An open letter to my own child, to any other child struggling and perhaps an open letter to the memories I still carry in my heart, the ones that occasionally revisit me during my moments of insecurity, reminding me that I was once there too.
Dear 14 year old child,
It’s not easy being you. I see that so clearly. You don’t yet know where you belong, where you’re needed. You struggle to find the empty spot in life’s puzzle, the one you could fit so perfectly into, without forcing or gaps. You might feel like you’re the only person on earth to have ever felt this way. Please know you’re not. Every one of us has been given a puzzle and although some may look closer to completion than yours, that doesn’t mean yours is any less beautiful, less marvelous or holds less potential for completion. And luckily there are some great funny cat puzzles out there, since all you look at on Facebook are funny cat pictures anyway. You do know there’s more to the internet than funny cat pictures, right?
You might feel alone, quite misunderstood and overwhelmed by these amazing revelations and big ideas, tremendously aware of your sadness, your happiness, your inability to make people understand you. You hug your knees close to your body, looking upon the world from your very own private island. The sun on your face, the salt water on your skin, you feel alone. And the bass of your loud music is the sound of waves crashing ashore. Those same sounds also keep your parents awake past 9:00pm so you should probably turn that down because they’re in their mid-30’s and they’re tired. And if you were to actually open your eyes, you’d notice your private island is actually made up of those seven loads of clean laundry your mother has been badgering you for weeks to put away. It’s okay to isolate yourself, to find quiet time for thinking about who you are, who you want to become and who you don’t want to be. We all need to be alone sometimes. Just remember to open your bedroom window from time to time and let the fresh air in. Open your bedroom door too and let the people who love you come in. Show them the big ideas you’ve scratched on paper. But seriously, please open your window; your bedroom really smells bad and it’s making your mother twitchy.
You might feel like nobody really appreciates your enormous dreams, as if nobody before you has ever had these thoughts in the history of earth, ever. I can see how you would feel this way. But try, if you can, to remember that billions of teenagers have come and gone before you, thinking these overwhelmingly great thoughts and they’ve gone on to do big and small things, oftentimes without their heads exploding. Try, if you can, not to let these troublesome thoughts have so much power over you. You are the master of your mind, not these thoughts. Actually, your mother is the master of your mind and right now, at this very moment, she wants you to unload the dishwasher and bring down the garbage. She also wants you to quit raiding her secret chocolate stash. She needs it more than you do. You’ll understand in ten years.
You wonder if your clothes are good enough. They are. You wonder if your hair and make-up meet the standards you’ve placed upon yourself and everybody else. They do. You hope you’re pretty enough. You are, beyond pretty. You shine so brightly people catch themselves staring at you, as if you’re made up of thousands of tiny mirrors, catching and releasing the sunlight. You’re such a bright light and even if you can’t see it or don’t believe it, nobody could deny it’s there. Of course, it could also be the fluorescent cafeteria light reflecting off your four thousand dollar braces, but wow, it’s so spectacular. Your parents are happy your teeth will be straight, just as happy as they would be on a four thousand dollar Caribbean cruise. No, really.
Don’t let the constant noise drown out your inner voice. Speak. Say your words even when all you can manage is a trembling whisper. The more you say them, the more real they become, the louder they become. The more real your true self becomes, the more confident you will feel. You will, someday, have so much more confidence than you have now and you will dare to say what’s on your mind without fear of ridicule. You will dare to be who you want to be, without the dread of rejection. As your voice gets louder, the rejection becomes less important. It never feels good to be rejected, but somewhere along the way, someplace between pimples and wrinkles, you learn that it’s their loss, not yours.
People often tear down what they fear the most and because you have the capacity for magnificence; you scare people. Be magnificent anyway. But perhaps be a little less magnificent to your brothers. It’s not their job to bring you Lucky Charms in bed on weekend mornings, nor should they be expected to tell you which shirt looks prettier with those jeans.
Middle and High School are but a few drops of time in your precious glass jar of life. You will spend the majority of your life with people who accept and embrace your intelligence, who support your curious nature despite your differences. You will have chances to seek out people who see your bright flame, who will help to keep it burning so brightly. During these few years left of childhood, try not to let your flame be snuffed. It’s yours and nobody has the right to blow it out.
When the wind is blowing and it’s raining sideways, remember you can always come inside, off your island. Your parents might say really weird things like “That is all that and a bag of chips!” or “Don’t even go there!” or they might even play Pearl Jam a little too loud, but they love you and also they are a product of the 90’s; it’s not their fault. However, you might want to tell them flannel is no longer cool, even in the ironic sort of way. Your father will probably be devastated and your mother will roll her eyes, mumbling something about Beverly Hills 90210 and how bangs never really went out of style.
So in the words of a cute cat picture you probably saw on Facebook: “hang in there.”