go asymmetrical. I owed it to the launch of a decade that would be deemed “The Totally Awesome 80s.” I, too, strove to be totally awesome, so asked a complete stranger to give me a second piercing (in only my left ear) at a New Year’s Eve Party, with a potato as a buffer.

5. George Jefferson, My Birthday Twin – Sophomore year I discovered Sherman Helmsley, the actor first famous on “All in the Family” and later on the spin-off, “The Jeffersons,” was also born on February 1st. This news rivaled a Quinceanera — the Sweet 16 at 15, my Colombian cousins enjoyed. I fancied wit and to me, his character was indelible. George Jefferson had comic edge. George Jefferson coined catch phrases. George Jefferson and his wonderful Weezy moved on up to the East Side, to live in a deluxe apartment in the sky.

6. Member’s Only Jackets – His name was John and we met while working at a grocery store — me as an aproned cashier, he the flirty, older boy in the deli. I spotted him first in the break room on a brisk fall day, sporting his Member’s Only – a taupe, cotton-polyester blend of uber coolness. He also drove a chocolate brown Nissan 280 ZX and was 18. But that slick statement of a jacket, with its logoed, left chest pocket, was enough to woo me.

7. The Sony Walkman – Good-bye vinyl, hello cassette tapes. What could be beat clipping a 14-ounce stereo system to my parachute pants, blaring Blondie at the mall? Teenage Nirvana I tell you, Nirvana. My Sony Walkman gave me 80s street cred and came complete with a built-in radio, headphones and case. A leather case.

8. You Deserve a Break Today – Being 15 was hard work. I did deserve a break in the form of the newly debuted Chicken McNuggets at McDonald’s. There was no skirting this menu selection with its mouth-watering descriptions, “Golden Brown” and “Piping Hot” on promotional placemats. It was a meal fit for a teen — processed fried chicken with a selection of tangy sauces, accompanied by fries and a beverage, all for under $5. A treat for my tastebuds — and my wallet.

9. Post-It Notes – I was an organzation enthusiast in my youth — a list-making, labeling, Type A kind of teen. When my Social Studies teacher stuck a pastel-colored square on my report, with the message, “Come See Me,” my right and left brain collided. I dismissed his note and instead, marveled at the new-fangled invention – a mini reminder in the form of pink adhesive-backed pages, sans sticky residue.

10. Pac-Man – Enter a banana yellow, one-eyed, video game blob with the munchies. Just the technology society cried out for. Pac-Man ruled and gave me a place to go — to the Arcade — with throngs of other adolescents seeking the thrill of early gaming, through nimble thumbwork.

11. The Sadie Hawkins Dance – It was the first time I’d asked a boy out. Brian became my boyfriend and future prom date. We soon discovered our full-on Italian grandmothers were close friends and secretly wished we would marry…at 15.

12. The Miracle on Ice – My family loved watching the Olympics, especially that historic U.S. win at Lake Placid. I would pretend I was sports commentator, Jim McKay, and stood on our coffee table — hair brush in hand — belting out the famed tagline, “The Thrill of Victory and the The Agony of Defeat,” in my best broadcaster voice.

13. Fame – I wasn’t all that flexible, but aimed to dance like my peers in the movie, Fame. Simply put, I wanted their moves. They attended New York’s High School of the Performing Arts and sought to live forever, as the film’s theme song promised. To me, Fame captured creative freedom and self-expression. I hailed from a conservative Connecticut high school and was often seen in “Talbot’s Wear.” Fame was a powerful showcase of multi-colored spandex and leg warmers that beckoned me to dance, or to at least try. Between its release and that of Flash Dance, I soon embraced aerobics, an envied collection of fluorescent headbands and the concept of paying in sweat.

14. CNN – A budding writer, I was both a reporter for my high school newspaper and a yearbook staffer. I vividly recall the launch of CNN, thinking how awesome it was to have access to the round the clock headlines. I could garner news tips at dawn and amaze my 12th grade editor with spot-on features before noon.

15. TAB – I consumed more than my share of this fad soft drink. I simply couldn’t resist its charm, conveyed in commercials with waifish girls and their foxy guys. And the soda’s whimsical mix of saccharin and carbonation was an enticing, winning combination. Plus, I looked good in fuchsia.

Aline Weiller’s work has been published in Brain, Child Magazine, Role Reboot, Skirt, Mamalode, Grown and Flown, Your Teen, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Scary Mommy, Great Moments in Parenting, Better After 50, The Change Blog and Weston Magazine, among others. She’s also the CEO/founder of Wordsmith, LLC — a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons. A pop culture enthusiast, Aline enjoys weaving nostalgic references into her work.

















Debate: Are Kids’ Consumer Trends Worth Fighting?

Debate: Are Kids’ Consumer Trends Worth Fighting?

Yes, protect them from themselves

By Beth Kohl

debateyesconsumerWhen I grew up, in the seventies and eighties, I consumed my fair share of pop culture. Yours, too. From my Happy Days T-shirt—a leather-jacketed Fonz with his thumbs cocked out to the side, the word Ayyyy drawn out beneath him—to my various hairstyles, including bangs like a cresting wave, wacky asymmetrical bobs revealing a buzzed under-layer, and the tail that I would dye different colors for seasonal effect. I dug my looks, had fun playing around with them, and ignored my mom, who preferred my hair longer, flatter, and pulled back in a headband or ponytail. I kept on experimenting, chopping my hair, changing its color, and piercing my ears until I’d exhausted the entire lobe. Indeed, this is what kids do. It’s what they’ve always done.

But times have changed in a ways that make it far riskier to butt out and let our kids experiment freely with the trends of the day. We’ve become a consumerist culture: a brand-coveting, acquisitive, and celebrity-obsessed society. And the celebrities we obsess over have clothes that are much sexier than Molly Ringwald’s flapper-inspired schmatas—shorter, sheerer, and lower-rising—making this a particularly sticky issue for little girls who often naively stumble into dangerous, adult terrain.

I am the proud (and mostly laid back) mother of three daughters, three future adolescents and, someday, women. We are a hand-me-and-then-me-down family. My eldest daughter gets the new stuff, but only those items that pass my longevity litmus tests. I look for classics; Levi’s, vintage-style blouses fashioned from quaint floral fabrics, and brightly colored T-shirts with no lettering on them, the better to let the wearer shine through.

For the longest time (six years to be exact), my daughters unquestioningly wore what I picked out, ate much of what I offered, no matter how raw or cooked or orange or green, and played with “brick and mortar” type toys—Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys and sock monkeys, classic amusements from my own childhood.

Suddenly, however, I’m getting flak. My first grader, Sophia, no longer thinks pretty, classic, comfortable or unique are adequate attributes for school wear. (Weekends are a different matter entirely. She’ll happily spend two days wearing any old thing in her closet, proof to me that this is about a mob mentality.) But Monday through Friday, she wants to wear what her stylish peers wear. Short jean skirts, sans tights, sans leggings, camisole tops, cropped sweatshirts and Crocs, those round-toed rubber clogs punctured with lima-bean-sized holes that serve as holders for the charms to be acquired and collected and displayed and compared.

Sophia also wants virtual pets and computer games, an iPod, and a cell phone. I tell her no, not yet. I remind her that one day she’ll have a job and be able to purchase just what she wants and to dress like the whore of Babylon, if that is what pleases her. (What’s a whore? Who is Babylon? she wonders.) But until then, I’m not ready to have her retreat into a world of insularity and simulated connection.

A parent needs to choose her battles. It seems silly, misguided, puritanical and a downright bad strategy to nix everything that smacks of trendiness. Certainly, some of the trendiest items are harmless in and of themselves, their popularity largely based upon practicality or because they’re so darn cute. And at some point our children naturally feel the need to separate from us, to establish their own identities. A good parent cannot, should not, force her tastes on her children forever or prevent her children from evolving. But it is incumbent upon parents to take a good, hard look at the trends and decide if an item’s ubiquity proves its harmlessness.

Buying into trends enforces a couple of unfortunate effects. First, owning brand-name stuff is a form of crass elitism if the goal of ownership is the brand rather than the item itself. (That, as far as I can understand it, is the very point of trendiness.) Second, limits are healthy for our children, lending them a sense of security and their parents a hedge against over-indulgence. Third, once our kids enter this fray, wearing or owning these trendy things, they’re a part of a competitive mob, comparing who has the most Webkinz or whose Crocs have been most pimped. They end up a member of the hierarchy, whether the coolest, least cool, or, worst of all, an invisible member of the group.

Finally, many of the trendsetters our children see in the media, particularly the current crop of female ones, make a virtue of drugs and extreme diets, of trashy clothes and trashedness, of a dangerous precociousness beyond fashion. And even if you’d never consider buying your children designer bags or clothes like Britney’s or Lindsay’s, these styles filter down to the places where we shop, and acquiring these items only fuels the market for them. Manufacturers, and the parents who blindly buy their products, are creating a preoccupation with style and, more damaging, looks.

Our children need to foster deeper connections than a shared brand of dress. I’m not suggesting that most children are mature enough to analyze their affinities and determine which are worthwhile. I also know better than to assume every kid is a natural-born leader with an evolved sense of personal style. Certainly our kids should be allowed to experiment, just as I was. But just because my kids don’t have the same exact brands as other children, just because their parents know better than to allow them to wear suggestive clothing or T-shirts extolling shallow, soulless pursuits (“I Live to Shop” spelled out in rhinestones) doesn’t make them outsiders. It shows they are respected as potential independent thinkers, even if I have to do a little of that thinking for them right now.

Beth Kohl lives in Winnetka, Illinois with her husband and three daughters. She is working on her first novel.


No, buying is a learning experience

By Heather Annastasia Siladi

debatenoconsumerWhen I was seventeen, my friend at work got a beautiful tattoo on her thigh. I mentioned to my father that I was thinking about getting one also, of a little poison arrow frog. The tirade that followed lasted for at least an hour. I was threatened with everything from grounding to eternal damnation. My dad took a passing impulse, one I probably would have forgotten about by my eighteenth birthday, and turned it into my sole mission in life. I researched local tattoo artists, drew my own tattoo, and yes, I still have my poison arrow frog today.

It was one of the most satisfying purchases I had ever made.

I understand, and share, the concerns of many parents about the extent to which consumerism can grip our children. As I write, my nine-year-old son, Cole, is spreading a Bionicle poster across my desk and explaining which one has the most armor and agility, which one glows in the dark, and how they’re all available at Wal-Mart for the shockingly low price of $8.99.

I realize he’s being manipulated by a toy company, and I tell him that.

There are issues that go hand-in-hand with such fads that we as parents must address, like financial responsibility and peer pressure, but we have to separate consumerism from the others. If a child expresses views that are contrary to her family’s values through clothing and music purchases, it’s not the purchases that are the issue, but her views.

My younger brother likes to throw around the word “pimp” when referring to something cool and extravagant. That coat is pimp. One day, when my boys were in the first grade, my son Connor came home and mentioned that he and a friend were playing pimp at recess. After a few questions, I quickly learned that neither boy had the slightest clue what a pimp was, and they were referring to acting cool. I sat both my boys down and explained that a pimp was a bad man who hurts women, and neither of them has used the word to mean “cool” since.

I realize these conversations are much easier with a six-year-old than with a sixteen-year-old. Often, sixteen-year-olds will deliberately listen to music and wear clothes that make their parents uncomfortable because they are trying to establish an identity separate from their parents. But flipping out when teens push your buttons will probably only make the situation worse.

Companies are not going to stop marketing products to our kids, and the musicians we hate are not going to stop making CDs, so I choose to think rationally about what my options are and how I can best influence my kids to make good decisions. I also work at resisting the temptation to think of my children as extensions of myself; they are their own people with their own tastes.

My goal as a parent is to allow my kids to find their own path through life by letting them make personal decisions about how they want to dress and with whom they want to socialize. Of course we should step in when kids are in danger of crossing the line in what’s appropriate or safe (and I consider sexy clothes on young teen girls a safety issue), but we should otherwise give kids space to explore their world and find their place in it, even if it means allowing them to feel the sting of regret when they blow their allowance, or letting them get caught up in the latest fad.

Music is a good example. Parents should enforce spending limits on CDs and volume limits on headphones, but when a parent flips out and says, “You can’t listen to that,” not only is she making her child want the CD more, she isn’t respecting the child as a human being.

When kids get wrapped up in a particular band or genre of music, it’s because that music is speaking to them and inspiring them in some way. Most music, no matter how incomprehensible to an outsider, is made by talented artists who put a lot of work into creating it. If a child feels a deep connection to this music (even if that connection is being used by corporate interests to encourage purchases) the child will feel violated and resentful if a parent steps in and forbids the music completely.

For the most part, I think we can relax. If we have been good role models, exposure to consumerism, sexism, racism, and all the other isms isn’t nearly as dangerous as we fear it is.

If, several years from now, one of my boys comes home from the mall with a pro-pot T-shirt, I’ll know it’s time to sit down and have a talk. But we won’t be talking about where he got the shirt or how much it cost; we’ll be talking about the message it sends and why he thinks it’s appropriate to plaster it across his chest. Just as they needed to gain practice and confidence to walk or ride a bike, they need to become responsible consumers with the help of a guiding hand that is getting ready to let go.

Heather Annastasia Siladi is a freelance writer, wife, and mother of twin boys, Cole and Connor.  Read more of her work at: http://heatherannastasia.blogspot.com.

Brain, Child (Summer 2007)

Subscribe to Brain, Child