Tuesday, August 18, 2009

a letter to my fifth grade self

After eyeing it for months, I finally picked up What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self (edited by Ellyn Spragins) with a gift card I received for my birthday. I was immediately transfixed and began thinking of all the different ages at which I wished "I'd known then…" I picked fifth grade for an obvious reason—my daughter begins fifth grade a week from today, and my mind is swimming with all I want her to know about all there is to know.

At ten, I was painfully self-conscious, boy-crazy beyond belief, and immensely insecure. My love-hate relationship with attention was beginning to bloom, and I swung wildly from seeking attention at any price to wishing I could vanish into the cafeteria walls. My worth was based on the label on my back pocket, the insignia on my polo shirt, and whether or not my hair laid flat that day, which meant that most days, I did not feel too worthwhile.

This is what I wish I could have understood then, and what I pray to be able to instill within the heart of my own self-conscious, developing, precocious ten-year-old:

Dear Lorie,

Hiya! How are ya? I hope you're enjoying fifth grade. Mrs. McCarthy is a great teacher—she will follow your progress all the way through college because you made such an impression on her. Betcha didn't know that, but you will in time. Oh, and get over your silly feud with James over whatever the heck it was about. You'll still be friends thirty years from now, so it doesn't really matter.

So, first things first. You need to know that one day you will love your hair. I know. It doesn't feather. I know. I know it is, at times, the sole focus of your neurotic, self-conscious attention. I know you spend hours spitting it down in class, pressing your palm to your forehead, trying to get it to lay flat. It doesn't. It won't. Ever. Not until in your 30s when you discover smoothing serum and the ceramic flat iron, and then you will be giddy over the option to have straight hair for once in your life. But you won't choose it very often. Why? Because you will grow to love your hair, as will everyone else. You're just going to have to trust me on this one. Embrace it, don't fight it. Love your hair, and in doing so, you will learn to love yourself.

Next item of important business—NO ONE IS LOOKING AT YOU. The seemingly trite saying is actually, it turns out, true: they really are too busy worrying that everyone is looking at them to possibly even think about you. Remember this. In the cafeteria. In the halls. At the mall. At church. Any time you're out in public. Hold your head up high, walk proud, and speak confidently, and the right type of attention will come your way naturally.

Here's another secret you're gonna love—all the girls you're jealous of? Miss Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans with the horse and the tennis courts? Miss Perfectly Feathered Hair with the big Goode comb and the attention of all the Goode comb boys? Miss My Father Makes More Money Than Your Father? Get this—they're all actually jealous of YOU. Your creativity, your musical ability, your confidence "on stage," your relationship with your teachers, your grades and your gift for writing—they wish they had some of that. You see, shiny hair, designer jeans, and a clear complexion only go so far. So don't wish you were them. Because they wish they were you, and they will tell you so, in time.

Finally, I can't tell you how much I wish you weren't so afraid. Of pain. Of failure. Of rejection. Oh, what we could be now if you only believed in yourself. You need to know that this is what is true: you can and you will be more than you think you can. But only if you conquer the fear and self-consciousness that that paralyzes your spirit. Be confident, Lorie. And if you don't feel confident, simply act confident. The confidence will follow. There is no need to shrink within yourself. Bloom. The world will open before a young woman with poise and confidence.

Oh, and one last thing, Kiddo. You're not weird, you're not funny looking, and you're not fat. You are gifted. You are beautiful. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

And you are very, very loved.

See you 'round, Girl! I'm looking forward to it!




Anonymous said...

Dear Dean,

You know those kids who, right now, seem to have everything? Well, in the future they'll still have everything, but "everything" will pretty soon include a coke habit and two ex-wives, so chill.


lorie said...

P.S. And a second mortgage, and an STD, and, quite possibly, a criminal record.