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What to Expect When Puberty Hits

I saw it—I'm not blind: The hair peeking from under those arms and the little sprinkle of it on her whahoo, too. The curvy hips and shapely legs and the bubble booty that would make the über-curvy Beyoncé do a double take. The changes were hard for me to miss; after all, I still supervised my 8-year-old's nightly supersplashy baths—the ones she happily shared with her little sister, a gang of doll babies, and a school of rubber fish. Still, when the pediatrician told my husband and me that it was time for us to have a talk with Mari about puberty, we were stunned into silence. How, after all, do you tell a child who still worships SpongeBob, Hubba Bubba bubble gum, and baths for two about boobs, bras, periods, cramps, zits, and PMS? We. Were. Not. Ready.

But clearly, we needed to get ready, because our little girl's body was starting to make the long, slow journey toward becoming a young woman's, and despite our collective freak-out, holding out on the info was no longer an option. Ivor Horn, M.D., a Washington, DC, pediatrician who counsels her patients' parents about puberty, acknowledges that parents are uncomfortable with such conversations because all too many of us have memories of our own experiences with parents too embarrassed or unwilling to spill. But, argues Dr. Horn, it's imperative that we inform our kids about the changes occurring in their bodies—before they get the crazy version of "facts" from fellow prepubescent playmates in the schoolyard. "The signs of puberty are a teachable moment," adds Dr. Horn, herself a mom of two, ages 7 and 9. "It's important to let children know they're okay the way they are, that you love them that way, that the changes in their body are normal, and they can come to you with any questions."

The comforting thing here is that if you and your child are staring puberty in the face and, like Nick, me, and Mari, your panties are in a bunch about it, you're not alone. Lucky for us, we're not the first to have kids going through The Change, and we sure as shooting won't be the last. So to help us through, I asked moms in the thick of puberty for useful tips.