An Open Letter To My 13 Year Old Self

2019 Wedding vow renewal in Vegas with our sons

Dear Young Amber,

Thirty one years from now it is the year 2023 and your heart is about to explode with all the love it carries inside. It is fat with adoration for your thirteen and ten year old sons. It is fed with endless, heaping spoonfuls of affection and deep understanding from your husband of fifteen years. You live 800 miles from where you are currently standing, but you still remain closest to the people you met in Illinois as a teenager.

This year in your life, the year of 13, you will go through more than you ever thought possible. Mom is newly single having broken off the marriage between her and your step-father. We both know this is in no way a loss to you. It feels as though life is playing out as it should, as though this was inevitable. Not having the second income to split the bills does a number on your family financially. Mom will need food stamps soon and she’ll call your aunts to ask about the potential of packing us up and moving to Michigan to live with them temporarily.

This will be the year you’re on so much shaky ground. Most kids your age will be having their confidence and self esteem defined, they’ll have a support system of adults, stability, and focus on what kids their age ought to be focused on-school, sports, friends, and having fun. This will be different from your experience. While you will have fun amid the chaos at home, you will put yourself in dangerous situations with your naiveté. Amazingly, you will always end up safe somehow, as though your guardian angels were along for the wild ride. Look back at your life up to this moment and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in the end of your childhood as you know it. It’s time to be brave, strong, and most of all-motivated.

You’re already naturally enthusiastic – this is a good thing. This enthusiasm and motivation is what will get you to where you need to be years from now. It will deliver to your doorstep beautiful, loving children, a smart and handsome husband, a cuddly blonde mixed breed, and tiny white ranch with a bright orange door- your favorite color. Tiki Torch orange to be exact.

Be steadfast in your plans for what you will do next because it will be you and only you that takes you there. No need to depend on anyone. You will fall in love for a a few years and he will bring much happiness to you during that time. A significant chunk of your life will be spent feeling the overwhelming heavy whisper of “I am alone.” You will feel this deeply. It will be a life long struggle that you will go to therapy for only to realize everyone is alone. You felt this young and grew your independence tenfold as a result. This is a super power.

On your 13th birthday you received a bar of Neutrogena soap and an Oh Henry candy bar. You were crushed inside and you began to feel and see that things were beginning to really fall apart at home. This is the moment where you began to develop a sensitivity to other people’s feelings. This also made you self aware regarding what made you different. It made you hyper aware to the relationship between your behavior and the treatment you could receive based on that behavior. You begin to realize if you behave a certain way-kind, smiling, agreeable, pleasing, that you can go through life with such ease. It feels like floating and – by golly -it works! Suddenly, the hard parts of life don’t feel as hard. It’s like rolling with the punches, in fact, that is what it is.

This agreeable behavior becomes a hard wired part of who you are. Our coping mechanisms are part of the patchwork quilt that covers us when we’re cold providing undeniable comfort. You will be able to float above the ever present tension like a professional by the time you turn fourteen.

Your friendships are your everything. They lift you, carry you, sustain you. You subconsciously seek out other soft souls who have interesting and challenging lives. These people, whether they stay or go, are your life line and are direly important in so many ways.

Put the Dimetapp and Mom’s codine pills down. You absolutely know you don’t want to harm yourself-it’s a simple cry for attention. Come on, you honestly just love the taste of the grape flavored syrup. Further, and more importantly, you need to make it to 2023 sweet child. It’s so good here. The world is an absolute shit show at this point in time, but your little bubble you’ve created- a cocoon of warmth and joy- awaits.

Something crazy and unexpected will happen with Mom and you’ll be across the street in the Barrington Lakes apartment complex with a suitcase in hand being picked up by Dad. Your sister will be along for the ride, but not for very long. Would you believe it if I told you you’ll only live together one more year? From there your paths will diverge for many years.

You’ll live with Dad and his new wife for a year. Insane things will happen in that year and you will be hurt again and again before being tossed out . This is the part I want you to know more than anything. No matter what happens between the ages of 13 to 16, which will be the toughest years of your entire life, I love you. You are so hard on yourself right now. You don’t believe yourself to be smart. You make yourself small to protect yourself from others’ feeling any negativity towards you. You go with the flow and avoid fights with family and friends at all costs because you cannot bear to squirm in discomfort at the thought of not being liked by someone. Here’s something cool I only learned recently: what people think of you is none of your business. Isn’t that great? Relieve yourself from the notion that you have to make everyone like you and that it’s a tragedy if they don’t. It’s an impossible standard to set for yourself and so many of these people would not bring any light into your life anyhow.

You still feel so much happiness in spite of the hectic aspects in your life. Continue to have fun and don’t dwell at all on what is going on in the background- you’re pretty good at seeing the positive in general! You are going to enjoy the hell out of your twenties so get excited. The affects of this odd teenage time won’t really bother you until you become a mother and see things through a different lens.

You will work hard your whole life. There will never be a time to come up for air or not have a steady job. You will start working when you are 15 and never stop. Your husband and you will have tons of debt right from the get go. Your wedding will plunge you into further debt – but damn- it’s a gorgeous event that you will look fondly on with zero regrets. Your wedding day will be heaven on earth to you. I wish there was a way for you to have known this, it would have put a stop to your worrying ways. Again, so much goodness awaits you young self. Yes, there are days you will feel emotionally and mentally over it. I am telling you it’s so worth it to keep going.

Nothing will be handed to you for the next 31 years. You and your husband will work for everything yourselves. There is a deep appreciation that comes from this young independence and hard work. Even at 13, I know you are ready to be a hard worker with all that enthusiasm coursing through those veins. You were born motivated and though your life may trip you from time to time, you need to look at it as fuel to work even harder. In your forties, something wonderful will take place as a culmination of all your efforts. I know it feels so far away, but it’s about the journey- you know this. You will get there. Stay focused.

Though there is a cornucopia of positive and negative in all of our lives, amongst the hard year of 13, I look back and think of this as the year everything changed. This year was the one that laid the foundation of who you were to become -flaws and all. They say we tend to remember the intensely good and bad moments of our lives. I remember the year of 13 most vividly of all our teen years. I daydream of sending you, my former self, hundreds of bouquets of sunshine colored daisies. I envision these gorgeous bright puffs of yellow show up at your door, on your bus ride to school, rain down upon your head whenever you feel anxious, and cover your bed as you sleep at night. You embody this color of yellow. You have a warm light that will continue to shine bright, lighting your unique path through this world. And you are going to be more than okay.

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