It Was The Summer of ’85

As my daughter enters the rocky fray of adolescence, I find myself reminiscing constantly about that period of my life.

Memories from my childhood mostly are culled from snapshots and oft-repeated family lore. Unlike some of my favorite memoirists, Frank McCourt and Jeannette Walls for example, I don’t recall vivid details from age 3 … unless they involve food. I will never forget, for instance, my first M&M cookie, doled out one glorious day for snack at Miss Mary’s Nursery School in St. Clairsville.

Middle school, though, I remember pretty well. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but more and more, it’s a thing.

The summer I was 12 (same age as my daughter) was the first summer I was left to my own devices while my parents worked. I lived in Florida at the time, so summer meant staying in a climate-controlled environment, much like winter here. Some days, I holed up at home reading racy Danielle Steel, creepy Stephen King and those god-awful, twisted V.C. Andrews books.

Other days, I went to my friend’s house three doors up the street. She was the only child of a single mom, originally from Minnesota (nearly everyone in Florida is originally from somewhere else. It’s the first question you ask when you meet someone.) Julie knew 14 ways to play solitaire and made tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. We played War and Gin Rummy for hours; toyed with her dog Taffy and zoned out on soap operas. Pretty innocuous.

But then there were the days I went to a different friend’s house. Her parents (originally from New York) also worked. She had Atari, MTV, junk food and an older sister. Her older sister had a boyfriend, who had a friend, who one day fell on top of me on the couch and introduced me to the sport of tongue wrestling. I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it, either.

Ah, adolescence, in all its smelly, stomach-flipping, skin-tingling gory — I mean, glory.

I recently read (I wish I could remember where) that the reason memories from our teen years are so intense, the reason we still remember all the words to all the songs and all our favorite movie quotes and TV shows — along with all the corresponding emotions — is because the teen brain is wired to experience life in overdrive. It is growing like crazy, constantly forming fresh — and deep — neural pathways.

Being pelted daily with vivid details of my halcyon days, I wonder what kind of memories are being carved into my daughter’s psyche this summer, and I’m thankful she has no friends with older siblings. I also wonder: Should I share my memories with her?

I don’t want to “back-in-my-day” her to death, but I also would like to share some of my experiences, if only to let her know I understand how boring and stupid and crazy and messy this time can be. Do I risk the eye-roll and share? Or do I choose to stay silent out of respect for her desire to be unique and not always compared to someone else, especially her dorky mother? I guess I’ll take it on a case-by-case basis.

In the meantime, I’m feeling a John Hughes film marathon coming on. “The Breakfast Club” came out when I was 12! Cue the theme song: “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at