Lessons on How to Be Thirteen
From the Last Person You Want Advice From
Recently, my thirteen-year-old baby daughter, Meredith, came home from school a little out of sorts. Usually, she hits the door talking about something funny her math teacher did, a song she heard on the radio, how waxy the mac & cheese was in the cafeteria today, or whatever else highlighted her time away from home. On that day, though, she just looked sad.
“Mom, I looked all around the classroom today and I didn’t see a single ugly person except myself,” she finally admitted.
I told her that was silliness. She’s beautiful.
I asked her why she felt ugly and she told me that it wasn’t what she FELT. It’s what she KNEW. I asked her how she KNEW.
She said another girl had told her so.
My anger flashed red- hot. This is my baby we are talking about. How could anyone be mean to her?
Then, I was struck with the most startling realization: She actually isn’t.
She’s not my baby anymore.
And it’s time to talk to her like the young woman she is.
I don’t care what some jealous, hate-filled, snob said about you. Let me tell you a secret: She’s lying- and she knows she’s lying. What she said to you is classic dog-eat-dog mentality. She’s threatened by you, so she chose to hit you where she thought it would hurt you most. Being a middle school girl, she knows how insecure you are. The fact that you looked around your classroom at everyone- including her- and didn’t see ugliness is the thing she fears most in the world. You possess true beauty and it shines from your soul to your skin. This world will try to dim it.
Don’t let it win.
Believe me- I know that, at your age, everything is all about pecking order. Just remember that the ones you think are at the top of that food chain are probably even more insecure and fragile than you are. They’re the ones that have the furthest to “fall,” so don’t be surprised when they are willing to be downright nasty if it means keeping themselves head and shoulders “above” where they think you are. When they do this, remind yourself that they are only clamoring because they don’t feel valuable without their false sense of superiority.
Also know that, eventually, everyone will settle into their own comfortable place in life. A lot (not all) of the nastiness will disappear. Most of your peers will come to understand that you really are all in the same boat.
You may even find that some of the people you felt the least close to at this point in your life become great friends, if you’re willing to obtain and maintain the maturity needed to recognize that they, too, are just insecure little girls.
Just don’t let them take advantage of you. Don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you.
Learn to speak up when you’re bothered. Have the courage to tell your teacher if you don’t want to sit in front of the kid that continually whispers hurtful things in your ear. Tell your friend if her “good-natured” jokes about your glasses hurt your feelings. Put your foot down about your siblings messing with your stuff.
There is no law that says the kids you babysit get to play with your violin just because it’s there and they’re little. Take it away from them. They’ll live.
So will you.
You will live a long time, but when you look back, it will have passed in a flash.
Stay thirteen as long as you can.
I don’t know why the American school system is so persistent about telling kids they need to know today what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. Truth be told, you don’t even have to know what you’re doing tomorrow- and the best part is you never will have to know!
The things that feel like they are going to make or break your life today aren’t going to matter when you’re my age. In fact, most of them won’t even matter by next Thursday.
In the meantime, the only thing you need to figure out is who you are today. Dye your hair green. Record covers of 70’s punk songs in your bedroom. Watch Bubble Guppies with your little sister because YOU like it, too. Write short stories about fantasy worlds. Make friends with the kids you don’t think I’d approve of — but remember what was said about staying beautiful.
Be unique, even if it raises a few eyebrows.
Be unique, ESPECIALLY if it raises a few eyebrows.
Try out for the musical. Learn the harmonica. Try to rap. Join the track team. Figuring out what you love- and what you hate- is all a part of discovering yourself.
When you fail- and you will fail- know that you aren’t the first to have ever done so. Know that to fail means you tried and to try means you succeeded at self-discovery.
When you succeed, stay humble. Remember to turn around and help the next kid.
And always know- fail or succeed- I am here.
Even if I’m the last person in the world you want to talk to about it, I’m here.
We don’t have to say anything.
Just sit with me and be my baby for a while.
That’s okay, too.