A couple of months ago, my childhood pen pal found me on Facebook. We got together for lunch to catch up on forty years of life. Lori gave me letters that I had written to her from 1974-1976 when we would have been in the sixth through eighth grades. You wouldn’t know it from my letters, but those were tumultuous times.
Coincidentally, my sixth grade teacher wrote me a message on Facebook saying I should share a blog post I wrote about the sixth grade to show kids that time has a way of taking care of things. The world is much different than it was when I was a kid, but kids still face many of the same challenges. Sometimes I hear adults say that they would like to be a kid again. I wouldn’t want to relive my childhood unless I could do it armed with the life experience I have now. What would the adult me tell the child me if she could?
Dear Younger Me:
I usually start out my letters with “I am fine. How are you?” I won’t ask how you are because I already know. I’m writing to let you know that although you have a bumpy road ahead of you, you will come out of it pretty much unscathed. Someday you’ll even be able to look back on these years without a feeling of angst.
If you feel like you don’t fit in right now, you are not alone. Shy people like you aren’t popular. You aren’t cool. You won’t be a star athlete; you won’t even have the opportunity to try out for the team. That’s okay. It is not unusual to feel like a misfit in school – look at all the movies that have been written about this! Yet kids who feel like misfits still grow up to be amazing, successful, functional adults.
Speaking of fitting in, I have to warn you that people are determined to force square pegs to fit in round holes even though there are slots that fit square pegs perfectly. People will try to change you into something that you are not. They already tell you to speak up, to be more social. It’s not working, is it? They have been calling you bashful and shy since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. The labels tell you that you are different; that you are not what you’re supposed to be. All it does is make you feel like there is something wrong with you. There isn’t.
Someday, you will find your tribe. You’ll discover that there are millions of people like you. Introverts are awesome! You’ll find a job that makes the most of your strengths. But in the meantime, you’ll have to put up with the pressure to conform to the “extrovert ideal.” You’ll have to participate in activities that were designed for extroverts – things that fill you with dread and anxiety. It won’t be easy but you have to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Facing your fears will make you even stronger!
I know that you are embarrassed and ashamed of being poor. Things are also a bit crazy at home. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes. You’re not the only one from a “broken” home. Unless you see the bruises, you don’t know what another child is going through. Count your blessings.
You already know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But you have let a few snobby people convince you that your worth is determined by social status – how much money your parents have, the clothes you wear. They are wrong! (I’m going to let you in on a secret: you’ll be able to afford nice things when you grow up but you won’t even want them.)
The hardships you face today will teach you an invaluable lesson. Your worth is defined by the content of your character. Period. So be honest. Be reliable. Always do your best. Go the extra mile. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. You will regret a lot of things in your life, but you will never regret being kind.
There’s one more thing I want to bring up before I close. Your mom. Over the next few years, she’s going to frustrate the heck out of you. You won’t understand her choices. You’ll spend years trying to understand why she does the things she does. You don’t realize how young she is and how much weight she has on her shoulders. The only thing you need to know is this: she loves you and she’s doing the best she can. Give her a big hug for me, okay?
Your friend always,
P.S. U-R 2-Nice 2-B 4-gotten
My sixth grade teacher is right. Time changes things. Forty-three years ago, I would not have shared what I write with strangers. In one of my letters, I wrote about something upsetting that happened in Reading class. My teacher asked me for all of the stories I had written. She had a committee of my peers read them to select one to put in the newspaper. I was mad because I didn’t want my stories to be published! I was very self-conscious and hated being the center of attention.
Time certainly changed my perspective on the struggles of my childhood. They say that adversity builds character. Perseverance. Determination. Empathy. If I could go back and relive my childhood, would I be willing to trade some measure of adversity for some measure of character building? No, I wouldn’t. Painful memories fade. The lessons you learn in a “hard knock life” last forever.