Once upon a time I wrote a letter to a little girl in an old photograph. That little girl had her EYES ON THE PRIZE.
(The prize was a tin full of Mom’s crispy chocolate chip cookies. Or maybe it’s just nice to remember it that way. Maybe the prize was really half of a sleeve of double stuffed Oreos, still crinkly from the package.)
I’m not quite sure why, but I want to write to her again. To that little girl, with her forever dirty feet and her feather-soft halo of hair. Did she know that her hair would turn curly, one day?
I wish I could tell her that it’s a blessing, not to look exactly like everybody else. That for years, she’ll wake up wanting to lay those wonderful waves straight across an ironing board. She’ll horrify her mother. But one day, a boy with lanky legs will toss her into a freezing cold lake, and she’ll come up sputtering for air, with wayward wisps already beginning to frame her face. He’ll wrap the wet strands around his thumb, around and around, and they’ll spring right back. No permanent damage done.
I wish I could tell her that permanent damage does happen, will happen. That one day she’ll see two people she loves begin the awkward procedure of getting to un-know each other. She’ll watch them gently try to disentangle themselves, and half of her will want to hand them the scissors and half of her will want to hide them. I want to tell her that it’s okay to feel grown and not grown.
I want to tell her that it’s normal to feel every feeling across every spectrum ever. That one day she’ll discover there’s a big difference between deciding to leave and knowing where to go, and she will find this gap very, very unsettling.
I want to tell her that we see what we want to see, when we’re ready to see it. That she’ll have to remember to be patient with herself.
I want to tell her that she may waltz with depression, a time or two. I want to tell her that the quicker she can let go of other people’s expectations, the happier she will be. I want to tell her that there will be a lot of shoulds, but the only thing she should be doing is listening that little voice, the one that’s getting stronger all the time. Whether it’s telling her to hole herself up in a coffee shop, or run like the wind.
I want to tell her that she’s still growing, all of the time. That all of this growing can be very tiring and she needs to remember to take a break, sometimes. For chocolate and for cheese and for whatever else feels right.
I want to tell her that it’s not uncommon to wish for hard and fast rules, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. I know she wants one. But that boy? He’s not the answer. That city? That job? That gelato? Well, maybe, that gelato.
I want to tell her that it ought to be a relief, to know that there are no real rules she’s supposed to be following. But I know that it feels like there are. I want to tell her that the person setting the rules is a workaholic, an anorexic, a person she doesn’t want to be.
I want to tell her to think of herself as a house with good bones. But not as a fixer-upper, not as a project. I want to tell her that she’s someone’s dream home, just as she is. I want to tell her that someday the cobwebs will be cleared out, and the windows will be thrown wide open, and sunshine will positively spill into the streets.
I want to tell her that she’s allowed to fail without being a failure. That she’s allowed to make mistakes without becoming one. That nobody passes or fails at being a person. I want her to see what a silly thought that is, and I want her to shake off the feeling that comes with it.
I want to tell her that once upon a time she climbed trees without worrying about falling. I want to tell her that she’ll get back there — that she’s already halfway there.