Dear Teen Denise,
Greetings from the future. It’s 2011. Al Franken is a senator and we have a black President (who is not Jesse Jackson or Eddie Murphy). Prince doesn’t work blue anymore, and no one wears Girbaud jeans. I come with much wisdom and excellent accessories. Okay, so maybe my wisdom and accessories are just moderately awesome, but I never got us pregnant or arrested, so this is worth a read. Since I’ve got a lot to tell you, I need to do it in a list. (We’ve discovered that it’s our best bet at keeping organized. By the way, we’re diagnosed with ADD at 35. Maybe you might try to do something about that sooner).
I’m not going in order of importance even though I could (revising is way easier now), so don’t think you can read the first few and skim the rest for bolded words like you do with homework. I’m on to you.
1. Don’t get that tattoo. Mom, of course, dislikes the tat, but not enough to make it worthwhile.
2. You really don’t suck at math; you’re just afraid of it. We get by just fine without actually learning how to do it well (we do our own taxes, keep a checkbook with no major problems, and somewhat miraculously get out of taking it in college) but it makes me sad to think of all the time you spend dreading it and hating it. Get a tutor. (Did you catch that? We go to college. Are you
3. When we’re about 16, Mom tells us that after high school we won’t care “what those girls think.” We don’t quite believe her because high school is so all-encompassing; we can’t imagine a world without it. But please believe me when I say that all those people whose opinions and dramas are so important now . . . well, your hurt feelings are a waste of energy. Please put that energy into yourself. Write more, play tennis more. Pick up a ukulele. It’s embarrassing how we let some of those people dick us around. Keep that in mind.2. You really don’t suck at math; you’re just afraid of it. We get by just fine without actually learning how to do it well (we do our own taxes, keep a checkbook with no major problems, and somewhat miraculously get out of taking it in college) but it makes me sad to think of all the time you spend dreading it and hating it. Get a tutor. (Did you catch that? We go to college. Are you surprised?)
4. In 2011, “prescient” is going to be a cool word. Start saying it now.
5. When mom and dad tell you they’re cracking down on your curfew and behavior, they are not kidding. Repeat: They are not kidding. If you do ignore my warning, here’s the deal: They will call the cops on you. This is the “We’ll let the county deal with you” threat you ignored so many times actually coming to fruition. You will go to emergency foster care where you will be watched 24/7. You will be terrified of some really hard girls who, while shooting pool and listening to the Steve Miller Band, talk casually about the drugs they’ve done, the guys they’ve had sex with, and the girls they’ve pummeled in the bathroom at school. You consider pretending to be rough like them but think better of it because you know you can’t pull it off (you exude innocence; you don’t even smoke, and you never start. Well done!) Ultimately, being you–out of your league and scared–works to your benefit: you remind one of the hard-edged girls of her little sister and she looks out for you. There will be a large brunette who glares at you constantly; ignore her. She won’t hurt you.
6. Do you remember when I said that you would go to college? Well, you’re going to change your major a lot. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of them. You decide on English. It’s going to be a tough road. You will wait tables with a master’s degree, rushing to the restaurant after teaching class, sometimes changing clothes in the restaurant ladies room (which will get you scolded by your manager, who expects you to enter the restaurant “floor ready.” That’s right, you are a mannequin). You will eat at work to save money. At the start of each shift, you will make a quick wish that none of your students come into the restaurant and sit in your section. (Don’t worry– it never happens).
7. You are pretty. I mean, you could tweeze the brows, maybe quit with the green eye shadow. But you are pretty. You don’t think you’re anything special because boys don’t like you. I mean, boys like you, but not the ones you want and not in the way you want. (Fun fact: one of the boys you liked in middle school becomes a hyper Christian. Guess which one!) The boys like being your friend and they like making out with you at parties, but they don’t want to date you because they’re intimidated by you– you’re too much in some ways. You’re loud and opinionated. I’m not saying to tone it down or anything. But understand that most guys won’t be able to handle you simply being you until later. (But if it makes you feel better, they totally fantasize about you. As you read this, one of them is probably, well, you know. Gross. They will tell you about it later when you’ll find it more funny than gross).
9. Tell Dad he can still eat his eggs in the morning. They don’t know what they’re talking about.8. Journal better, and keep more of your stuff, especially the vinyl albums, and label the boxes better. Oh, and Mom tosses her ’60s, thigh-high leather boots when they move away from St. Michael. Ask her for them now.
10. You will stay youthful looking for a long time, but you still need sunscreen.
11. You know that weird yellow animated family on The Tracey Ullman Show? In grad school and beyond, they’re going to be very important to you. It would take too long to explain, but it’s going to blow your mind. Remember when I said to journal better? Journal about this family.
12. Don’t call him.
13. About our uncle (yep, you know the one I mean) and those kids in your class you think are gay? Well, they totally are. Your gaydar isn’t always accurate, but in these cases it is. Don’t say boneheaded things. And don’t be afraid to tell other kids to shut up when they say disparaging things about gays. Don’t try to get anyone to come out. One of your classmates will die of AIDS, but you can’t say anything. No, I’m not going to tell you who! What are you going to do, go up to him at his locker and implore him to always use a condom? This is all way above your head, sister. Just be nice.
14. Write to Paul Wellstone. He’ll write you back. Keep the letter.
15. Floss more. Don’t drink diet pop. When you go vegetarian, take a multivitamin (with food, or you’ll throw up).
16. Buy Elvis Costello and Tom Waits albums. You will love them in college, so my guess is you will now.
17. When Daisy dies, you take it hard (well, duh), but be relieved to know that she won’t freeze to death, not even on one of those super-cold nights you fall asleep before sneaking her in.
18. Get a pedicure.
I know this sounds like a minor thing, especially since I’m not telling you about some really nasty and important things, like your divorce, the horrors of turning 30, a particularly bad Republican president (You think Reagan’s fans are weird now? You just wait), and some other really scary stuff that changes the country. But you know what? A pedicure will stop making you hate your feet, and if I can help you like something about your body, I’ve got to try. I know your feet aren’t as cute as Andrea’s, but no one’s are. See? It’s 2011 and I still remember her absolutely adorable feet. Do I remember her voice or her boobs or her elbows? No. Just the feet. Your feet, all pumiced and polished, are way better than you think.
19. It gets better with Mom and Dad. In your late twenties it occurs to you that while they do and say things you would never do, it’s not because they’re bad people but because they think nothing like you. Needless to say, you don’t ever agree on politics. But you will actually like them again.
20. I wish I could tell you that we’re rich and we get to run on the beach every day with our dog, and we never have to deal with winter. That’s four in the “No” column in one sentence. I also wish I could tell you that our love life is awesome. But we are proud of our accomplishments–we travel and experience life, we never get a C in college, we’re published, and we are a damn good teacher—plus, we have quite a few autographed concert ticket stubs. We don’t have a dog, but we have great friends scattered across the country who make feel that we are protected and a part of something remarkable. They even make us smarter, these friends of ours. We’ve also got sweet, funny cats who meet us at the door and sleep on our pillow make us realize that, yeah, it would be fun to have a sweet-faced Springer to jog with and bring to the farmer’s market, we don’t really need one.19. It gets better with Mom and Dad. In your late twenties it occurs to you that while they do and say things you would never do, it’s not because they’re bad people but because they think nothing like you. Needless to say, you don’t ever agree on politics. But you will actually like them again.
You may feel alone quite often now, but you won’t always. That’s a promise.