Liam is obsessed with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” For a parent who has tried everything in my power to encourage this reluctant reader, there is no greater joy than catching him sneaking off to read just a few more pages. I pass by his room and hear him laughing out loud as he reads well past his bed time.
A few days ago, he asked if he could have his own diary. A kid requesting to read AND write? Yes! We hopped on Amazon and ordered a diary straight away. His little brother, wanting in on this action (or probably just wanting to buy something new) also requested a diary. A panda lover since day one, Kellen selected this journal, which is perhaps the most adorable diary in existence.
Liam asked if I ever kept a diary, and I told him I’ve been keeping diaries, in one form or another, since I was a kid. He said he’d like to see them, so I broke into the way back archive and found a couple of my first diaries. My husband came home and saw them on the counter. He teasingly asked me if I had any of those “Dear Diary: I like so-and-so, but he doesn’t even know I exist” entries. The book contained at least one:
I hoped that the diary would be filled with cute little notes like that. But the other entries did not leave those warm fuzzy feelings in my heart. I was reminded of how honest, mean, and unintentionally cruel kids can be.
If memory serves, Kelly did not stay at our school very long. As an adult, I wondered if she ever found a school where kids made her feel comfortable as she walked the halls. In an entry dated a few weeks later, I noted that “Kelly is not so bad. She’s just careful.” Having no memory of what this entry referred to, I can only debate what an eleven year old would have to be “careful” about.
I was always a sensitive kid. Probably why my mom bought me a diary in the first place. I had a lot of emotions, and didn’t quite know what to do with them. As I got older, most of those feelings manifested in the forms of lack of confidence and self loathing.
Entry after entry of angst, sadness, anger and self pity. My heart breaks when I read them. I want to hug my younger self, then grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say “Be gentle. Be kind. You’ll get there.” I look at my sweet boys, eager to write in their diaries so they can emulate a book character, I wonder what I can do to ease them through these tumultuous upcoming years. Can they be spared those moments of blistering self doubt? Can I guide them through the adolescent confusion with grace and support? What did I need that I didn’t get? Or, is this something we all just have to muddle through?
I recently watched a documentary called “Salinger.” As you might surmise, it is about the notoriously reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, famous for “The Catcher in the Rye.” I thought back to reading “Catcher.” I can’t remember if I read it as part of an assignment in high school, or if I read it on my own, but I know I was in my late teens when I read it for the first time.
I recall not getting the hype around the book. It was just a story about a dopey kid like me. I kept waiting for a big moment, a plot twist. But it was just a screwed up teenager doing the stuff teenagers do. Big whoop.
After watching the documentary, I decided to read the book again, curious what my take would be on it as an adult. It is sort of strange the way little things can whisk you back in time. I ordered a used copy of the book on Amazon (are there any other places to buy things?) and the copy that arrived looked exactly like the one I read in high school. I looked on the side, and noted the names scrawled in blue ink. I was transported back to the halls with muted silver lockers and bells signaling two minutes before the start of the next period.
As I read the book, I talked with family and friends to see what they remembered from reading “Catcher.” Many, like me, read it in high school, and also came away thinking what’s the big deal? My mother-in-law wondered what I would think reading it now, for fun, rather than as a student searching for the main character and use of foreshadowing. I found it kind of funny, when I came across a note in the margin, noting that “the main character’s name is Holden.”
Looking back through my journals, I was struck by the accuracy of Salinger’s writing, how he captures exactly what it feels like to be a teenager through his words. Throughout the book, when Holden wants to add extra emphasis to an idea, he often says “I really do.” Of course, we all remember Salinger’s use of the word phony- he uses it 35 times. Looking back at my own journals, I found those same patterns in my writing.
I was talking with a girlfriend last week who was having a bought of the “it was so much simpler then” nostalgia. We are parents and employees now. Our lives are schedules, and packing lunches, and purchases online to avoid time consuming trips to the store. There is, I’m going to say it, a ZERO percent chance of spontaneity. We might as well remove the word from our vocabulary. During this conversation, she summed it up well- “Being up until sunrise and not paying for it for days. The basics of life. A coffee pot, a blanket, and a friend. That was it really.”
We all have those moments where we wish we could go back. Not for long. But maybe just a day. An evening to see where the night could take you, without thought of having to get up with the kids or what item was on the morning schedule. Last month, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought concert tickets. I used to be a person who went to concerts. Now, I find myself wondering what was I thinking? I have to find a sitter. I’m going to have to deal with parking. I can’t enjoy a beer at the show because I’m doing a Whole 30 because adults have to consider BMI’s and blood pressure and getting more vegetables into your diet. So now, I’m going to be old, tired AND sober at a concert. This does not sound fun. Drawing while listening to an NPR podcast and going to bed at 9:30pm- now that’s awesome.
I enjoyed “Catcher” so much more this time. I could appreciate it’s incisiveness. I bowed down to Salinger as a master of capturing the despair of being a teen- and was so happy to have already lived through it and came out the other side.
Always on a quest for self improvement, I found a couple entries from my junior year of high school- an attempt to map out what I want from life.
I was struck by the idea that I would “give up everything to be a mother.” While the idea of parenting a child is a very mature task, it seems purely adolescent to think you have to give up everything to do it. The best parents, in my humble opinion, are the ones who teach their children about the richness of life’s experiences. They are people outside of being mommies and daddies, with hobbies and interests and ambitions of their own.
I will say, I nailed it in regards to picking a spouse. Ben happens to have all the qualities I listed, including the ever popular sense of humor. He’s even “modern” although I have no idea what I meant by that at the time. Perhaps that we take equal turns cooking dinner and mopping the floor? Whatever I meant, I’m sure he fits the bill.
I guess if I could go back, I would tell myself I achieved all those goals I set. I did in fact become a mother. I even became an author and teacher of sorts. That’s the thing though- as a teenager, you have finite goals. As an adult, you understand the nuances. I didn’t finish my teaching degree. I became an instructional assistant. My teenage mind would most likely see that as a failure. I didn’t achieve the thing I said I would. As an adult, I understand I made that decision with careful consideration, and am lucky to have found a job that meets the needs of myself and my family, and still allows me to work with students. I may not have completed that novel I dreamed of in high school, but through on-going writing I’ve found maybe I’m not a novelist. I still write and feel satisfied with what I have produced. Did I lower my expectations? Or has experience given me insight into what goals would truly make me happy?
I was driving to work yesterday, and I had an overwhelming feeling of peace, as if I had found my place in the world. I thought back to this entry when I was begging God or anyone who would listen for a moment of relief.
Hopefully, I have a few years before my sons start to experience real angst. But as they embark on that confusing, sometimes heart-wrenching voyage, maybe this moment of reflection will offer some guidance to my parenting. Listen to them. Hug them a lot. Tell them I love them. Remind them that life is not about finite decisions- there is fluidity. As long as we have breath, we can make change. Experience brings insight- don’t ignore new information. Be kind. Be gentle. It’s ok to still be figuring it out.
Also, keep journals. They will offer you a nice opportunity to say “thank God that’s over with” in the future.