My Wonder Years

“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers; the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul” — The Wonder Years

When I was younger I watched the re-runs of “The Wonder Years” with my dad. The TV show was focused on the life of Kevin Arnold as a teenager growing into his own in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout the six seasons of the show, I watched Kevin deal with heartbreak, moral dilemmas and friendship problems. He learned how to navigate high school and marked his place in his family.

At the time when I watched it I thought it was an all-right show. I enjoyed how older Kevin’s voice, looking back on the years, narrated the episodes. The narration moved the plot forward because older Kevin, who had the advantage of retrospect, added insight and nuggets of knowledge.

For my dad, however, the show extended beyond just a good laugh. It was so much more: It described a pivotal time in history that reshaped our country (i.e., Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the rise of feminism) while also individualizing the growing up experience by focusing on Kevin. Though the major world events occasionally trickled down and affected Kevin’s life, his personal journey seemed to exist mostly unharmed, in a vacuum, in a Californian suburb. Therefore “The Wonder Years” was not about the most eventful decade in our nation’s history, but instead the timeless story about growing up.

As I now stand on the cusp of turning 20 years old, I finally get why “The Wonder Years” captivated my dad so much. Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 will bring a close to my wonder years, my adolescence, my teenage journey.

I started this journey seven years ago in 2007. Like Kevin Arnold, the world back then was dramatically different than it is now. When I was 13, we were deep into the Iraq War without a definite date of end, the Virginia Tech massacre as a school shooting was an anomaly and barely anyone had Internet access on their phones.

We could still hear The King and Queen of Pop perform “Thriller” and “I Will Always Love You” live. America’s No. 1 target Osama bin Laden was still in a cave, eluding us. The world had never heard of Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn. The creator of the iPhone and iPod was still in the Silicon Valley planning the next revolutionary item. Kanye West was still just a Chicago rapper who had a Benz and a backpack. Twitter and other social media hadn’t yet helped bring down autocrats in the Middle East. And the idea of a black president was still fodder for late night skits.

Though world events of these past seven years have definitely been historic, my most significant memories are somewhat removed from them. Because if I’m honest with myself, when I look back on the year that I turned 13 I remember it as the year I finished speech therapy, got my braces off, traveled to California for the first time and most importantly bought my first Kanye West CD.

As a teenager I felt the strongest human emotions for the first time — love, regret, victory, defeat. During these years I made friends, lost friends, handled an unhealthy amount of stress, gained jobs and traveled to places I never knew existed. I learned how to ride public transportation and drive a car. I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve cried and cried so hard that I eventually had to laugh about it.

But some things will always just stand out to me:

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13. Just getting my feet wet in my teen years.

When I was thirteen I got my first real crush — and also my first twinge of heartbreak.

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14. Learned how to ride the CTA…and went everywhere.

When I was fourteen the world opened up to me when I learned how to ride the subway and started learning Chinese in high school.

At fifteen I was the sportiest person I’ll ever be — playing volleyball, basketball and starting the handball club and tournament at my school along with my best friend.

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15. Played on several sports teams.

At sixteen, I attended my first concert and now have seen John Mayer, Kanye West (twice), Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Childish Gambino and Usher live.

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16. Attended my first concert.

At seventeen, I took my first steps outside of the country and explored the Czech Republic and China.

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17. Went to Prague on an exchange program.

When I was eighteen, I left the comfort of high school and packed up my life to move to Los Angeles for school.

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18. Graduated from high school.

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19. Went to the Hollywood Sign for the first time.

And at nineteen, I had my first piercing pain of losing a close friend but also experienced the beauty of life by traveling to all parts of California.

Looking back on these years in retrospect shows me how much I changed in little ways each day. But they only are noticeable when I reflect upon it years later. Today is the day I’m choosing to reflect on my wonder years and, oh, how wonderful they were.

Now, I’m on the edge of waving goodbye to my teenage years. I read a quote once that said, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it turned into a butterfly.” I will remember that quote as I begin this next journey of my life — my roaring twenties. There’s always a next step.

But with that said, I know I’ll take little sneaks back. Not to lament what was lost and can’t be returned to, but like Kevin Arnold, I’ll look back on my teenage years to reminiscence on the times that molded me into the young woman I am today. They were far from perfect or smooth or even envious, but they were my years, and I will forever cherish them.

Here’s to my twenties!

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