You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen…

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If you could go back eight, 10, 20 years, what message would you want to give to your 17-year-old self? And, I suppose more importantly, would your old (younger?) self listen to your new adult self? Do you think your life would have been better or different if you could have given yourself some important message or passed on some amazing advice?

When I think of myself, I think of myself as being 17. I still feel like I’m 17. It seems to me to have been a watershed year – a year when so many of my life’s most defining moments happened. I matriculated when I was 17 – the end to 12 seemingly endless years that I came to see as nothing less than torture. Where the teachers went out of their way (it seemed) to be annoying, uncool and mean. Weird then that I would, at age 26, decide to become a teacher myself, and start my own torture of school kids.

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When I was 17 it was also the year I met the man who would become my Mister. I went with some friends to a music festival called The Concert on the Farm. I climbed out of the tent one morning and saw Mister-to-Be stretching in the early Morning sun and I said to my friends, ‘I’m going to marry that man’. And then I did (albeit years later, not right away). But that’s another story.

If I could go back to when I was 17, I would tell myself two things. They may not both have changed the course of history for the universe but they certainly would have changed my life. I would’ve told myself to be nicer to my mother, to stop fighting with her about absolutely everything, because she was doing the very best she could do. And, despite what I thought, she wasn’t in fact trying to ruin my life. I would also have said: ‘You’re not fat, you silly little girl! Enjoy the way you look because you’ll never ever be this thin again!’ That would definitely have changed my life. I would have been far more confident and spent much less time obsessing over my weight.

I asked the ladies in my office what they would have told themselves if, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, they could go back and have a word with themselves, what would they say. Everyone knew immediately what they’d say without even thinking about it.

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Kirsten would tell teenage Kirsty that you don’t need a man to be happy. You’re perfectly capable of being on your own and being perfectly content on your own too! She would also tell herself, ‘Don’t listen to your friends – your mom will find out!’ I think that the last piece of advice is something we can all relate to and probably all should have known then. It’s probably also something our own children should know!

Taryn’s advice to herself is somewhat different. She would tell herself to stop taking life so seriously and to go out and have some fun! While this is the complete opposite of what I needed to hear as an almost-feral 17-year-old, it’s perhaps something many of us need to hear now.

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Tahra would tell herself to be more adventurous and to listen to her to her mother, while Grace would say to her teenage self: ‘Mom knows best and you don’t know everything!’

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I extended my investigation to my mom in law and, while there’s not many things she regrets having done or not having done, she’d tell herself to read more – books are your greatest education. Finally I asked my Mister what he would have said: ‘Put those cigarettes down and don’t listen to your friends – make up your own mind’.

And, while I know it’s completely futile trying to pass on any knowledge I have gained to anyone over the age of eight, I want my baby daughter to know these things when she’s 17:

  • Never cancel dinner plans by text message.
  • When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
  • Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.
  • Don’t dumb it down.
  • Don’t pose with booze.
  • You’re so very, very intelligent and you’re capable of doing absolutely anything you want to do.
  • You can be intelligent and beautiful at the same time – it’s never ever a choice you have to make.
  • You’re amazing and I will love you with my whole heart forever.
  • You’re so much stronger than you think you are so trust me when I tell you that.
  • But mostly, you’ll understand how much I love you when you have your own baby girl.

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