Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Not quite a ‘real’ teenager

March 14, 2013

When does a little girl cross over into a teenager? Going by dates, it’s at 13, when “teen” hooks up with the number and announces itself. But 13 never felt like true teenagerhood to me – and it still doesn’t, now that my daughter and her friends are that age.

But they came close last weekend. It was the night of their first semi-formal dance, and for once, all of them were scrubbed and curled and rouged into versions of what they will, very soon, become.

For weeks, my Grace had been trading pictures of dresses over the Internet and Instagram, making sure that when it was her time to choose, her own dress would be both uniformly appropriate but not a duplicate of anyone else’s. We shopped online and ordered a pretty purple dress with a flippy skirt and one bedazzled strap crossing the bodice. She raced from the bus stop each afternoon to see if the package had arrived. When it finally did, she tried on the dress. In true 13-year-old style, she hated it for the first 10 minutes and then decided it was perfect.

As the day approached, she took the dress for trial runs around her bedroom, music pounding in the background. I decided it was the perfect marriage of girl and dress. I removed the tags and nipped in the sides with needle and thread.

The day before the dance, she announced that the dress was all wrong, and she couldn’t possibly wear it. Instead, she dove into her closet and found a forgotten frock from a dressy event last fall. I was surprised it still fit. It was a strapless champagne chiffon with a sparkly black belt.

Yes, I was a little miffed that I couldn’t return the other dress, but remember your first dance? This was a big event.

I fetched her from school and took her to the hair salon for curls and makeup. I wouldn’t begin to know how to do a “smoky eye,” but the stylist did. And, girl, was it ever dramatic. I might have gone with something a little subtler, but Grace liked it. She kept looking at herself in the visor mirror on the way home.

A group of moms took the girls to dinner before the dance. They all looked twinkly in their updos and bejeweled dresses and their perfect table manners. But they were all too nervous and excited to eat. Grace didn’t touch her $14 hamburger.

On the drive up the hill to the school, the girls in the back seat were heard to say, “This will be the best night of our lives.” And I knew that even if it didn’t turn out to be the ultimate, it would be right up there with the best.

Driving back down the hill, I thought about Grace and her friends, and how 13 is so much more sophisticated now than when I was that age. The makeup and the dresses had given us parents a glimpse of the beauty and poise that, soon enough, will be second nature to them. On that night, they were still playing dress up. I think we were all glad about that.

After the dance, the girls ran into my waiting car. They were laughing, talking so quickly they were out of breath. Apparently, one of their classmates had actually danced to a slow song with a boy.

But not my group.

“During the slow dances, some of us stood on the floor with boys and talked, but we didn’t touch each other or anything,” one of them said.

And just like that, they were 13 again – not really teenagers yet.

And that’s OK with me.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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