I saw the movie Eighth Grade for the second time a few nights ago. The first time I saw it with a group of girlfriends at the the theater. The second time I watched it at home with my daughter who just started 9th grade. The movie is hard to watch, kind of like 8th grade itself. It is full of awkward, cringy moments that make you want to turn your head and say, “no, no, no.”
It was so helpful to see the movie with my daughter because it enabled me to empathize with where she is in life in a way that I honestly don’t do very well. I tend to look at my two teenagers (I also have a 7th grade son) and measure them against my adult expectations. I expect them to know what I know, to have figured out the complicated, complex structure of friendships, crushes, popularity, carving out your own identity that’s separate from your parents’, and surviving gym class. And kids today have to do this on the very public stage of the internet, which raises the stakes significantly and makes everything that much more fraught with risk and drama. It’s a lot.
Since re-watching Eighth Grade, I have been trying to remember back to how I felt at that time in my life, who I was in the eighth grade. Ugh, talk about cringy. Adult me would have a field day correcting, nagging, over-analyzing and fretting over 8th grade me. My kids are ten times more mature and together than 8th-grade me was. Sorry, mom!
So, here is my letter to my 8th grade self…. By the way, if you’ve never written a letter to your former self, I highly recommend it. People spend a lot of money for this kind of stuff in therapy! I know I have!
Dear 8th-grade Elizabeth,
Here’s the hard truth. I’m 43 and I still don’t know everything. I still feel like I’m back in 8th grade a lot of the time. But I have gathered a few little nuggets of wisdom along the way. Not because I was necessarily searching for them, more like they hit me on the head like acorns when I was walking by.
Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew then:
- No one is thinking about you nearly as much as you are thinking about you. At first this sounds depressing because, really? They aren’t? But ultimately, it is incredibly freeing because you can stop worrying so much about pleasing everyone all the time.
- Typing class will be one of the most important classes you ever take. Seriously. You have no idea how much you will type later in life.
- Don’t worry about being popular, worry about what kind of friend you are to the people you care about most. Are you kind? Do you sit with friends when they are hurting? Do you celebrate their victories like they are your own? Do you tell them how much they mean to you? Sadly, adult you has screwed this up a bunch. But I have had some really great friends teach me how to do this better.
- It’s okay to be friends with all kinds of people. You don’t need to think so much about what group they are in and whether that group is one that you fit into. People are more complicated than you realize. Cheerleaders are funny. Theater people can be quiet. Orchestra kids like to get crazy sometimes. Even adults are guilty of dismissing entire groups of people. Adult you goes to church every Sunday, tends to vote democratic, secretly loves going to Hobby Lobby and has a mix of hardcore rap and worship songs on her running mix. People are not just one thing so don’t put them in a box.
- Don’t worry about whether you are good enough or smart enough or popular enough or pretty enough. You are enough. You don’t have to prove your worth. But you do have to believe in it.
- I know sometimes you are nervous to look people in the eye and say hi first, but you should try it every now and then. People like getting a smile and a hello from you. And everyone’s a little nervous to say hi first. Not just you.
- Go outside and exercise a little bit everyday. Grown-up you figured this out way later in life. You tend to get sad and hopeless when you don’t move your body. It is amazing how much better a little fresh air and exercise make you feel. Even better than eating Oreos and watching Carol Burnett reruns after school. Well, a different kind of better.
- You have grown A LOT in the last few years. You went from wearing kids’ clothes to women’s clothes practically over night. That would make anyone feel awkward and like they barely recognize themselves. You will get used to this new body of yours. And then just when you are used to it, it will change again. And again. And then you will have children and it will really change. The only constant with bodies is that they are always changing. This is a good thing though. Our bodies are just an outer shell, like a little cocoon. We spend our whole lives inside of our body cocoons trying to become butterflies. When that happens, we won’t need them anymore.
- You will try to wear your hair in bangs at different times throughout your life. Here’s the thing. Feel free to try, but it never works out.
- As you get older you will try on different personas–pep squad captain, angsty teen, girlfriend, artsy young adult, over-protective new mom, working mom, PTA mom. These are just a few that spring to mind; there are many more identities you will try out. But remember this: no matter how you dress or what your life is currently focused on, always remember you are a child of God who is loved and valued for simply being you. You don’t have to try to BE something in particular. The goal is just to be who you are. That’s when your light can really shine.
- Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. No matter what anyone tells you or YOU tell you, you are a writer. A real one. Words hover around you like little hummingbirds that flit here and there looking for nectar. You can’t see them, but they are there. Your job is to sit your butt down in a chair and be very still so that the words will come to you. You never know when they are going to come, so you have to be in the chair with your hands and heart open as much as you possibly can. Promise me you’ll do this? Pinky promise?