Thursday, May 21, 2009

Letter to my 15-year-old self

A few weeks ago a British newspaper asked some famous writers to compose a letter to themselves as teenagers. It was such an interesting exercise that I thought I'd try it myself. So here's my letter to 15-year-old Mary:

Dear Me,

You look very young. I know the last thing you want is more advice from another adult, but I’m different from the others. I am you. I have walked in the very Capezios you’re now wearing. I’ve slept in your bed, shared that one bathroom with the rest of the family, and agonized over hair, pimples, and carpools to school.

Nothing I say here will keep you from those agonies and doubts, but perhaps you can just hang on to what I tell you and know that you survive – and survive quite well. It wouldn’t be fair to avoid the pain of adolescence. In many ways it prepares you for the wider world in which you will have to live out your life. But I think I can ease your heart and mind about a few things.

First, you’re right about algebra. Totally useless. Accountants, engineers, and little hand-held calculators will sort that out for you. Just pass the damn classes and move on.

Also, the infamous “permanent record” that your teachers hold over your head is a hoax. Beyond high school, no one cares a flip about it. Trust me. Stop quaking over that one.

Don’t fight Daddy about getting braces. You’ll thank your lucky stars he made you get your teeth straightened during the first two years of college. Go with it.

Pay close attention to 1968. It turns out to be a watershed year. I know you’ll be busy with school work and boyfriends and school productions, but do stick your head up every now and then to mark what’s going on. It’ll be the subject of studies and documentaries for the rest of your life.

And your current crushes? Believe me, if you could see what they look like and what they’re doing in 2009, you will be ever grateful that they broke your teenage heart during high school. I know you’ll think otherwise while you’re going through it, but, really, no great losses.

Let me assure you from the start that your 2009 self has a smart, beautiful, wonderful 26-year-old daughter. Being a mother won’t always be easy, but it’ll be fun. Wait and see. Lots of love and lots of pride.

Another assurance: you do get out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. In fact, you get out sooner than you can imagine. Once you leave for college, you never live there again, except for a couple of summers. Atlanta will be your long and lasting home, as you always knew it would be. But it won’t be the only place you live. Without going into the whys and wherefores, look forward to: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; St. Paul, Minnesota; Oxford, England; New York City. Enjoy old Chattanooga for a few more years. You won’t be there much longer.

And another thing: Don’t worry so much about what you’re going to be when you grow up. You seem to have a Midas touch where careers are concerned. You’ll flounder around a bit until your mid-20’s, when you land a perfect job for yourself at a little Atlanta television station that grows into a major network. You’ll also teach high school, write and create commercials, and wind up doing exciting mission work for the church. (And not the Baptist one.) Your jobs will take you to cool, interesting places and you'll meet wonderful people. Alas, you’ll never be rich. Can’t have everything. But enjoy your career and faith journeys, you lucky girl!

Forget the image of the future you have from the Jetsons. We are still not driving cars through space or wearing clothes as cool as Jane Jetson’s in 2009. But incredible things will be commonplace for you - computers, microwave ovens, tiny little portable phones with instant access to people and information all over the world. Really.

In 2009, you are still good friends with your childhood buddies – Sharon and Susan, Linda, Emily, and a handful of others. Modern technology lets you connect with lots of childhood neighbors and friends on a daily basis. Nurture those friendships. They only get stronger.

One constant throughout: Family is the most important thing. Our big crazy family stays close and caring. You’ll love seeing the children and grandchildren of our generation. There are losses along the way, but this family remains loving and committed to one another. It’s a gift to cherish all your life. And the crazy things that happen when we get together in 1966 will be re-told with love in 2009.

There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises you have in store. Yes, there are some hard, bad things, but 90% of your life is just wonderful. You love and are loved. So have faith in yourself. Be nice to people. Don’t worry about the boys and Booster Club. They mean nothing even in the short-run. Relax. Don’t be so uptight. Enjoy the ride!

Love from across the years,


Anonymous said...

Great letter, Sis! But, but,but you mean to tell me the "permanent record" really doesn't matter??? Damn, I'm 64 and still waiting and just knowing that someday, somebody was going to pull out some kind of long scroll and tell me I can't do something because I had to go to Mr. Bible's office in 1958 or that I served five detentions under Dean Henry in 1961 (skipping school and
St. Catherine ratted me out)... You mean nobody cares??? Phewwww! What a weight has been lifted. Thanks!!!

jomoore said...

How wonderful! You've made me laugh and cry in one post.

My own letter would be very short. It would say, "Cheer up, it's not worth it!"

P.S. Mary's Bro - Did you really have a teacher called Mr Bible?

MaryB said...

Oh, Bro - yeah, no need to look over your shoulder about that permanent record anymore. Any damage that Mr. Bible or Dr. Henry could do to you is long past. I found that out during my very early years at Turner when I asked my boss if he'd checked that record (as threatened for so many years by teachers) before hiring me. He laughed so hard, the coffee came out of his nose. So the fact that I was sent to the principal's office repeatedly in elementary school for running my mouth or the time I was sent to Mr. Bible's office in junior high for having a copy of the "words" to "Louie, Louie," is no longer a big old guillotine over my neck. Celebrate!

Jo - yes, our junior high school principal's name was Virgil Bible. Virgil. Bible. Hmmmmm. "Bible Belt" took on a whole new meaning with him. :-)

Joshy B said...

Chattanooga still isn't too bad. We have progressed a lot but I now live in Red Bank , still not N.Y.
I know but we do go to the Moving pictures on occassion. You did turn out pretty good, the permanent record was a bunch of crap...found out about that in military school. The Alegbra was correct. Totally useless. That's why calculators were invented.

MaryB said...

Jay - no, actually Chattanooga is a lot cooler now than it was when I was little. And it was a great place to grow up. But we spent an awful lot of time in Atlanta, and I learned from an early age that I like bright lights and big cities! It was always going to be ATL for me.

Anonymous said...

If I thought for one moment that I could tell a younger me something, it would simply be to follow the Golden Rule. Oh, the mistakes I did make by not following that one little rule.

MaryB said...

Yessir - I agree. That's why I put in "Be nice to people." I certainly did my share of non-Golden Rule things along the way.

jomoore said...

By the way - I use algebra. Usually to work out percentages. Honestly. If only I could remember how to work out percentages...

Virgil Bible. Excellent.

MaryB said...

Jo - I don't use algebra to figure percentages - only simple multiplication. Or a calculator. ;-) And I'm sure algebra MUST be useful to someone, but that someone ain't me.

Anonymous said...

Your grandchildren will be grateful for this one day, as I am today. I love you.


Liz Hinds said...

That's a fantastic letter, mary. Just right: enough of the good with a hint of the bad. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all receive these letters when we're going through the agonies of teen years?

Anonymous said...

Boy...I just love this letter Mary. What a hoot...and very touching too. Virgil Bible...Hee, Hee. Love, Joy

Dianne, Dee, Mom, Granny said...

I've just invited my 40-year-old daughter to read your blog and then write her 15-year-old self a letter, Mary. She is the frazzled mother of a 16-year-old son, and I think your blog will give her the same healthy, loving perspective it gave me. The only thing more painful than being the parent of a teenager is being the teenager him/herself!

Dianne, Dee, Mom, Granny said...

P.S. Plane geometry, in my humble opinion, was even more useless. Is that even required for graduation now?

Walter said...

I just googled Virgil Bible and this site popped up. Too funny. It seems as if HIS record is the only one being scrutinized these fifty years later. Is this poetic justice or what? Mr. Tichenor and I got into a heated discussion once and another teacher reported it. Mr. Bible sent for me and, being as he and his "board of education" were already quite familiar with my backside, he was about to administer another one. Mr. Tichenor came in and defended me and finally told ol Virgil that if he was going to whip me, he would have to whip him also. I loved that old man (J.E. Tichenor) for that. I kept in touch with him until after I got out of the Navy. Bless his heart. And Mr. Bible's also.
I loved the Letter to yourself. I tried writing one to myself but, I never could believe that guy. Good luck to you all.
Walter McCarty

MaryB said...

Walter, Mr. Tichenor was my 8th grade homeroom teacher (and history, too, natch). He was hilarious! Actually, he paddled me twice. Long story.I survived!