If you had the opportunity to travel back in time to a see a former version of yourself, what year would you revisit and what would you say to yourself?
I think I’d choose 1997. I was 13 years old and brand new to real middle school routine. My elementary school was the only one in the city that put its 6th graders in the middle school, so we got a one-year head start on the experience. And because we were in junior high now, we started to change a bit. We weren’t in the same classroom all day anymore, so we were making friends with other kids we didn’t have classes with before. When we got to 7th grade, all of a sudden all the kids coming from the other elementary schools came to the junior high and we all blended together and it was like being the new kid again… for all of us.
I struggled with the changes I saw in my friends. All three of my closest friends became really popular that year. They were already popular the year before, making friends with the kids who were popular at our elementary school… but now all the popular kids combined to make one massive clique.
I was bothered by this, because I never made the cut. All three of my friends got to be socially accepted and adored, but I was left outside the circle. My friends never forgot about me or stopped hanging out with me, which was impressive and good on them for being true to their own hearts so young, amid peer pressure. But I never just felt satisfied; I wanted to be liked and accepted.
It broke my heart every time there would be a birthday, or a sleepover, and I was the one nobody laughed with or acknowledged. I can remember bugging my one friend about whether or not some of the girls liked me, and her telling me no. How crushing. I get it… I was probably super annoying at that age. But by that time, I had bounced around from school to school, city to city and had constantly made, and abruptly left, friends. My parents were split up, we’d moved a dozen times… even across a border. My mom did a good job raising me and she did the best that she could have as a single mother trying to get by… but the constant moving made it hard to be stable. I probably had a weird personality from my life constantly being uprooted and my routine changed. And my mother was and always will be an excitable, blunt person who often does without thinking and struggled with acceptance herself, which I’m sure rubbed off on me at impressionable ages and made other kids think I was weird.
A lot of these kids came from affluent families, whose parents were likely prominent career-oriented people. White and blue collar families are starkly different in attitude and behaviour, and values. It showed, even in the clothes we wore to school. I never had enough, in my own mind. But it didn’t occur to me then, and didn’t make the ostracising suck any less.
I wish I could go back to 13-year-old me and talk to her. I’d tell her that she doesn’t need to worry about any of this, because being popular in middle school won’t matter. I’d tell her she’s moving that summer anyway and starting fresh somewhere else, and will have an awesome 8th grade year at a nicer school, where the kids are friendlier. I’d show her pictures of the adventures she’ll be going on, and where she’ll work. I’d show her evidence of all the things she’ll accomplish, in spite of how she feels now. I’d show her pictures of what she’ll look like when she’s 23 (the hottest I’ve ever been) and the guys who have liked her over the years. I’d tell her stories of the love she’ll experience so she can feel special and know her own worth. I’d teach her how to dress up the clothes she has to make them in to an individual style that makes her feel good, look classy and be comfortable. I’d tell her all about the friends she’ll have in the future and why they’re more important than some trivial popularity contest. I’d tell her that being herself and not thinking about the other kids will make her more attractive than anyone else. I’d sit down with her and watch 13 Going on 30.
Most importantly, I’d tell her to value the friends she has… the ones who don’t care whether or not they’re on the fringe of popularity or not. The ones who call for her to sit with them at lunch, or want you to be in their group. The ones who pass notes to her in class, the ones who call after school or go with her to hockey games. They’re the real friends. You don’t have to compete for them to like you. You don’t have to meet a standard. I’d tell her that the friends she has that got popular are still real friends, because they still want her around, and she’ll still be talking to them in 20 years. And they’re the only ones who matter out of the entire clique. She already met their standards, and they’ve been around long before these other douchebags. She knows more about them than these other kids do.
I’d do whatever it takes to make her feel good about herself and confident. Then I’d tell her to be more diligent with school, because she’s smart and capable of extraordinary things after high school… and tell her that not every popular kid is. Junior high and high school are not real life. Not even close.