“I can’t wait for my time to come

When I’ll be shinin’ like the sun

I can’t wait.”

That song takes me back. I can play it through in my brain effortlessly, but if I give it a second thought, I’m back in 2002 jamming to the song in my family’s minivan, or blasting it through my Walkman headphones, or singing it into my hairbrush in the privacy of my childhood room.

“I Can’t Wait” is technically a cover (originally by Brooke McClymont), but it became famous to Disney Channel kids in August of 2002. Hilary Duff made this bop a Lizzie McGuire institution. To my ear, it’s almost like a secondary theme song that speaks to the heart and soul of the show. And it’s technically the first song of Hilary’s music career, hitting the airwaves a few months before her debut album, Santa Claus Lane.

When I think of Lizzie McGuire, I kind of think about three different Lizzies, even though the show was technically filmed and released as two long seasons. I’ll go in reverse order.

Here’s the Lizzie we finished the franchise with…the one who did the movie in 2003 (as pictured) and then appeared on Disney Channel in post-movie episodes until early 2004. She looks grown-up, ready to take on the world and be a teenager.

Here’s middle Lizzie. She’s what you get in mid to late season one. A little rougher around the edges with a punky flair in her style and her attitude. This is where we start to see heavier makeup, multi-colored highlights, bedazzled bandanas. I guess that’s middle school for you, circa 2002.

And here’s where we started 20 years ago. This pilot episode (“Pool Party”) technically did not air until February 2001, but you get the idea. With this pensive, emotional Lizzie, we see a tween still finding her voice and her style.

Sure, it’s all Hilary Duff. Even if you don’t deconstruct your Lizzie McGuire eras like me, you can probably still agree that Lizzie grows as a person throughout the show. She has her bratty teenager moments, but we see more and more of Lizzie’s conscience embodied in our favorite animated alter-ego. There are times when she knows her friends are in trouble and need her help, as with Gordo’s Dwarf Lord obsession (Miranda and Matt can take credit for that intervention, too) and Miranda’s sudden eating disorder. Lizzie also realizes her mistakes with her parents, like when she feels bad for bailing on some quality time with her dad or for missing out on bargain hunting with her mom (didn’t she learn her lesson at the mall on the bra episode?).

My three eras are comforting to me. The first has all the innocence of learning that rumors are bad (and that you’ve got to be careful with your instant messages and emails), that it’s okay to figure out who you are, and that growing up is really hard. The second era (still in season one) explores how friends can grow apart (i.e., “Lizzie and Kate’s Excellent Adventure”) and how actions have consequences (such as sneaking into an R-rated movie and getting yourself on the evening news after saving someone’s life).

The third era, which starts building beginning in the second season, amplifies the Lizzie-ness of Lizzie. This run of episodes, primarily airing in 2002 and 2003, strikes a perfect balance of Lizzie’s refreshing vulnerability and rising confidence. Miranda and Gordo have a similar air about themselves. They focus on being who they really are, but not without taking a couple steps back to examine their place in the world from time to time.

And of course, these threads are tied together with overarching themes. Growing up isn’t limited to the early days; it’s an ongoing process that Lizzie, Miranda, Gordo and even Matt went through with viewers of similar ages. Love lives are a special focus for the series’ entirety, too. Miranda likes a guy who doesn’t like her back. Lizzie’s first real boyfriend, Ronnie, breaks her heart, but not before he makes Gordo jealous. Gordo having a girlfriend is so hard for Miranda and Lizzie to deal with that he ends his new relationship altogether (Kyla Pratt from The Proud Family, in case you forgot).

I’ll admit that it was challenging for me when Hilary Duff starting growing up and leaving Lizzie behind. I faithfully watched everything she was in (for the most part) throughout the 2000s. I continued enjoying Lizzie reruns through the many Disney Channel marathons my family had taped over the years.

Putting on an episode of Lizzie McGuire is so comforting to me, and I feel that it always will be. I’ve been thankful to interview a few people from the cast and creative team, including actors Davida B. Williams, Clayton Snyder, Jake Thomas, Dot-Marie Jones, and writer Jeremy Bargiel. It’s clear that this show was special both to the people who watched it and the people who made it. It was real, funny, emotional, smart, and so stylish.

One thought I had while rewatching the series is that I always want every character to be there. I want to see the McGuires, Miranda, Gordo, Ethan, Kate, Claire, Lanny, Melina, Parker McKenzie, Veruca, Mr. Dig, and Larry Tudgeman in every episode (I know this omits most of the teachers and a few other friends). That doesn’t really happen, but I can dream.

From the show we got books, CDs, a feature film, fun online games, and a sense of warmth that will always stay in our hearts. It was a team effort on the Disney Channel of the 2000s–Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens complemented each other. They were both perfect in their own ways. Heartfelt yet humorous. Full of friendship and sibling rivalry, completed by loving, comical parents who weren’t stupid, either. To think that both shows have passed the 20-year mark is a lot to take in. The little kids who tuned in to Zoog Disney are all grown up now, but we each have a little piece of Lizzie inside our heads, encouraging us throughout the ups and downs of life.

Happy Lizzie Day! Watch your favorite episodes and/or blast your favorite 2000s tunes to celebrate. “We get one step closer each and every day when we figure it out on the way.”

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