Hey you! Yes you, there, with your awful frizzy hair and mouthful of braces. You with your knobby knees and secret love of books about horses. I’d like to give you a few tips to save us both some grief.
That boy is not for you. I know He’s cute, now, with his sandy brown hair, but he’s mean. Not in the “he’s mean because he likes you and you guys are 11” kind of way. He’s mean. There’s something about himself he doesn’t like and he will take it out on you. It’s not his fault, but it’s not yours either—so go ahead and swipe left. Of course, you have no idea what that means because it’s 1996.
Wear the outfit.
You know the one. It was a lime green velour top. You wore it with jeans, clogs and a pair of peach woven socks you took from your mother’s drawer. You liked how the green and peach looked together. No, it didn’t necessarily “match” in the traditional sense, but you liked it. It was the first day of 7th grade and two of your best friends made fun of you when you got to school. (They’ll still be your best friends. They were more worried someone would look too closely at them. It’s called Jr. High. You will still love them in 20 years and they you.) But He was there standing in your group. You tried to be brave. Tried to laugh it off, but you were laughing back tears and he noticed. You excuse yourself to the bathroom before class starts. You took off the socks and stuffed them into your backpack. You dried your tears and fixed the smudges now rimming your eyes from your green mascara. (Don’t worry that trend only lasts a few more months. Glitter sticks around, though. Doesn’t it always?) At lunch he comes up to put his arm around you. He knew you needed it. It saves the first day of a painful year, but this He’s not the one. You’ll still love him in twenty years. He will be one of your very best friends. But still – wear the outfit. Because you wanted to and that’s important.
The summer before 8th grade will be wonderful. This He tells you you’re special and pretty. He gives you butterflies and he’s the first boy to look at you like he sees what you will be in the next ten years. He’s the first boy to see past this glitter eyeshadow thing you have going on and see the potential. See what’s coming next. He’s your first kiss. He’s the first boy to really make you cry. You don’t marry him, but you love him. And when you get older you realize it is completely ok to love people and not be in love with them. Because you’re 13 and there’s so much more coming.
Cut your hair!
I know, I know. This seemed like a huge mistake, but it’s a good one. It’s your first real haircut. You go to the mall with your best friend and your mom. You didn’t really want to, but everyone else is doing it and you think you need to make a statement before high school. You are wrong. You imagine you will look like Meg Ryan or Faith Hill. Maybe even Lindsey from the Real World. You won’t. You’ll know it’s a mistake when he chops off your ponytail and you can’t even feel the hair on the back of your neck. You try not to cry when he turns you around and your cut is that of the boy version of Peter Pan from Hook. With all the bronzer, your skin has taken on a terracotta glow under the lights and you look like a Chia Pet in an Abercrombie Baby T. You buy some sparkly clips at Claire’s but they’re not going to help. All the boys will call you poodle hair. No it’s not clever, but in their defense they’re freshman (and complete idiots). In six months you’ll look like you again, and for the first time in your life – you’ll think it’s a good thing. And it is.
In tenth grade you meet Him. You always knew of Him but never really knew Him. He’s tall and quiet. He walks you to class. Something about Him is sad. He feels like the One, but he can’t possibly be, because it’s tenth grade and you know better. He is different from you in almost every way, but you love him. So much. He’s talented and sweet and brave. He’s the first boy you ever write about. It’s not going to work in college, but years later, when you’re both people and not weird balls of adolescence, he comes back. And it works, because you were right – it was Him.
So, there you have it. We never get very good at dating, but we make some great friends. We don’t blossom into a beautiful swan, but we’re smart. And we’re capable and lots of people love us. We can cook. We can make people laugh. We’re a good friend. We’re a great mom. We’re kind, if still forgetful, and we’re brave. We believe in ourself and are getting better at the whole make-up thing. But here’s the kicker. Here’s what I wish you knew…
You were always this person. You were all of these things and at each point in your life you were worthy – of love and of happiness. You didn’t need someone else to tell you that, not a boy and not me. What I wish I knew then, what I wished you knew now: your first love, little one, with your braces and frizzy hair and awful taste in clothes – should be you.
Liza is the author and illustrator of the children’s books Is Lena Pretty? and People Aren’t Socks. She has a Chemistry degree from Texas A&M University and likes to plug that whenever she gets a chance. She has a daughter, a husband and an English Bulldog named Dexter (yes, after the fictional serial killer). She enjoys sewing, reading, running, cheese and subliminally forcing her political views on others. Two years ago she quit her job to be a writer. Then she got pregnant. Then she got cancer. So, things are going well. You can follow Liza onTwitter, Instagram, Facebook and technically in real life, though she doesn’t really like that.