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I kept seeing people on the interwebs who had written letters to their teenage selves. Sounded like a solid little self-reflection exercise, so I figured I’d give it a try. I thought it would be easy (and perfect timing) considering I just took a major trip down memory lane complete with laughter, tears and a large fire while cleaning out my childhood room at my parent’s house.
I titled it The Battle for You, knowing the advice I most wanted to give teenage me was not to lose herself; to fight to stay true to herself through every relationship, and every major life decision.
But knowing teenage me, I figured I would start off light… ease her in a little…
She definitely needed to stop waiting for her boobs to arrive. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you’re not a late bloomer. They’re not coming. But don’t worry, a woman named J-Lo will become famous and suddenly certain men will identify as “ass men.” These will be your men. Don’t waste your time with the others.
She should also know the strangely specific strategies she would develop over the years to tackle her crazy, curly hair were ridiculous. Just relax and accept that the curls are in charge, not you. DevaCurl products and towel scrunch—there, that’s all you need to know. Oh, and don’t get bangs. Just trust me.
Might as well give her a heads up that her metabolism will be put to the test—and fail—in college. Cheap beer, fast food, and a love affair with dark liquor will take it down. You will find therapy in running and a friend in the gym so don’t worry, you’ll lose the weight. But just know it will take twice as long.
Before I got into the list of don’ts I had for her, I figured I’d give her some dos… Apply to the tough school, quit your first job and move to Europe, join the Peace Corps, accept the invitation to visit the handsome George Clooney look-a-like in the Bahamas… just say “yes” more. Fight for the things that you want for no other reason than you want them… for those are the desires of your gut, your heart, your soul. If you don’t acknowledge at least some of them, that inner voice that makes you you will get very, very quiet.
Uggghhh how to possibly prepare her for the love life she had ahead of her…
Should I tell her not to believe advice like “if you love something let it go?” Don’t choose the college experience you’re “supposed to have” over your first love. It will seem to make sense at the time but much later in life you’ll question if it was worth it in the end. Fight for him.
Would she listen if I told her not to be so stubborn when she finds herself in love for the second time? You will lose yourself in a sea of apologies and drama just to prove a point. Don’t fight to stay with him out of desperation not to lose another love; to prove everyone wrong that it will work out. Fight instead to keep yourself you…. or else the casualties will be the honesty, trust and understanding of those closest to you.
I absolutely had to steer her away from her third rendezvous with love. Him being married IS your problem. Do. Not. Go there. The witty banter and consistent orgasms will not outweigh the consequences. You may win a couple battles and think he really left her this time, but you will lose the war.
I wasn’t sure what to tell her about her fourth love. He will bring your heart back to life and your body back home. He will be the man of your dreams, but you will lose yourself trying to break down the forces around his heart. Fight to stay you and maybe he will surrender.
As I sat there thinking, struggling with what to say and wondering if teenage me would have even listened to any of this, I suddenly thought of my mother. I realized these are likely all the things she wanted—and desperately tried—to tell me throughout the years. These are the things she cried about and prayed about. These are the things that kept her up at night. These are the battles she fought. Because, like mothers often do, she knew where it was all leading. She was a seasoned veteran of love and of life, and she knew the path I was on would bring a lot of pain and destruction. And all she wanted to do was shelter me from all of it.
In that moment of realization, I never felt more connected to my mother. For maybe the first time ever, I saw her struggle. It was like we were finally fighting the same battle. The battle to keep someone you love… someone you see so much of yourself in… from becoming a casualty of her own decisions.
I thought back to our more recent conversations reflecting on the arguments we used to have about the choices I was making and her—we’ll call them strong opinions—on them. My point to her was always that I needed to live my own life, learn my own lessons… and yes, unfortunately a lot of those lessons were learned the hard way. I thought about all the times she frustratingly joked (with more frustration than humor) that “you can’t put an old head on a young body.” And then it hit me—that’s what I’d be trying to do with this letter.
This letter would be fighting my mother’s battle; not mine. My battle has always been—and still remains—a fight for me; a fight to make my own decisions and my own mistakes; a fight to learn things for myself, even if it is the hard way; a fight to keep my young head on my young body. I don’t want to tell teenage me to change a thing. Because if I change her, then who am I? Those experiences (good and bad) are my life. I put my integrity and my relationships on the line to have them. I fought hard to learn those lessons. Why would I take that away from myself? So I decided not to write a letter to teenage me; instead I chose to fight for myself—past and present—and leave teenage me to fight her own battles, knowing she would take a lot of hits along the way… but she would be just fine.
I sat there for minute staring at the blank page on my computer and I realized there was a letter that needed to be written. Not from me now to teenage me, but from teenage me to my mother…
My Dearest Mother,
Our relationship is perfect right now. We are best friends. I tell you everything and we rarely ever argue. You are a source of comfort for me; a safe place.
But mother, you need to know that one day everything will change. I will lose touch with myself, the me that is so close to you. I will make reckless decisions that are painful for you to watch. I’ll be embarrassed and stubborn and stop talking to you about what’s really going on in my life. We will argue… a lot. You will send me letters and mail me books… desperate to bring down my guard so you can get close again. But I won’t let you.
From a distance you will know I am hurting. You’ll feel my pain while lying in bed at night, crying to dad that you don’t know what to do. Please know that none of it will be your fault. And I’m so sorry but there won’t be anything you can do to change it.
But mother, I will come back around, just in my own time. It will get hard to believe that… hard to trust it… but I promise it’s true. Because here’s what you need to know and never forget through all of it—our connection can never be broken. Even when I am distant, and you fear our relationship has forever changed, know that you are always with me. You keep your seat at the front of my heart and you remain the voice in my head.
When you tell me I shouldn’t spend so many weekends away from school to be with my first love; that I’m only in college once and I should enjoy it—you are right. When I argue back, it’s just because I love him and am scared to lose him. And many, many years later when we are sitting on my bedroom floor crying and you feel so guilty for that advice, know that I don’t blame you. I could have had both—the college experience and my relationship. But I didn’t have the awareness to find that balance. That’s on me, not you.
During one of our many arguments about my second love, when you tell me that you don’t think I have the strength to leave him—you are right. I won’t acknowledge how true that comment is when you make it… I won’t give you that satisfaction… but that comment stays with me. It haunts me every day until the day it finally fuels me to find the strength.
When you watch me abandon my morals for my third love, and you tell me I deserve to be put first—you are right. Deep down I know that, I’m just too ashamed to really believe it.
When you get frustrated that I keep letting my fourth love back into my life only to hurt me again and again, and you tell me you don’t understand why I don’t feel worthy to be happy in a relationship—you are right. I don’t feel worthy and I don’t know why. And in that moment, I realize I need to figure it out.
After each relationship you will push me to move on, get back out there, find someone else. You will never lose hope that my Mr. Right is just yet to be found. I will push back that I am not ready, I don’t have time, I’m focused on me. What I won’t tell you is the truth—that really, I am just scared. Scared I’m not strong enough to put my heart back together if it breaks again and scared I’m not really worthy of happiness in love. And in those moments of fear, your hope will be the only thing keeping my hope alive.
So you see mother, there will be many times I don’t listen to you, but know that I always hear you… really hear you. You will forever be my guide… even from a distance. You will give me strength when I need it most and believe in me when I’ve lost faith in myself. You will do these things unknowingly; you will think you are not getting through to me… but you are. You always are.
I have a rough road ahead of me and I get a little lost at times along the way. But here’s the good news…. my path—as bumpy and winding as it will be at times—eventually leads me back to me… and back to you.
I love you geometry line.