There’s a family that comes into our store most Friday nights to sample beer, catch up, and purchase some beer to take home for the week. They have two kids – a boy who’s about 11 and a girl who’s 13; so, that age where they’re too young to always be off with their friends, but they’re old enough to be like, so embarrassed by having to spend Friday night with their parents.
Last Friday, they stopped in with only their daughter in tow, and as the adults caught up and talked beer, the daughter stood there emitting a combination of quiet patience and eyeroll-suppression that only a teenage girl can truly master. It’s a vibe that says, I’m mature enough to wait patiently for my parents to finish talking, and yet, if you make me wait too long, I’ll start with the sighs, the hunched back, and the arm folding and re-folding – until you stop talking. Teenage girls have such a way with body language.
As they were checking out, Dave complimented the girl’s necklace (maybe in an effort to include her in the conversation, and let her know that we still like her, even though she can’t drink and has no money to spend) which she wore with a button-down shirt. A wave of sadness came over her face as she mumbled “thank you.” A wave of sadness came over me as I realized her outfit appeared to come from J.Crew and I can’t afford to dress as well as this 8th-grader.
Her mom then looked at us and said something to the effect of, she’s mad at us because she was wearing a skimpy top and we made her change before going out. She put her arm around her daughter and said, “I’m sorry, honey. Just because your friends wear a certain style, doesn’t mean you can wear it.”
(All my female peers are now having flashbacks to a fitting room at The Gap/Old Navy/Express in 1999; walking out with something too tight/short, and seeing her mom cock her head sideways and say “try sitting down in that.”)
The girl was looking straight in her mom’s eyes, and then her face got bright red, and I thought, oh man this girl’s going to lose it, right here.
A few tears came out, and her mom gave her a squeeze. And then she said, “And it’s better to play sports than be a cheerleader, right?”
This made her daughter cry a little bit more, because as all women know, there are many layers to every good cry. It’s not just about the shirt – it’s about being different. It’s realizing your life doesn’t look like your friends’ lives in every way possible.
Dave and I are both really good at knowing what to say when people are emotional, like this:
So we assured her that her parents were right. That someday, she’d be glad to be tall and have long legs (although I didn’t say that last part out loud because maybe that’s creepy?). She’d look back and be glad that she spent time doing things she liked and was good at, like playing sports. And that, as hard as it is to believe, boasting about anything in your middle school career (being a cheerleader, for instance) is just not something any adult would ever do. Because of course, when you’re an adult, you’re mostly embarrassed by your middle school self, anyway.
But, for a 13-year-old girl, our reassurances were just noise, because there’s nothing worse than not being able to do something your friends are doing, or being told that you can’t do or be something you so desperately want, except for maybe having to hang out with your parents on a Friday night.
So, it’s easy to look at someone much younger, who’s experiencing those years much like I did, and simply laugh at how much less traumatic this situation will all seem someday. It will seem sad and hilarious, that this was a thing she actually got worked up over. (This past weekend, I watched Titanic with some girlfriends (which is a post for another time) and we all laughed about the things we obsessed about as 13-year-old girls.) But, when you’re in it, and your parents have just told you that you cannot wear this shirt because you’re only 13 and you’re too young for it even though you don’t think you are but TRUST ME…that’s the only thing that matters. Of course you could try to have perspective and think about how, in the grand scheme of life, this tank top debacle is inconsequential. But, are kids generally mature enough to do that? Even adults aren’t mature enough for that, many times. In that moment, you’re upset, and you can’t not think about what this represents. It’s not just that you can’t wear the shirt. It’s that, you’re being told you can’t just be like everyone else. That you may not think it’s fair, but that’s just the way it is.
And now we’ve come to the part where I relate this to myself, because although it would be easier and less revealing to simply write about other people, I have to admit that it’s so easy for me to be like this girl. It’s so easy to get upset about one thing that’s hard in my life, and go into a downward spiral in my mind – to think that, this thing will keep getting harder and harder and it will never work out and I will struggle with it forever.
Lately, Laura and I have been doing this thing where one of us will be having a rough moment and will complain about a certain tough thing about our lives – something that makes us worry about the future, something that we are having a hard time seeing beyond, something that seems like it may never change.
Luckily, we seem to never both be exasperated on the same day. So while one of us shares feelings of fear, or frustration, or worry, the other one will listen and say, “yes, yes, yes, your feelings are legit and I totally hear you etc” but, then, will also say “it won’t always be like this.”
Laura telling me, “it won’t always be like this, I promise,” is one of the most important things I’ve heard recently. It is my “it’s not your fault” of 2015.
(Are you crying, just from seeing that gif? I am.)
Although we grow up and get older and can just smile and laugh about a 13-year-old, whose world is ENDING because her parents made her change (because they love her so much), I find myself still having the fragile spirit and the fearful disposition she does.
I will share my fears, and Laura will say “this will change” and I’ll be like, are you sure?! And then two days later, she’ll share her fears and I’ll say, “this will change.” For some reason, it’s much easier to believe these truths for other people, but we all need someone to believe these things for us, and to say them to our faces, and to keep saying them as often as we need to hear them.
Saying your fears out loud to someone you trust – and listening to what they say in return – is so important.
Laura has been my “it won’t always be like this” girl and that has been so important for me lately. If you have fears or worries about the stage of life you’re in, and you don’t have an “it won’t always be like this” friend, you need one. Certainly we have to live in the moment we’re in, and it’s not a bad thing to let yourself experience emotions and be hurt/upset/etc. And many fears and frustrations we experience may stay with us forever, and may never get easier. But for me, many of my fears surround temporary circumstances in my life, and it can be so hard to look outside of those circumstances. It can be so easy for me to obsess about one specific fear or worry, and not be able to step outside of it and realize that it won’t always be like this.
Sometimes it’s even helpful to look at things I freaked out about in the past – things that seemed like such big deals at the time – and realize, hey that actually worked out just fine. In some ways, I am just like that young girl who can get so upset about present circumstances. The difference is, as a somewhat-mature-ish adult, I need to move beyond a short-sighted reaction and remember, some of the stuff I worry about today won’t matter in three months, six months, a year… and even if it does, I’m not doing myself much good by worrying about it all the time.
Last Friday night, I was relaxing on the couch reading Real Simple (speaking of teens, 13-year-old me would be appalled by how tragically lame my Friday nights can be) and I “read” an article about the hot nail polish trends for this summer. The article said something like, “life is short, so wear some crazy colors,” and because God speaks in mysterious ways, I was so struck by the idea that life is short. I’m not sure what that says about my current state in life, that deep truths are being revealed to me through trend pieces in women’s magazines, but I thought, “holy crap, this style editor is RIGHT. Life IS short!” My life is zipping by and I’m spending so much time being discontent that certain things aren’t exactly how I want them to be RIGHT NOW, and worrying about how the future might not end up how I want it to. That’s not how I want to live. So I feel like, I must attempt to embrace my life as it is, and I should look for perspective when I’m living in fear, and I should listen to people when they say, “it won’t always be like this.” Because it won’t.
And maybe I should try that navy nail polish, too.