OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Raising a Teen: A Chance to Learn From My Son and My Younger Self

Things changed since I grew up (wow – I sound like my parents – always surprises me when it happens).  When I attended my eldest son’s 8th grade promotion, I was struck by a few things.  First, going to high school was not a promotion when I was a kid.  Second, I was too young to have a high schooler. . or at least I feel that way. 

The ceremony was beautiful with student performance and speakers.  One girl, who sounded much too old for 14, talked about adult topics like fulfilling ambitions and honoring transitions.  In contrast, a boy speaker stood up to applause and listed off all the teachers who had made him like learning more than he ever thought possible although much less than they wanted. 

I recognized both from my middle school although the names and faces were different.  Watching my children grow up gives me a unique opportunity to travel back in time and visit my younger self.  I was moved by the performers.  One young man performed “Let it be” so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes much to the chagrin of my Greek husband (who earlier pretended he didn’t tear up when he saw our son walk in).  Another girl wrote and sang her own song which impressed me on so many levels.  I didn’t have the kind of confidence it takes to put a piece of you out there in such a public and easy to criticize manner, although I wished I had. 
One performer made me travel back in time to my eighth grade self.  She sang “Freckles” by Natasha Bedingfield:

I used to care so much about what others think about
Almost didn't have a thought of my own
The slightest remark would make me embark
On the journey of self doubt
But that was a while ago
This girl has got stronger
If I knew then what I know now
I would have told myself don't worry any longer it’s okay
I wondered if I could trade my body with somebody else in magazines
With the whole world full at my feet
I phantom worthy and would blame my failures on the ugliness I could see
When the mirror looked at me
Sometimes I feel like the little girl who doesn't belong in her own world
But I’m getting better
And I’m reminding myself


Cuz a face without freckles is a sky without stars
Why waste a second not loving who you are
Those little imperfections make you beautiful, lovable, valuable,
They show your personality inside your heart
Reflecting who you are
I don’t have freckles.  But I see them as a metaphor of things we see wrong in ourselves.  As she sang, I was transported.  I remembered wishing to have so and so’s hair, wanting to be thinner, more confident . . . to be many things I thought I was not.  I recalled the sting of being the geeky “too smart” kid. 

Then, I was engulfed with a vivid memory of a recess in 8th grade.  With coke bottle glasses, braces and a stick thin physique resulting from an 8 inch growth spurt, I was quite the picture of awkwardness.  I slowly walked up to a group of girls at the far side of the playground.  I willed my feet to move one in front of the other and tried to quell the fear of what might happen when I actually got there.  We went to school together at a small private school since kindergarten with the exception of one or two who joined later.  I had one best friend in grade school but we had a falling out when we reached seventh grade. 
As I approached, I saw one girl whisper to the group.  And they all gazed pointedly my way.  My legs felt leaden and bile collected in my belly.  Then they burst out laughing and ran the opposite direction.  I stopped in my tracks feeling completely exposed.  I refused to let the threatening tears reach my eyes.  I thought, “What is so ugly about me that people run away?” 

I am known now for maintaining my composure under the most extreme conditions.  This moment was a true test.  I kept my head up, walked slowly back to the school building and counted the seconds until the bell rang.  I didn’t let the sobs take over my body until I was safely in my bedroom in the basement of my parent’s home that evening.  “Freckles” spoke to me even though I am now a much more self assured woman.  My eighth grade self, who watched those girls run from her, is still inside.
My kids are confident and outgoing.  I truly hope they don’t face that kind of rejection. But more importantly, I hope they never inflict it unwittingly on someone else.  I know the girls were having fun and had no idea how devastating that experience was to me.   Teaching my kids empathy and visiting my younger self when I need to find it are legacies I chose to keep.  Also the memories remind me I am not that girl anymore.  I gained the power to use negative experiences, like that one, to find a positive impact.

Watching my son accept his certificate proudly and then impatiently take pictures so he could spend time with his friends, made my heart swell.  This was his day but it was also a special day for me.  I felt a sense of full closure on that earlier chapter by witnessing him embark on his own journey toward adulthood.

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