Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Would I Tell Her?

This week, my mom sent me a copy of my fourth grade school picture, taken almost exactly thirty years ago. I stared at the much younger 1984 version of myself and wondered what I would tell her if given the chance. My conclusion? Not much. At least not about the big stuff.

While part of me would want to warn her about the hurt, the insecurities, the loss, the broken relationships, the fear that she is going to experience in the next thirty years because I know how hard it will be for her, I won’t. She needs to go through these things. They will make her stronger and more confident and more resolute in knowing what she needs and deserves.

I also don’t want to tell her too much about the joy and excitement of excelling in school or overcoming intense shyness to star in the school play or her first kiss (only five years away!) or college life or traveling to Europe or moving to a new city after graduate school or working with students or holding her babies in her arms for the first time. She deserves to discover the overwhelming, heart-stopping, butterfly-creating emotions those moments will provide without any spoiling of the plot from me.

If given the chance, though, I would offer her some advice. Some tips that, in retrospect, might come in handy as she progresses through adolescence and adulthood without altering the general course of her life path.

Wearing pantyhose under sweatpants that you pull up to just below the knees to give the appearance of tan legs as you walk around the mall or spend the afternoon at the skating rink is not a good look. Ever. Don’t do it.

Sit with your grandmothers and listen to them as much as you can. They have had two very different life experiences and both can teach you so much about being strong.

Some of the people who will yell “nerd herd” as you walk home with your friends from middle school are now in jail. Others have turned out to be wonderful people. And being a nerd is OK. You will realize this in high school and have a great time. And it sounds cliché and you may not believe me now, but people who bully and belittle are doing so to hide their own insecurities.

There will be local and world events over the next thirty years that will leave you with no doubt that there is evil in the world. You won’t be able to comprehend it. You will think about it a lot. But always remember this. By a wide margin, most people on this planet are good and want to live in peace and will help you when needed. Decide to practice kindness and share love every day to do your part to make the world better.

You know how you’ve been following the Reagan and Mondale campaigns and plotting electoral map possibilities (I won’t tell you who wins in a couple of months, but I bet you can guess)? Your love for politics and civic engagement and current events is only going to grow. Always be open to hearing all perspectives. You will be amazed by how your ideas on how you think things are supposed to be can change when you listen and learn from others. At the same time, when you feel strongly about an issue, stand up for it.

Be nicer to your brother and sister. I mean, not all the time. That is unrealistic. I did live in that house, after all, so I know that sometimes they deserve the grief. But the three of you are connected; you have a shared history and impact each other’s life stories. Appreciate that.

You will find that when you are lonely or sad or confused, writing will be your outlet. I know that it already is. Sitting outside on the grass with a journal is important to you. Keep it up.

OK. I can’t help it. I’m going to tip you off to something. In the next few weeks, you will be hanging out in the extra room across from your classroom where kids can go and socialize when they finish their work (and you know how there are no walls between rooms because your school is experimenting with an open “pod” model . . . that won’t last). Instead of making up long division problems on the chalkboard for fun like you usually do, Bobby is going to invite you to listen to his new Fat Boys tape with him. With the big headphones on, you won’t realize how loudly you are telling Bobby that the Fat Boys are awesome and your teacher will ban you from the recreation room for a week. I now will leave it to you to decide whether or not you wish to accept Bobby’s listening invitation.

On a related note, keep playing your music loud. There are certain songs you will hear for the first time over the next thirty years that I can play today and be instantly transported back to a moment you always will remember.

It is OK to share how you feel a little more than you currently do. You don’t need to pretend like everything is fine when it is not because you don’t want anyone to think you are weak or vulnerable. It is going to take you a while, but you are going to discover that choosing a few friends you really trust and allowing yourself to be close to them and honest with them will make your life so much better.

When the teenager working at the movie theater ticket window and the boy at the bus stop to whom you lose a Super Bowl bet both get mad because you pay up with bags of pennies, you just hold firm in the fact that those coins are legitimate currency.

You are never going to be good at keeping your bedroom picked up.

Even the best teenage drivers are awful.

You will accidentally set yourself on fire sometime in the next ten years. You will be fine.

You know how you are frustrated that your parents won’t get cable and you have to go to a friend’s house to watch MTV (that Madonna is a racy one, isn’t she?) . . . in thirty years you will have realized that cable is a waste of money and you will be the one making the decision not to have it.

Embrace the opportunity to say yes to new adventures that might seem a little scary. And it is perfectly acceptable to say no sometimes to requests that would be fulfilled only out of guilt or perceived obligation.

I am super proud of most of the decisions you will make in the next three decades. And as far as the instances in which you make poor decisions (it happens to everyone), I am proud of what you will learn and how you grow from those choices. (And I will be honest – there are times when you will need to make the same bad decision a few times before that lesson is learned.)

Your best years . . . our best years . . . are yet to come.

So much more comes to mind as I look at nine-year-old Sarah. But I’m going to keep it to my 39-year-old self. She will learn it for herself in time.