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I remember shopping for my first bra. I was just so excited. I’d walked by this section of the store more times than I could count, always curious about the straps and cups and colors and laces that hung in abundance, but never before had I walked among the racks myself, making sense of what all the letters and hooks meant. My mom selected a comfortable white cotton number with no real design to it apart from a small pink bow at the center. I’d triedand failedto convince her I needed the black one, the floral one, the strapless one, the convertible one. As we left the store, I smiled to myself, knowing that soon I’d be back for a pink one, a satin one, a bigger one. 

Puberty had begun, and before me lay countless possibilities that excited me greatly. 

As my body changed, so did my closet. My hips became curvier, and I no longer could wear the jeans made for straighter bodies. My chest grew and the shirts that would fit me were suspiciously much lower-cut. My eyebrows needed plucking, my legs needed shaving, and I got highlights in my hair for the very first time. I was becoming a woman, and all the trappings and rituals that accompanied the transition were great fun to embrace. 

My body continued to change, now preparing itself for pregnancy, for motherhood, for what comes after puberty. I kept growing taller, curvier, hairier, and I kept having to learn new skills to accommodate the changes my body was undertaking. Makeup. Tampons. Dry shampoo. So much to keep track of, so much to take care of, so much proof that I was healthy and developing just as I should be. 

Finally, eventually, I settled into my body. I learned what worked and what didn’t on my shapely figure. I tracked my cycles and could predict when I’d need to make, ahem, extra accommodations. I grew children, nursed them, and played with them. My body expanded and returned, gained a few pounds here and there, survived colds and trends and late-night college snack runs. My body and I knew each other, were used to each other, and we’d established the routines that ruled us. I knew just what to expect of my body and just when, what sizes she needed, and what foods she preferred. 

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Then one day, while looking in the mirror, I spotted an intrudera silver strand of hair, front and center, sprouting from the scalp I’d known for years to only be the color I paid for. I increased the frequency of my salon trips, hoping to cleverly blend the pale pieces among more highlights. 

While doing my makeup, as I had countless times before, using the same products that had been so faithful for so many years, I noticed my favorite brands weren’t working as they used tomy face was drier, my pores much more noticeable, and, to my dismay, my eyelids were . . . crepey. Shimmer shadows lost their sheen among my wrinkled lids, concealer creased in lines I hadn’t noticed before, and where I’d before needed extra products to fight the sheen of oily skin, now I couldn’t figure out why my skin was so dry it seemed to crack, peel, and hurt

While applying lotion to my chronically dry face, I noticed my handspreviously smooth and youthful, now veiny and furrowed. No longer did a tan make my skin glow, it seemed to emphasize wrinkles that had surely popped up overnight. The heels I’d willingly worn for decades with no problem became uncomfortable, and I found myself reaching for flats, fuzzy socks, and house shoes. My back ached even when it wasn’t my time of the month, I had more ibuprofen than late nights, and why was my skin so dry?! 

I’d been through changes in my body before, but this time instead of excitement, I felt fear. Now, instead of exhilaration over what was coming, I felt grief at what I was losing. After all that time I spent adjusting to puberty, after all the years I’d spent getting to know and care for my body, now she was betraying me. Gray and wrinkled and unable to tolerate spicy foods without a handful of Tums. Dry, tired, and brittlemy skin, my hair, my nails, my body. It was all so different . . . like a foreign skin was sitting over my own that I just couldn’t exfoliate away. 

My body seemed to reveal something new each day, a kind of second puberty. Surprise! You sneezed too hard and have to change your pants. Surprise! You stayed up late binging your favorite show and now you’ll need four days to recover. Surprise! Time to buy panties that are more comfortable than sexy! Surprise! Your monthly massage appointment must now become a chiropractor appointment!

Where before I’d entered into change with anticipation, now I was being dragged into change with fear, loss, and perpetually dry skin. I bought creams and acids and serums that promised to stave off the aging process. I swallowed vitamins by the handful in search of energy (because now caffeine makes me too jittery). I began to relate to the parents in the Disney movies I watched with my kids, not the princesses. I complained about the neighbors making too much noise on a weeknight. 

Everything had changed. I was no longer a party animal but a creature of comfort, content with reruns and a nice blanket as a replacement for spontaneous trips and body-con clothes. No matter what I did, no matter how many videos I watched on facial gua sha or how cleverly I styled my hair around the thinning gray patch(es), I was aging.

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Again, and for perhaps the final time, my body was approaching a new chapterone that is just as healthy as the first puberty. My body is doing just what it’s supposed to, despite my wild attempts to stop it. Instead of cycles readying me for motherhood, my body is conserving itself for the years I have ahead of me. Instead of endlessly seeking out new adventures, I’m calmly seeking out financial planners. Instead of losing my youth, I’m gaining much more wisdom. 

This second puberty, while jarring, brings with it new possibilities. As I move out of my childbearing years, my body heals from the years of damage that pregnancy caused. As I grow older, my kids grow more sufficient and fun. My hair doesn’t need to be washed as often. I’ve learned to take better care of myself. Consumerism is replaced with a hard-earned contentment.

As before, I’m entering a new phase of life, a new chapter, one that brings its own unique challenges and rituals that I’ll need to learn. More life awaits me, this is the end of almost nothing. Young motherhood was a whirlwindnow it’s time for the lazy river. Time to benefit from the work I put in earlier, time to connect with myself and with the friends I’ve been too busy to have lunch with. 

Second puberty is scary, as scary as the first one was, only this time we’re not forced to walk the halls of a school while we navigate the changes. Now as we mourn the youth we leave behind, we have an independent and exciting future to look forward to. Our bodies are no longer defined by what they have and haven’t done.

Instead of the pressure to make all the right decisions for our future within a short time of graduation, we have the experience needed to really build a life. Instead of blemishes ruining picture day, we have crinkles near our eyes that tell of countless laughs. Instead of timidly tiptoeing through the lingerie department in search of the prettiest bra I can find, I pour over internet reviews to find the most comfortable over-the-shoulder boulder holder I can. Cotton, no underwire, wide straps, beige. My boobs may be sagging, but my peace has never soared higher.  

Here’s to second pubertywhen life doesn’t really begin, but it definitely gets better. 

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Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

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