If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.3

Dear X,

The most difficult challenge of being your age is that you are neither a child nor an adult and everyone, including you, has to learn to adjust as you start to explore the world on your own.

I now warn my friends with kids your age to let go a bit and wait it out… No matter what horrible, hurtful things are being said, in a few years, the transition will be over and everyone will be friends again.

But those years – when you feel like you need to push everyone away in order to stand up on your own – they’re tough.

As I’d tell my dad to drop me off 200 yards from where everyone was waiting for school, he’d tease me: “Do you think the other kids don’t have parents?”

The funny thing was I didn’t mind being around my friends’ parents.  And mine never did anything particularly embarrassing – in fact, I think my friends quite liked them.  But at the time, that didn’t matter.

The point was that I was afraid of looking like a baby who wasn’t allowed to be off on my own while all the other kids were.  I wanted to be able to make my own decisions and be independent.

I was sure I knew it all and I wanted to be treated as a grown up.  It’s only as you get older and look back that realize how mistaken you were and how much there still is to learn.

I’ll never forget the time I was about twelve (in sixth grade) and I went to see a movie with friends.  I had told my parents that I was only going with a group of girls, but some of the boys from school had met us once we were there.  We skipped out of the movie early and went to Friendly’s next door.  And there, sitting in the window, waving with happy smiles were my parents and their best friends.

Now I can see that the best way to handle the situation would have been to walk up to my parents, say hi, introduce my friends and go somewhere else (or, because my parents were actually quite cool, they probably would have cut their meal short and left for me).

Oh, but not me.  I’ve never been great at downplaying a situation.  No indeed.  I escalate and make it as mortifying as possible.  So embarrassed was I that my friends had seen that I did have parents and so afraid was I that I would be in trouble because of the boys, I ran into the parking lot blubbering, and ensuring my humiliation escaped no one’s notice.

It’s possible that no one other than I remembers that night.  But it is one of those moments of chagrin I’ve carried with me – one of my many lessons on how not to behave.

I think my problem was (is) that I always forced things forward rather then allowing them to gently unfold.  My parents, like most, were willing to let me grow up and have my independence, but I never felt like it was happening fast enough, so I had to push them away.

There were a couple of rough years there for my parents and me; but I came to my senses eventually.  And now I realize how truly blessed I am to have them in my life, supporting and loving me as they always have.

At Cornel - after the storm...

At Cornell – friends again; they were always awesome!

So, I urge you to relax.  It may seem like your parents don’t know the first thing about you and are trying to keep you from becoming an adult.  But you may find that if you stop pushing them… if you talk to them and let them know how you’re feeling… they may just help you on your journey.

At some point most kids think that their parents just don’t get it – don’t remember what it was like to be young.  They think everything’s changed and so even if the old fogies do remember being young, it just isn’t the same as it is now.

Maybe that’s true.  And maybe your parents do wish they could stop the clock for a little while to keep you young and safe and under their protective wing.  Just try to be patient with them.  Understand that you growing up might be harder on them than it is on you.  They just want to stay part of your life.

Also, realize that your friends don’t mind your parents and don’t find them nearly as ridiculous as you do (or you think they do).  Everyone’s got parents and they are all cool and lame in their own way.

Don’t push them away.  You’ll need them at some point and, what’s more, you’ll want them.  Try to appreciate them while you are still there with them.  You’ll be off on your own much sooner than you can believe.  And I promise you, you’ll miss them.


Parents: they’re the best!

Published in: on March 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.1

Dear X,

You will often hear it said that friends come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Though perhaps a bit trite, it’s a helpful way to think about friendship.

My dad has a pin that reads, “Cor ad Cor Loquitur” or “heart speaks to heart,” an apt description of how I’ve met my best friends.  In an instant, I just felt comfortable, at ease and myself.

A bit shy and introverted, it takes me time to build friendships. But with these special few, it was different. The instant I met them, whether I was 6 or 36, I knew immediately they were to be true friends.

I’ve had to start over many times: changing schools, changing jobs, changing scenery. During transitions, it’s easy to feel anchorless and lost. Our history makes us who we are, so it can be lonely and isolating when you look around and there’s no one to whom you can say, “remember when…”

But true friends will get you through the ups and downs. They will always answer the phone, write the note, or come to visit (so you can laugh together and say things like, “remember when you used to wear upside down glasses?” or “look what happened to the cook!” or “show me your interpretation of holiday!” or “olive oil ice cream with little kid smiles,” or “time for dinner without the kids.”).

This kind of love is a special part of our experience and it is invaluable. Though few in number, lifetime friends are the most important.

So what of the other people in your life?

As you go along, you’ll find some friends are with you for only a short time. They appear in your world to help you through a particular situation and then vanish again, whether you want them to or not. Maybe they’ll teach you something about yourself. Maybe they’ll give you the strength to go through with something you didn’t think you could. Maybe their example will help you understand who you do – or don’t – want to be.

Some of these “seasonal friends” have given me the courage to change my situation when I felt stuck. Some have given me support when I felt alone and afraid. I may have thought that we’d always be close, but time moved on and so did they.

It can hurt when people leave your life, almost like a breakup, but sometimes you just have to let them go and understand that their purpose has been fulfilled. You can’t hold on to everyone, much as you might like to. Life is too busy, too complicated. The best you can do is wish them well and thank them for whatever you’ve learned from knowing them.

Once in a blue moon, you may have a strange experience when someone comes into your life for an instant, almost like magic, and gives you exactly what you need in that moment.

One day, I was as low as I could possibly be. I had left my job (encouraged to do so by my boss), my boyfriend had dumped me and my dog had just died. (I was a country music cliché.)

Early Monday morning, I went to the unemployment office – not exactly a great way to cheer myself up. But there, I met a woman named Elia. We talked all morning (we had hours to fill, after all). She was a couple years older and her stories of the things she’d done inspired me.

She helped me see that on the other side of this ending, inevitably, was a beginning… and beginnings are always exciting, because anything is possible. She gave me hope that things could and would get better. She reminded me that one never knows what the day will bring – a new friend, a new job, maybe just a new book. She told me to relax and enjoy myself… the pieces I was mourning would all fall into place again one day. And she was right.

Though we exchanged numbers, I never spoke to Elia again. She was a mysterious angel with a message I needed to hear. Four hours with her had a profound influence on the person I’d become.

I met her for a reason.

I wish I’d always understood the value of friendship. There have been times when I’ve had superficial reasons for wanting to be someone’s friend – popularity, for example (more on that later). But I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot since then.

In an enclosed world, it can seem the people around you will always be there (for better or worse); but it’s amazing how even some of your closest friends will drift away.

Eventually, you’ll look at your life and see who’s stuck by you… you’ll think about when you feel best and the people you most like. You’ll realize these are the people who deserve the time and love you have to give. When you identify these people, you’ll know what friendship is all about.

When a part of someone lives in you and you in them, you’ve found a friend.

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm  Comments (7)  
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