There is a podcast that I listen to called “Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids.” It’s an eclectic collection of diaries, letters, stories — anything written a long time ago that the writer is brave enough to read aloud at a live event. At the beginning of each episode the host says, “This stuff is weird, it is wonderful and some of it can explain why we turned out the way we did.”
One of the hardest things for kids to grasp is that parents didn’t start out life as parents, that we were where they are. We had to turn into parents from kids who had the same basic package of insecurities, inexperience and desires to “just be normal” as they do.
We were them, in a way, but childhood you is never going to meet childhood them to prove it.
Unless, perhaps, you clean out a drawer.
Deep in my nightstand I pulled out a brown, pleather book with a cracked spine. “Private pages” was printed on the front, paper souvenirs were stuffed between the pages. It was one of my old journals.
I opened to a random page, read, blushed then slammed it shut.
Scarlet with embarrassment I found that page again, snapped a picture and texted it to a sister-friend since we were 5: the former teenage girl who was mentioned in the passage. “Cringe.”
My phone dinged, she knew exactly what it was. “Skim the pages lightly with a large glass of wine.”
It was too early for wine, so I brewed a cup of tea and slowly flipped. My eyes caught a few entries that I would have been happy to never read again: the time a much older boss had made a pass at a 17-year-old me; how I felt when I learned I was lied to by a steady boyfriend; a night that ended in the ER with a guy who had taken a scary number of pills.
“What are you reading?” my daughter, Bekah, asked.
She peeked over my shoulder. You don’t peek over someone’s shoulder when they are cringe reading their high school journal. I snapped it closed.
“Messages from Teenage me.”
“Can you read me something from it? Maybe from when you were my age?”
I went through some pages. “Not that…or that…oh, umm…no…how about some New Year’s resolutions?”
Then, just like all the readers on the podcast, this grownup read things I wrote as a kid.
“Lose weight. Try and look my best at all times…”
“Teenage you was kind of vain,” she interrupted.
“Teenage me was kind of insecure,” I corrected. “Be less shy, less inhibited and more outgoing…”
“Wait. You were shy?!”
“Past tense, yes. Guess that was a resolution I kept.” I kept going. “Save money. Decide on a college. Don’t be so gullible. Don’t let simple fears hold me back from doing things...”
“You wrote this?” She asked, “I could have written this. You were me?”
“…Learn to skate backwards...”
“OH MY GOSH! You were me!”
“…Keep all New Year’s resolutions.”
“Did you?” she asked.
“Young Susan checked off the ones she kept, it seems she thought fear was still holding her back, so no.”
“What about the next year?”
Good question. I flipped the page.
“That year’s list begins with a challenge to accept all opportunities handed to me, seek out those that aren’t handed and make the most out of all of them.”
“Sounds like good advice. How did it end?”
I thought about it for a moment. The journal entries were weird and wonderful (and a little boring) but more importantly they did help to explain to me and to my daughter how I turned out the way I did.