Monday, November 06, 2006



It’s impossible not to smile: the rolled up trousers, the jackets and cardigans, the good humour. Very British.

I’m there, second from the right, leaning on my friend L’s shoulder as she struggled with her dog. We were on a week’s holiday by the sea with her parents, but I have no recollection at all of the family in this photo. They were probably in a neighbouring caravan and we just fell into doing things together - there was an easy-going camaraderie in these holiday friendships.

I couldn’t have been more than thirteen. But oh, I wince at that come-hither pose which I struck for the camera. I was old enough to understand the frightening necessity of being considered attractive.

It seemed a losing battle. I was ill at ease in my rapidly changing body. Emotionally I was floundering. A pattern was set for the next couple of decades; only in my forties would I really begin to get glimpses of life's grace and mystery. But that's a topic for another post.

So. Could anything have been said to make it easier?

If I were to reach out to this thirteen year old, I would tell her to keep both feet firmly on the ground and face the camera full on. I’d tell her that comparing herself to others shrivels the soul and throws up barriers, and that she truly didn’t need to go trawling for acceptance. She was beautiful and loved, whatever she or anyone else thought.

I'd say that when her thoughts won't give her any peace she needs to stop thinking and do something. Anything that works. Washing the kitchen floor is good. So is talking to a friend.

I'd warn her too about her perfectionism. Making mistakes is part of the package. Her job was to explore and develop those things which gave her joy. Singing would be a place to start .... she had a good voice.

I'd tell her to express her compassion. To look after herself physically and spiritually. To ask for help and to give it. To learn when to say yes. And, sometimes, to know when enough was enough and walk away.

Would the pep talk help? Probably not, but that wouldn't stop me. She would need to hear it. And so do I. Still.

What would I tell her about love, relationships and sex? Don't know. After all these years I'm still confused. I haven't cracked this one. All I know is that whatever happens she should attempt to keep her heart open. Years of numbness set in when I let mine close, when I tried to anaesthetise pain and grief. It doesn't feel like it at the time, you believe you are protecting yourself from more pain, but you're not. I try not to do that now. Maybe that's what I'd tell her.

L and I were inseparable until we reached sixteen. Then she met a biker who looked a little like John Travolta in Grease. Shortly afterwards she left school and got married. We lost touch.

I wonder how her life has been.


Blogger Pauline said...

Your marvelous post proves the wisdom of some societies that revere their elders and place children in their care. What good advice you've given, even for people our own age. Perhaps your younger self would not have heeded your wiser words but I agree, we all need to hear them. They need to be stored somewhere accessible for the times when we can hear them. Like you, I've had to learn to keep the heart open even after it's been broken. I came to fear that terrifying numbness more than the pain. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Mary.

1:00 pm  
Blogger MB said...

How is it possible that I picked you out in this photo when I doubt I'd recognize you now if I passed you on the street! These are wise words you'd be telling yourself, and like you, I still tell myself many things I need to remember. I think we all do.

5:34 pm  
Anonymous Kurt said...

Little to say here, but I'm honored to be in your company, to hear your thoughts now, from the perspective of years of experience. Thank you for sharing them with us, and your younger self.

9:02 pm  
Anonymous beth said...

It's a beautiful picture, matched by your post. I cringe when I see myself back then, too, and want to protect the girl I was. Impossible! But your words would have helped...if my ears had been open...

10:04 pm  
Anonymous Jessie said...

How funny, I recognized you too without reading a word.

Thirteen was a tough age, but how much easier it would have been if we'd known these things!

10:14 pm  
Blogger herhimnbryn said...

I recognised you too! How strange. M. That 13 yr old was me too. I read this and thought of my two nieces who are getting closer to that age and I hope I CAN say some of this to them, if they will hear it.
The turmoil of teenage years takes many years to dissapate, it seems to me.
Thankyou for the sharing.

11:10 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

I picked you right out to- you came shining through. Beautiful picture and post!!

11:13 pm  
Blogger leslee said...

Oh why does it take some of us so long to learn? Sigh. I guess that could be turned around and say it's never too late. Great post, Mary. Love the picture!

1:17 am  
Blogger zhoen said...

Now, see, I admire the charm of your 13 year old self. I'd have been the awkward one on the left, looking gawky, or the one looking down. You had a friend, and enough sense of your own attraction to strike a flirty pose.

We get wise by making mistakes and learning from them, not by avoiding falling flat on our faces. All I would tell my 13 year old self was that, yes I would have sex, and would find love - even if it came rather later than I wanted then. And to stay alive to live an interesting life.

Life is long, and life is grand. Takes some attention, though.

1:31 am  
Blogger Sky said...

such good advice you would give that young girl...that you give this wise woman you have become!

7:59 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Pauline: It might have needed more than words when I was younger .... Thank you.

MB: I think I might recognise you now :-)

Kurt: As always, a pleasure to see you here.

Beth: Glad I'm not the only one who cringes! Thank you.

Jessie: I agree. Thirteen does seem to be tough whoever you are.

HHB: Your nieces are lucky to have you.

Leslee: I believe it is never too late ...

Zhoen: Ah. Interesting. I'd actually agree with you if I felt flirty at the time. I was mimicking, not feeling it. It was the mimicry that makes me wince.

Agree with every word of your final para ...

sky: Thank you. Not sure about wise though. :-)
A tad more experienced maybe.

9:02 am  
Blogger Endment said...

Why is it that wisdom comes so slowly...?
You have a gift of an open heart and wisdom that I wish I had when my children were 13 to ???

2:06 pm  
Blogger Dave said...

What a wonderful tale. I too have wonderings of friends long gone. I will sit and ponder some more.

2:13 pm  
Blogger chuck said...

Ah, thirteen...the year my classmates grew taller and flirted.

I grew taller at sixteen...I watched puberty and "the teen scene" as a squeeky-voiced bystander.

7:29 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

I wonder if she'd have needed the talk about love and relationship if she'd absorbed that talk at 13.
And I think she might have...if anyone had had it with her.
This is a beautiful post, Mary.

12:20 am  
Blogger Tarakuanyin said...

My daughter is 13. She too poses, though she seems to do it because she is who she is, independent, strong, filled with passion. I would have been the gawky one, afraid to pose, afraid even to be photographed. Anyway, this is a beautiful post. Thank you.

12:26 am  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I think there is a novel entitled, "You Remind me of Me." Well, you do. I wish you could have spoken to me at thirteen, too. How much both of us might have been spared. But then again, maybe the journey isn't about being spared.

3:17 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Endment: I think we all have a part of us that is still 13 ...

Dave: Finding that photo got me wondering the same thing.

Chuck: Yes, I felt like a bystander too ...

LJ: Ah. Who knows? Thank you.

Tky: Absolutely. I had classmates who were posing very comfortably it seemed at that age and younger. Your daughter sounds wonderful ...

Patry: You've got it, IMO. The journey isn't about being spared. It's about growing and learning ... well that's what I think.

10:06 am  
Anonymous Becca said...

I knew that was you! And I don't think the pose is embarrassing ... it is an adorable 13 year old girl pose (most 13 year olds are adorable - except those who think they are).

Your advice is sensationally wise and good and true. You should really consider being a mentor to young women - you have so very much to offer them. It's a gift.

11:55 pm  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

You should try to find L - you obviously had a profound connection, and I'll bet she misses you too, even if she does have a biker to keep her busy.
Wow, what a gift it was to read this post today - I needed it. I'm going to come back and read it again. This fits with those lyrics over on my blog, doesn't it? Thanks for writing this lovely post.

9:58 pm  
Blogger justin said...

That's a wonderful piece of writing, Mary -- it took me back to my teenage years when I felt very lacking in self confidence and when I was socially inept. I had very few friends then, and no-one really close to me.

12:11 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Becca/PF/Justin: Youc omments are very much appreciated.

6:25 am  

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