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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Message to my 15-year-old self

September 6, 2011

It was all there

Last week was our anniversary and I searched for our wedding album. Didn’t find it, but I unearthed a small binder I used in high school and college for my music and writing. Exiting my closet I entered my childhood bedroom! My 15-year-old self sat on the floor strumming her guitar, engrossed in writing Variation on a Theme #11 “I loved you and you stomped on my heart.”

Not wanting to freak Young Annie, I wait a moment then softly clear my throat.

“Who are you?” she glares at me.
“Who do I look like?”
She focuses in. “Kinda like me, but way older,” she says. Then after a second, “Woah! You are me!”

As a teen I devoured alternative theories of existence. Reincarnation. Parallel universes. Time travel. So I’m not surprised she figures out who I am.

“I’m the you you will become some day. Cool, huh?”
“Super cool! Except I see I’m stuck with the same weird hair forever.”

We sigh in stereo.

“That’s the way it goes, kid. But on the bright side, the future’s filled with hair product. De-frizzers, sculpting foam, ultra-straighteners…”
“So how come you don’t use it?”
“Don’t always have time, but…”
“How’d you get here?”
“Dunno.”
“Why’d you come?”

Gotta love this kid. Always so direct.

“I came to help you, Annie. There’s stuff you need to make life easier.”
“How do you know what I need?”
“Cause I’ve lived through everything you’ve lived through up to this moment. And I’ve lived through everything you’re gonna live through for the next 46 years…”
“What happens after that?”
“How should I know? I’m from 2011. That’s as much as I’ve seen so far.”

That shuts her up long enough for me to plunge ahead.

“Don’t know how long I’ll be with you so I’ll get to the point. First thing, you worry too much about your looks. Let me set the record straight. You’re pretty enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“For everything that matters. Trust me on this. Everyone’s got their own way of being beautiful. Including you. So stop buying those magazines. They make you feel crappy about yourself.

“Another thing, what happens in school, at home, wherever… it isn’t always about you. You believe there’s a movie camera following you around focused on everything you do, but that’s not true. You’re not always the star of what’s going on. Sometimes you’ve got another role to play and you need to close your mouth and listen so you can learn how other people feel. Even if you only do that part of the time, you’ll learn how to help people. That’s going to be a good thing for them and for you. Understand?”

“I’m not sure. Sounds kind of abstract. Anyway, since you’re here, I’ve got a problem you can help me with. It’s…”

“… Mom. I know. Things have been bad between you two since Dad died. I know you’re sad and you miss him. A lot of the time you’re just pretending everything’s fine. Stop doing that. Find a way to get some of that hurt out of you. It’s unhealthy. Write about what you’re going through. Or sing about it. As for Mom, she’s in a lot of pain too. And she’s also pretending she’s OK. But nothing’s right in her world anymore and she takes it out on you. That doesn’t make it OK, but maybe you can cut her a little slack. That might help. It takes two people to have a fight. Next time she starts up, think about that.”

Young Annie gives me a look. Can’t tell what she’s thinking.

“Another thing, Annie, this part of your life isn’t forever. You’re going to leave and go to college. You’ll be happier and you’ll have freedom to make your own decisions.”

“Do I go to Cornell!?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Does that mean I don’t go to Cornell!?”

“I didn’t say that. I said don’t worry. And while you’re at it, quit worrying about finding The One. You’re 15 and it’s not time to hook up with your soul mate. So do yourself a favor and lighten up. It’ll happen when it happens.”

“Does it happen?” she asks. “Do I ever find The One?”

I had forgotten how needy and uncertain I was. How much I needed reassurance. I hug her. ”Oh, yes,” I say.
She squeals and hugs back. “When do I meet him?!”
“I’m not telling. That’d spoil the surprise. But here’s a hint. If you ever get a chance to visit San Francisco… Go! Speaking of which, I need to head back. Gotta walk the dog.”
“I get a dog!?”
“Yep. Just like you always wanted. And one more thing…”
“Do I get a horse too?!!”
“No. No horse.”
“Then what?”
“I just want to tell you to keep writing, Annie. It’s going to pay off.”

The next thing I know I’m typing this blog and I’m wondering: what would you say to your 15-year-old self?

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 8:36 am
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22 Comments »

  1. Lovely, Annie! There is a lot I’d say to my 15 year old self. May have to do a blog post of my own…:)

    Comment by Alina — September 6, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  2. Annie, you have a gift . . . but then again, you knew that:-) Thank you for this post! Now, let’s see . . . what would I say to my 15 yr old self?
    I’d tell her to stop paying so much attention to other people’s opinions because pleasing others can be a full time job with no benefits and it never pays anyway. That friendship is a two way street and giving without receiving leaves you empty and resentful, so why bother? She/we deserve better.
    And, finally, it may be a good idea to stop taking everything so seriously. Nothing stays the same anyway so lighten up and enjoy the ride. After all, it’s gonna be quite a ride. I should know:-)

    Comment by Yota Schneider — September 6, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  3. Mom this is so beautiful. It made me laugh and cry. You know I love this stuff because I have variations on this theme in my novel. It also makes me wonder if Ivy should ask her grown-up self more questions.

    Comment by Fayette Fox — September 6, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Thank you Alina. I encourage you to write that post to your 15 year old self. I’d love to read it, so let me know when you’ve done it.

    Comment by Annie — September 6, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  5. Yota, thanks for your kind words. I’m delighted to hear that this post inspired you to think in this way. Love what you’ve written. Even if we might not be able to go back there and give the good advice we so needed, I believe it’s therapeutic to give a “virtual” hug to our lost and confused teen selves. It’s never too late to offer love and encouragement.

    Comment by Annie — September 6, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  6. Sweet Fayette… your words mean so much to me. Dang! I’m crying as I write this! Anyway, glad you enjoyed my trip to the past. As for Ivy, it’s an interesting idea. I’d love to talk with you about it.

    Comment by Annie — September 6, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  7. I love this, so beautiful! It’s wonderful and so true — almost exactly what I’d have told myself too. I also love that your daughter commented; here’s to sweet daughters!

    Comment by Julia — September 7, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

  8. LOVED. THAT. I wish that we could go back and have that conversation! Oh just ONE conversation with 14 year old me!

    Comment by Dawn @ 5 Kids and a Dog — September 8, 2011 @ 8:27 am

  9. I loved this post. It comes at a perfect time, as I navigate being mom to my 14 yr-old son who just started high school yesterday.

    Comment by Cassy — September 8, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

  10. As a friend of Yota (one of your readers above) since we were 15 years old although we live for 26 years in different countries , I had the chance to read your post from far away!! I am so moved!!! It made me recall those years, supporting one another still not knowing how to really love ourselves! Never is to late as you commented and yr post encourages us to start “real conversation” with ourselves! And give the hugs we missed! I apologize for my English hope you get the meaning! Thank you Annie but mostly I thank my friend Yota, giving me the chance to read this and know about your blog! Eleni

    Comment by Eleni — September 13, 2011 @ 2:22 am

  11. Hello Eleni,

    Your English is very good and you should be proud of how well you can express yourself. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about your response to my blog. I too am grateful to Yota.
    In friendship, Annie

    Comment by Annie — September 13, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  12. Thank you so much for writing this, Annie. It’s brought to surface so many issues that I dealt with as a 15yo thinking they are what mattered. :( I was a nerd all thru school… big glasses too! :( And I always looked up to the cool kids like they were gods. I wish I could go back and tell myself to let that go. It wasn’t healthy! When I went to University I broke away from that luckily because none of my schoolmates went to the same university. I just wish I hadn’t wasted my childhood looking up to the cool kids whom now in retrospect had such bad role models and low self-esteem.
    And I just looooooove ur comment and your hair. :D As a curly/wavy haired girl I could never get my hair to be obedient. That’s why I wrote this post: http://www.247parents.com/?p=2251. Hopefully everything we went thru in life with our actions… our hair… our bodies, will make us better mothers. :)

    Comment by Subway Mom — September 20, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  13. Hi Subway Mom,

    Thank you for taking the time to read the post and to write your comment. I think you hit it on the head when you say “I just wish I hand’t wasted my childhood… ” mistaking what didn’t matter for what did. Yes! Maybe that’s inevitable since kids are naturally myopic it’s not until we’ve lived and suffered and matured that we can learn to take the “Bigger Picture” view.

    Yes, everything I went through… and thought, sang, wrote and cried about… has made me a better mom, a better person, a better partner and a more compassionate teacher.

    Be well, my friend,
    Annie

    Comment by Annie — September 20, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  14. How lovely Annie, thank you!

    John
    onlinevents.co.uk

    Comment by John wilson — October 29, 2011 @ 8:05 am

  15. Wow ! I almost cried. When i become a parent i will write this for my own <a href="child to see. Love your writing style as well.

    Comment by Parent wanna be — December 5, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  16. Dear Parent wanna be,

    I’m touched by your reaction to the blog. “What would you say to your 15 year old self?” is an interesting question, isn’t it? You don’t have to be a parent to answer that.

    Thanks again for your interest in my work.

    In friendship,
    Annie

    Comment by Annie — December 5, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  17. Amazing! My 15-year-old self was going through so much–the Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, my mother’s expecting a baby (I was overjoyed, she was wondering if she was too old), and so much more–on top of the “normal” teen issues, I could have used a talk with my older self.

    My own children are adults now, and they are only beginning to realize that Mom is someone with whom they can talk things over. It’s been a long time coming.

    Thank you for a perceptive, wonderful post.

    Comment by Barbara Karp — December 18, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  18. Well done Annie. I was never a 15 year old girl but I did give similar advice to my daughter when she was that age.

    Comment by Larry Magid — December 28, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  19. Thank you for leaving your comment, Barbara. Even in the best of times, 15 is often an enormous emotional and psychological challenge. What I discovered in writing this post was that it’s never too late to have a talk with one’s “younger self.” And since I just watched The Time Traveler’s Wife, you never know how those conversations may impact the future! ;O)

    Comment by Annie — December 29, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  20. Hello, Larry. Obviously your daughter is very fortunate to have you as her dad! I hope the love and open communication continues to nurture both of you.

    Comment by Annie — December 29, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  21. Lovely, Annie! My 15 year old self loves your messages. Not sure how I could get my 15 year old daughter to hear it, though….! That’s the hard part, right?

    Comment by Lynette Mattke — January 6, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  22. Delightful essay. I picked this URL out of my Twitter feed tonight, and I’m glad I did. Good title. :-)

    My advice to my 15-year-old self would be very similar. She wouldn’t believe all the good things that lie ahead. It gets better!

    Comment by Shirley — January 18, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

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