Have you ever written your teenage self a letter?
A lot of YA authors have been doing this, offering their youthful selves advice they might have profited from as teenagers. (See the Dear Teen Me blog or book.) Well, I decided to write a letter to my teen self too, but it wasn’t easy. Although I have infinite patience with my MG and YA protagonists, my adult self unaccountably had a problem with my younger self. I suspect being a parent has done this to me. Years of being the person who pays the bills, scrubs the crap off the floors, and gets the cookie with the fewest chocolate chips do not leave you unscathed. Add a good dose of guilt to that mixture—the older I get, the more I marvel at my own mother’s saintliness—and my letters to my teenage self sounded more like nagging diatribes than kindly advice.
Dear Teenage Me, my first letter read. You’re going through a rough patch now, and I really feel for you. I know it’s crappy to be so painfully shy and not have any friends, but look around. There are other people who are worse off than you are—why don’t you try to befriend some of them? And maybe you should have done what your mother told you and worked harder on making friends with a number of people instead of being so fussy. If you’d been a little less exclusive yourself, I’m pretty sure you’d be a lot better off socially—
I crumpled it up and started over.
Dear Teenage Me, my next letter went. I know that things are hard for you right now. For what it’s worth, a lot of the stuff that’s troubling you is related to genetics. Take a look at your parents. What do you see? Not a couple of socially savvy athletes, right? No, you were born sports-challenged, uncoordinated and socially awkward, and those things are hard-wired right into you. I know that might seem like a bummer right now, but just wait: you will meet others like yourself one day, and you will have a great time swapping stories with them about who was the bigger nerd in high school. In the meantime, however tough you find it, looking people in the eye won’t kill you—give it a try! Also, stop slouching when you walk, because nobody is ever going to find that endearing, and no matter what you look like, bad posture is NOT an attractive feature, and one day all that slumping and slouching may well aggravate something called osteoarthritis—
I tore that one up too.
Dear Teenage Me, I wrote on a fresh sheet of paper. I know that this part of your life must feel like it’s taking forever, but it will be over soon, trust me. Going to university is great, and working for a living is actually pretty interesting too, and both of them are 100% cooler than going to high school every day and having to take P.E., driver’s ed, and geometry (which will never, ever get any more fun), but you know that little problem you have getting up early in the morning? Well guess what, that’s a lot like geometry—it is part of life whether you like it or not, and even if you end up in a job where you don’t have to get up until six in the evening, you still have to get up at some point, so how about learning how to do this now, setting your alarm every morning, and dragging your sorry ass out of bed when your mother calls you because she’s not getting any younger, and after all, all you have to do is spend eight hours at school, but she has to do all the housework and cook your meals AND get everybody ready for work or school AND then commute an hour a day to her own job, then teach all day while you—
Yep. Straight into the trash with that one too.
My final effort went as follows:
Dear Teenage Me, One day, you’ll have a life you love and all of your lonely misery will seem like a bad dream. One day, you’ll embrace your nerdiness instead of trying to feign coolness; you’ll be out of the closet about your weird music tastes and your preference for holing up with books, and you won’t care all that much who shuns you or mocks you because you’ll have friends who are every bit as weird and nerdy as you are—(go out and see if you can spot them right now—why wait to make friends with them?) Listen to your parents occasionally—they’re right more often than they’re wrong, and they’re right about the burning-off-calories-instantaneously thing not lasting forever, so go and eat as many hot fudge sundaes as you can RIGHT NOW. Also, feel free to nap through driver’s ed, but stand up straight when you can remember to do it, give your mom a hand with the dishes occasionally—she won’t last forever either—and if anybody ever tells you that these are the happiest days of your life, feel free to tell them—politely!—that they’re full of shit.
I kept that one. I like to think that in some parallel universe, my teenage self is making good use of it.
How about you? How has your adult self gotten in the way of your kid self?
Mary Whitsell (who feels funny referring to herself in the third person) was born and raised in sunny California. She left in her twenties and has spent most of her life learning Japanese, and teaching English as a second language in various countries. Writing books that people want to read has been her life-long goal.