Not So Baby Girl,
You thought I forgot didn’t you? Well, I didn’t forget your birthday letter. I just needed some time to figure out how to navigate sharing my love and admiration with you in public as you grow more and more private. I thought of skipping it, but I didn’t want you to think it wasn’t important to me anymore. It is. You are.
So, I decided to handle your fifteenth birthday letter less like a letter about you and more like some advice based on me. Yes, I remember fifteen, and I have some thoughts about it. Take them as you will. Always know I love you and through all the navigating, growing and changing you’ll do over the next few years, I’ll continue to work hard to ensure that your home is always your soft place to land.
My house looked a lot different than your house at fifteen. Mine was mostly empty a lot of the time. Yours is a buzz of activity almost every day. I spent a lot of time in my room, as you seem to enjoy as well. I worked out a lot of stuff in that narrow little space on East Light Drive, and I didn’t even have the internet. I relied on Sassy, Seventeen and phone calls with friends to work out most of my high school life. I also talked a lot to my mom. Any problem, large or small, I ultimately brought to her.
The reputation for teenagers is that they stop talking to their parents. They are supposed to rely more on peers than parents for guidance. For me, this was never really true. I still cared what my mom thought. I still wanted her advice and often her approval. I didn’t always get either, but I told her mostly everything that was going on in my life from from friendships to goals to love (I’m pretty sure she hated that last part). The fact was, my mom knew my soul better than anyone else in my life and by telling her my stuff, she helped me navigate it all while staying true to that soul, which was all I ever wanted anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, dad and I know your soul and we consider it our privilege to help you stay true to it through whatever comes your way. We can’t make things easier (as much as we wish we could) but we can promise you’ll have a safe place to grow.
One of my best friends to this very day I met my first day of high school when we were two of only three girls in a 30 person PE class where we played 8 weeks of football. Clearly, she and I had a reason to bond quickly: self preservation. But also almost instantly, I knew that I had found someone worth working for. She was kind and funny and never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for her. I didn’t have to try to make her like me and that would prove the biggest life lesson of all. Trust your gut with friends. You’ve always been someone who wants to be liked and I’ve seen you bend yourself inside out for the approval of people from whom you may never get it. I recognize this behavior intimately. I’m here to tell you it’s never worth it. I wasted a lot of time trying to get people to like me or thinking about why they didn’t. If you have to work really hard to change or adapt who you are at your core to get someone to like and accept you, they aren’t your people and they never will be.
I’m not saying don’t keep an eye on the way you act. Be open to real friends who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re screwing up. I had two of those in high school. Girls who had the courage and honesty that compelled one to tell me to my face that I upset her rather than just talking about me behind my back and the other to cop to doing just that. Those experiences are indelibly inked on my heart because they taught me the value of friends who are honest and loyal. These girls gave me the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to grow after a do-over, instead of just chalking me up as something I wasn’t or worse, working to destroy me. That honesty and loyalty are often hard to come by and exactly what makes a real friendship that is worth your time. There are a lot of people who think you’re pretty great exactly as you are and they’re willing to stick around in spite of your mistakes, because believe me, you’ll make them. Spend time with these people instead of twisting and bending to try to make others see the value in you. Then, trust your people when they are honest with you and let them help you grow.
Still, all these years later, I can honestly tell you there is little in life that feels quite the same as falling in love and I should know, I did it a lot in high school. The physical rush of even standing near a boy (Or girl, I’m assuming nothing. you kids taught me that.) you fancy is something I can still feel if I summon up enough memories of sneaking a held hand or sitting just a little too close on a couch at a party. There are few things as powerful as the hormone flood of attraction. It’s heady and distracting and fun and also sometimes awful to have a crush on someone-requited or not. It’s even more intense to be in love.
I lied before. I crushed a lot in high school and college, but I only really fell in love a few times before your dad, and I had my heart broken every time. Whether I ended the relationship or he did, it feels just as bad if you really care about the person, and I always really cared. Because that beautiful feeling that comes from physical attraction is only part of it and shouldn’t be mistaken for all of it. I didn’t give my heart away easily. When I did, when I could see past the butterflies and dizzy feeling, I went all in on us as a pair, so any time it ended was a loss.
The thing is, I don’t regret a single time. I always say I am a perfectly imperfect puzzle and some of my pieces come from the people I have loved. I learned something about relationships and myself every time I loved and lost. Here’s all I’ll say: enjoy that first part, the stuff that makes your stomach flutter and your palms sweat and your breath catch. Enjoy it but know it’s just the first part and doesn’t always mean love. Be careful with your heart. Ask yourself some questions, like does he make me feel smart? Does (s)he get me or is (s)he trying to change me? Does (s)he allow me to be and act and do what I love? If any of those answers are no, he’s (or she’s) probably not the one, no matter the butterfly level of your tummy. Guard your heart enough to keep yourself safe from the wrong people but open enough to let the right ones in. Most importantly, trust yourself to know the difference. When in doubt ask those honest friends or even dear old mom.
I should have put this part first because if this one stays intact, the rest will all fall into place. As much as I’d like to only talk about your character and strong moral center, the fact is when you reach fifteen that all seems to take a back seat to your physical self. Yes, stay true to who you are. You know, more than most, what is right and wrong and I promise if you stay true to that the friends and loves will follow naturally. That feeling you get inside when something feels really right or really wrong? Trust it. Follow those feelings and the people will eventually come to you. Even if at first, holding your ground and keeping your character in a sea of people trying to find their way may feel very lonely, I promise people will ultimately be drawn to you and those will be your people for life. It isn’t an easy strategy, it can be scary and lonely and you may second-guess yourself. But I’m here to tell you, all these years later, it’s a strategy that works.
Here is the thing though, sadly, character comes second when you’re a teenager and maybe even more now when all you guys are curating your lives online. The way look and dress and your style or as you kids like to say, “your brand” is what your peers are often judging and using to make decisions about you. Here is what I have to say: just keep looking in the mirror. I know, that seems crazy. But I’ve caught you before, checking yourself out in the mirror and clearly liking what you see. Hang on to that. That inner confidence and pleasure you take in yourself is invaluable and you can keep it if you don’t base your worth on the comparison to others.
We all make the mistake of thinking there is some way we’re supposed to look. Whether it was the 8 foot supermodels in my fashion magazines or the girl in high school who wore all my same clothes but they looked better on her 2 inch taller, 10 pound lighter frame, there was always someone that made me question my worth because I didn’t match up to them. I left my house nearly every morning feeling pretty good about how I looked, but no one wins the comparison game (Even those super models and taller, thinner girls will find something better somewhere else.). I slowly let those comparisons tear me down and take my pretty great looking and very great functioning body for granted. I was hot (just being honest) and also, I could do nearly anything (except the splits) when I was 15 and I let the comparisons take that away from me. Try not to do that. My mom used to lecture me about this too. I hope you listen better than I.
Marvel at your dancer’s legs. Appreciate your long quick-typing fingers. Love your nose that no one else has. Adorn those cat-like eyes with all the colors you love. Most importantly, look in the mirror and continue to pick out all the good and capable things instead of looking for anything you may deem less-than because it isn’t like someone else. You are the very definition of inner beauty radiating out. Know that. Love that. Even if it feels like no one else does in any given moment. You are more than enough all on your own. No comparisons necessary.
That’s all I got kid. I’m here to tell you fifteen can be pretty great if you let it. Much like the rest of life, your teenage years go the way of your attitude and perspective. Love yourself. Guard your heart. Listen to those who care about you. And always know, through it all, you have a soft place to land.
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