When it comes to growing up, what happens in Miami should stay in Miami

miami beach sign
It’s why I’m often reminded of what a classmate said to me before I left for Minnesota three years ago. “You’re so lucky you’re moving,” she told me. “You get to start over and be whoever you want to be. I would give anything for that.”

“Richard and Simone, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, next comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage!”

Those are the taunts my best friend Richard and I dealt with throughout elementary school in Miami.

Sound familiar?

We hung out all the time — trading Pokémon cards, playing soccer, seeing who could swing the highest, you name it — to the point of being practically inseparable. We were close friends and nothing more. But I guess some of our classmates didn’t get that.

In fourth grade, our class had a history lesson about the Virgin Islands. Richard and I were hanging out after school when our classmate, Alex, walked by and said, “I’m going to get a hotel on the Virgin Islands, and if I don`t hear you know going on, then I’m going to kick you out.”

I don’t remember what we said back to him, or if we said anything at all. After he walked away, we looked at each other in astonishment, trying to make sense of what was said, and more importantly, why he said it.

Eventually, Richard got up and told one of the teachers. Next thing you know, our parents had been called and all three of us were in the principal’s office.

In the end, Alex got away with a long lecture and detention. We, however, lost a part of our innocence we could never get back.

GROWING UP FAST

After that incident, things changed. We both started paying more attention to what classmates were saying, and honestly, it started to bother us. Why were we automatically viewed as the school`s “cutest couple?” We weren’t even dating. Why couldn’t we be Richard and Simone?

That was just the beginning, though. In sixth grade, I switched schools, and for awhile, things were great. Being the new kid in a small school makes you the shiny, special toy everyone wants to play with. But when the attention started to fade, that’s when I noticed how different I was from everybody else.

When we had to bring in a book to read for class, I chose “Little House on the Prairie” while every other girl had a romance or vampire novel. I immediately felt embarrassed and tried to hide the book cover. The next chance I got, I traded it in for “The Twilight Saga.”

When I turned 12, I got invited to my first ever party. Everyone talked about it at school for a month, so I was definitely excited. I remember walking in and hearing “I’m in Miami (Expletive)” by LMFAO blasting from the speakers. It was like entering a late night club scene on TV where everyone is sweaty and sexual, grabbing and groping each other to the thumping bass. Her parents were there, but I guess they didn’t see anything wrong with it. Then again, it’s normal to dance like that in Miami, even for 11 and 12-year olds.

The sexual behavior didn’t stop there. Groping, or “scooping” as we called it, would take place in hallways if a boy liked a girl or just thought they were “hot.” Despite several class lectures about staying away from someone’s “swimsuit area,” there was no stopping it. You constantly had to watch your back.

Then there were the notes. Now, kids pass notes in class all the time. But these were … different.

These notes were sexually explicit messages between students, with details that were graphic enough to get some expelled. Were students sexually active at 12? To my knowledge, nobody was ready to go that far. But of course, if you wanted to be cool, you had to talk the talk.

THE MIAMI WAY

If all of this seems to suggest that Miami is like a separate country compared to everywhere else in the United States, well, you’d be right to think that.

There, teens grow up watching “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” and listening to over-sexualized songs. If you join the cheerleading squad, that means you better be comfortable with pulling your skirts up high and performing suggestive dance-offs in front of boys to get their attention.

Nobody really knows what it’s like to be a normal kid growing up at a normal pace because, well, that is their normal. So you have a clear divide between what’s right and what’s wrong. And what’s right is never, ever what’s cool.

During that same magical year of turning 12, I somehow managed to convince my parents to let me have a Facebook account. We were moving to Minneapolis at the time, so I wanted to stay in touch with all of my friends.

In the course of a year, almost all of the friends that I thought I knew had completely changed their looks and personalities. Everyone grew up. I began to see Facebook pages splattered with racy photos of girls in skimpy bikinis and guys with their shirts off, trying to showcase their abs. One girl, who apparently was trying to be cool, created a group called “Mexicans are sexy.” She would send me invite after invite to join the group and I would decline. I un-friended her by year’s end.

‘STARTING OVER’

It’s why I’m often reminded of what a classmate said to me before I left for Minnesota three years ago. “You’re so lucky you’re moving,” she told me. “You get to start over and be whoever you want to be. I would give anything for that.”

She was right. I am lucky.

When I moved to Minnesota, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that kids here tend to take their time growing up. For awhile, it almost felt like I was regressing to a younger age. But now I’m OK with where I’m at.

I’ve never felt pressured to grow up here. In Miami, one day you’re having sleepovers and the next you’re writing notes about who you want to sleep with. Here, you’re able to act your age, even if that means singing songs on the bus with friends, baking cookies, having snowballs fights or seeing the new “Harry Potter” movie while dressed as a favorite character. I can also focus on music and writing, two of my favorite pastimes, without worrying what other teens think of me.

Things are changing though, and not always in a bad way. Teens are expected to date more in high school. In some ways, it feels like childhood is slipping away, and soon I’ll have to face adulthood. But I’m taking advantage of my surroundings and refusing to let myself feel rushed by the process.

At 15, I know I have my whole life ahead of me. When the right time comes, I know I’ll be ready for a relationship.

I’m particularly relieved for my sister, who is 13 and finishing up her last year of middle school. I often think about how different middle school was for me. When we moved here, she was entering sixth grade, and although she still wishes she could be in Miami, I think it’s better that she wasn’t exposed to the environment that I saw.

Yes, I still hear her talk about boys, the cute shoes she bought and sleepover plans with her friends.

But it’s done in a normal way. Not the Miami way.

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