Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dear Me, You're All Right

When I cleaned out files and binders in my office at the close of school, I found a legal envelope with letters written by my seventh grade students in 1998. It was May, nearing the end of the year, and I had asked my classes to write letters to themselves, imagining they would be reading them ten years later. And that was my promise to my students, that I would find them and return their letters when they were 23 years old.

Alas, I missed my deadline; it's been thirteen years since those thirteen-year-olds confided in themselves. But I got busy right away, tracking them down. Thanks to Facebook and its spider-web networks, discovering one former student led to finding three more, and on...and once students got over the creepiness of receiving a cryptic message from an old teacher ("Hi! I have something to send you...can you me message me your address?"), I began hearing back from them.

The letters I returned, which I sent along with a new one from me and my Directions for Living, were variously deep and superficial, with tones influenced by the mood of that moment in May.  My middle schoolers chronicled fallout from divorces, arguments with friends and parents, and fears (including being kidnapped and becoming fat).  They included diagrams of their bedrooms and drawings of their favorite clothing.  They gave shout-outs to the Back Street Boys, South Park, Delia's, Jack Purcells, Wet Seal, Dawson's Creek, and the Titanic movie.  Many demonstrated admirable self acceptance, though they also wished they didn't have as many pimples.  And one of my students grumbled that he was "wrighting this for Ms. M (mean teacher)." 

The best part of reaching back thirteen years and into the present of these people with whom I shared three hours a day for nine months is the responses they've had to themselves. 

A former student shared on Facebook, "Wow. Just received a letter from my 7th grade teacher written by my 13 year old self to my future self. Cars still don't fly and I did not become an actress but... life is good. :)"

Another wrote to me, "Thank you for believing in me even when all the other kids thought I was a weirdo."
One woman sent me this moving reflection (and permission to include it here):
"When I saw what this was and before I read it, I have to be honest I was really nervous. I'm not sure why...maybe that I was completely different now, that I didn't become what I had envisioned, that I wouldn't like the way I sounded/what I though as a kid, I don't know. But as I read it I actually liked this 13 year old girl a lot. It's amazing how little I knew, how much has changed, how the big things then are the little things now and little things then are the big things now. So bizarre, and wonderful.

If I wrote a letter today to my 13 year old self, it would say in it that I am doing exceptionally well and I am happy, healthy and thriving. That I would eventually find confidence in my looks but more importantly in my brains, my talents, and my ability to be independent.
And that I would go through heartbreak, disappointment, rejection with friends, lovers and employers, that I would make mistakes. But it would lead me to where I wanted..."

How eloquently put by a once-amazing thirteen-year-old and now confident, accomplished woman. 

I feel similarly, that I love myself so much better, more deeply, and authentically now than I did at that awkward age. 

In honor of my students from 1998, and of accepting and embracing our inner middle-schooler, I transcribe here an entry from my 8th grade journal:  February 14, 1985.

The Two Sides of My Personality

One side likes Mike so much she daydreams constantly.  The other side distorts this into a a silly, giggly boy chasing teenager.

One side of me is crazy, wild, show-offy.  The other side is always trying to be neat, wants to be an athlete, tries to exercise and be perfect.

One side of me is nice to people all the time, the other side acts snobby sometimes. 

Both sides of me try to outdo myself and other people in sports.

One side of me tries to (tell) make myself that I'm great, attractive, etc.  The other side convinces myself that I'm not so great, that I'm selfish, ugly, fat.

One side is sad, actress-like, the other side is usually cheerful. 

There are more sides of my personality, I'm sure.  But I'm not sure what side I'd like most people to see. 


Kate said...

I think I am most impressed that your handwriting is still pretty much EXACTLY the same as it was in 1985.

Mama Deb said...

This might be one of my favorite entries of yours!! How absolutely amazing a teacher are you to have asked your kids to write these letters, but more importantly, to actually follow up and sent them to them 13 years later? Amazing! Are you coming up my way this summer? Would love to catch up with you!