Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wonder Years: Our Struggle with Hormones and Puberty

January 31, 1988, was a very important day in the history of our nation. First and foremost, it will go down in the annals of the Google search engine as the day that the Washington Redskins embarrassed the Denver Bronco's in Superbowl XXII. Second and fivemost, it was the day that millions of teenagers tuned in to watch Winnie Cooper and Kevin Arnold begin a sordid Shakespearean affair with a single kiss. From 1988 until 1994, The Wonder Years captivated me. In my opinion, the best show of the 80's decade and arguably the greatest comedy/drama series of all time.

The Wonder Years was remarkable television...for many reasons, not the least of which was the narration of Daniel Stern. (Yep that's the clumsy bad guy from Home Alone.) The nasally, reminiscent voice-over of Kevin's adult self reminded us that it's all in the past, that high school is over, and that the worst and possibly the best years are gone.
"Thirteen is a crazy age.
You're too young to vote and to old not to be in love.
You live in a house someone else owns...
[Camera shows WINNIE's house through KEVIN's window]
but your dreams are already somewhere else." (episode #46)

We followed Kevin Arnold through his teenage years while he navigated through the battlefield of adolescence to claim the rewards on the other side of puberty. A television show about puberty. That word still makes me shiver. It was punishing, and it left us helpless in the combat zone of junior high school. However, the hormones had a blast, running to and fro through the amusement park of our little bodies, riding blood vessels like roller coasters. We were enamored with Kevin Arnold, his trusty sidekick, Paul Pfeiffer, and the innocent, emotional, and enigmatic Winnie Cooper, as they all fought valiantly against the onslaught of those hormones. We were fighting with them, growing up with them, living and dying with them, every Sunday night, for six seasons.

Like battle weary soldiers standing on the edge of sanity we stood with Kevin, Paul, and Winnie. Our heroes on Sunday evening helped us stake flags in every corner of our endocrine system, claiming victory over every gland. We will not be governed by an ocean of hormones that don't care whether we live or die. We will make decisions based on logic, instead of irrational exuberance. We will ignore the acne and the cracking voices. We will use razors and buy deodorants. We will not drool over the opposite sex... in public. We will keep our pants on and our eyes up. We will... or we will at least try... most of the time...some of the time...

The Wonder Years, took us from 7th grade to graduation day. And somewhere in the midst of all those English tests, chemistry labs and sibling rivalries, one of those rewards I was referring to earlier, began to emerge. I call it LOVE now, but back then it was "LIKE."

Kevin and Winnie, an epic "like" story. 

KEVIN: Winnie, you know I don't get you!! One minute you like me, the next you don't. You've been doing this all year. First you kiss me, then you act like you don't like me. If you like me, fine, if you don't, quit acting like it!!
KEVIN: I just have to know if you like me or not. And don't give any of that "like me" like me stuff.
NARRATOR: Well, that was it: a straightforward, face-to-face, yes-or-no question. And I was going to stand there until I got my answer.
WINNIE: I don't know.
"I don't know"! What do you mean you don't know?
WINNIE: I mean I don't know. I really don't know. [On the verge of tears] I wish everyone would just leave me alone. I don't know what I'm doing.
NARRATOR: This was something new. I mean, I always figured girls knew exactly what they wanted. They knew; they had a plan. Or maybe they didn't.
NARRATOR: Maybe they were just as confused as we were. Isn't that great?
NARRATOR: It--it's horrible. They don't know either. That means nobody knows.

KEVIN: You mean you really don't know?
KEVIN: Well, I'm sorry.
WINNIE: What for?
KEVIN: I don't know.
As I stood there that cold night, I realized for the first time in a long time that Winnie and I were feeling the same thing.

Love in the hearts and hands of teenagers is like Icy Hot in the underarms and undershorts of Ronald McDonald. But what can we do? You just got to ride it out. Let it wash over you. Let the pain make you feel alive and believe as Shakespeare did, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Almost two decades have gone by since the last season of The Wonder Years aired, and I've figured out a couple things. The fact is, each one of us is still a walking hormone. The hormones won. We didn't defeat them. We keep them at bay, with things like political discussions, and careers, and long division, but we all know that hormones are just beyond that tiny ridge bouncing around like paranoid junkies, countless in number, waiting for the right girl to walk by, or the right guy to whistle at us. Then we have to corral them back in with a show on the Discovery Channel or a walk through the forest.

Looking back, I realize that the reason The Wonder Years was such a great show was because it was a revealing documentation of the most transformative, dramatic and hilarious stage of human development.

The Awkward Stage. 


  1. Love this...I just started (re)watching The Wonder Years via Netflix a couple weeks ago. Fantastic show!