In this month’s Montreal Families Magazine cover story, I explain to my eight-year-old why she can’t have a Facebook account. Even though she really, really want one. Even though it’s not fair and I’m the meanest mommy in the whole world (for that moment anyway).
Maya sidled up to me the other day to watch a funny video I had found on Facebook. When the giggling subsided, my 8-year-old daughter became unusually quiet. This is usually a sign she’s got something brewing, so I mentally steeled myself for the ensuing debate. After a few seconds, she looked at me with a determined expression and asked:“Why can’t I have a Facebook account?”
It was not the first time she had asked me this question. And we both knew that I had a well-developed list of reasons for saying no. But this time my precocious third-grader had her arguments at the ready. Eyes narrowed and brow furrowed, she launched into her opening arguments. She only wanted to play games on it. A number of her friends are on Facebook (actually, we only personally know two her age). Her two sisters were allowed to have Facebook accounts when they were 11, and were they really that much more mature than she is now?
Ever wonder what you might say to your younger self, if only you could pass on the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout your teens, twenties, thirties or beyond?
This isn’t the same thing as writing out a mini-lecture to your own kids, full of rules, warnings and admonishments. It’s about taking the time to think through the hard lessons learned through experience, the insights gleaned from our regrets, the pride in choices well made or effort exerted. It occurred to me that this was a worthwhile exercise for anyone, parent or not, who worked with kids. You might also learn something about yourself.
If you’re willing to try it, let me know (info@risk-within-reason). Feel free to forward and share your notes to your younger self with your partner, your friends, or a friendly parenting blogger and educational consultant. Or fold it up and tuck it into a hiding place where no one else will find it. Or write and burn it. All good.
Dear 12-year-old me,
Hi there. It’s me, only older and with a few more lines on our face. And maybe a few extra pounds. But things are actually pretty good where we’re at right now. We’re happy. Really happy. We’ve gone one to do some wonderful things and meet some fabulous people. And maybe make a few mistakes along the way.
Mistakes are mostly OK. That’s how everyone learns. You just hope they don’t have irrevocable consequences and no one gets hurt by our ignorance or stubbornness. But see, that’s what I wanted to tell you. Looking back from middle age, there’s a few things I would love us to have known when we were 12. When everything seemed new and exciting and shiny. And a little scary.
Now that we have 12-year-old daughters of our own, it all seems so much clearer. I know they have to make their own mistakes, just like we did. But it’s hard not to try passing on some of the stuff we picked up along the way.
First thing, grow a backbone. Don’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Do what feels right. About the way we look. About our interests, beliefs and choices and even what we want to do on Saturday night. Honestly, from our perspective 28 years down the line, it won’t matter if we stayed home with some good books now and again instead of suffering through outings we went on out of some misplaced social anxiety.
For the few short years of high school, it seems so important to fit in, and have people approve of what you wear or who your friends are, or who you date. But as soon as you get past those years, you see that the people who rise above that are the truly interesting, original thinkers. The ones who go on to do amazing things with their lives, contribute to the world and find their own standard for happiness. It really does get better.
Don’t ever do anything that feels wrong just to be cool. Nothing good ever comes from drinking too much or trying drugs. You’re never going to impress those popular kids anyway, so just forget them. They aren’t worth it. Some of them will grow up to be just as irritating as adults as they were as teenagers: any 40-year-old woman I’ve known since childhood who still doesn’t smile at me out of courtesy when we pass in the grocery store aisle deserves my pity, not my outrage.
Cultivate our interests. Really interesting, successful people are well read, well-travelled, curious about others. They pay attention to what’s happening around them. They are engaged with the people the meet for their unique contributions. People genuinely like to be around them for who they are, not just what they can offer on a practical level.
Don’t worry so much about boys. Mom was right about this one. Have a fulfilling life, friendship circle and career — don’t wait for a man to come around and complete it. (That being said, and as an aside we wouldn’t have listened to anyway, I’d take a more critical look at Ted G. when we’re 16. Behind those blue eyes was a pompous idiot, but it took us 10 years of reflection to figure that out. Mom was right about that too, although she had the self-discipline to let us figure it out on our own.)
Cherish our friends. Forget the drama. We don’t fully appreciate how wonderful our high school girlfriends are until years later. Keep an eye out for each other. The boys that seem so important in high school are just memories now, but we still speak to almost all of the wonderful women those girls became.
Don’t wish any of this time away. It’s hard to see when you’re 12, but time totally runs away from you. We spend so much time wishing high school would end and our lives would finally start that we sometimes forget they already have. Even dark November Mondays or exam weeks, or the 5 days before summer break. All of those are days to be cherished. Because you know what? We never get to be 12 years old again.
Don’t give up math classes in grade 10. Probably the biggest mistake we ever make. We work hard to be a top-tier student, and although we totally love that grade 11 North American Literature course, not taking pre-calculus has some far-reaching implications down the line. I know math can be a big of a slog for us, but it’s one worth taking on.
Aim for great, not just good. We like to be comfortable, but it never works out when we settle for good enough. Takes us a while to figure this out, but we do get it in the end.
Don’t stop writing in our journal.
Listen to mom about almost everything (except the dress she’ll recommend for Jamie’s bar mitzvah).
There are a few other things I’d love to throw in:
forget the perm in 9th grade – BAD IDEA
take all of our meagre savings and buy stocks in a company called Apple. Or Research in Motion. Or Google.
carefully check the destination sign for each car on overnight trains to Switzerland so we wake up in Geneva, and not somewhere else
do NOT eat that turkey sub from D’Angelos in October 1994
avoid roommates with OCD and heroin junkie boyfriends when we get to grad school
wear sunscreen every day
These extra hints should probably be against the rules. But since I’m making up the rules, and we won’t listen to them anyway, what the hell.
And last but not least, take a moment every day to appreciate everyone who loves you, even if they just seem really annoying, incomprehensible and stupid to our 12-year-old eyes. Honestly, this is the most important thing we will ever learn.
They don’t believe in Santa anymore. They don’t fill Christmas wish lists with requests for ponies or pogo sticks or Easy Bake Ovens. They don’t wake us up at the crack of dawn to open the pillowcase of presents on their beds, or rush downstairs to see if Santa ate the cookies they’d left for him. They don’t cram their mouths full of chocolate Chanukah gelt or spend hours playing dreidel games on the kitchen floor while I fry up the latkes.
But they also don’t fight over who gets to build which gingerbread house, or whose turn it is to light the Chanukah candles. They see me cleaning up the spilled candy and offer to help. They ask if, instead of a big bag of Christmas presents, we can use some of the money to send them to summer camp. They grate the potatoes alongside me, and can help flip the latkes without me worrying about the house burning down. They set the table for our annual holiday dinner party, and wipe down the guest bathroom.
They can spend whole days out skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing without temper tantrums and naptimes. We can watch movies without animated characters. They help carry in the wood for the fireplace and walk the dog.
Our holidays are different now that our three girls are no longer small children. Since we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas (my husband and I have different backgrounds), December has always been particularly hectic and exciting. We have an eight-year-old who still (sort of) believes in Santa Claus, so we still get to tiptoe up to their beds tonight and drop off the bag of gifts, but the edge of magic has worn off for our 12-year-old twins.
It’s a different kind of magic now. One that has less to do with flying reindeer and is more about concentrated family time at a cottage by a snow-covered lake, where their cellphones don’t work and we aren’t competing with friends for their attention. The work of cooking and cleaning is divided between more hands, so we are less exhausted. There is definitely still bickering and sibling rivalry, but it’s less likely to end in tears and time-outs.
We’ve become aware that the kind of family Christmases we have with our children is changing. And we’ve begun to conceive of a time when one or two or even all three may be off travelling or spending time with a boyfriend’s family during the holidays instead of us (gulp). It makes these few days all the more precious and wonderful. That’s a special kind of magic.
I wish this kind of family magic to all of you this holiday season. Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or just winter, savour some of that special time with your kids. Because it doesn’t last forever.
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