Dear Gallant Daughter,
I know that puberty is an extremely confusing time in a young girl’s life. I know you’re going to hear a lot of adults say that, and websites/books about puberty start off with that exact same sentence. I also know that it doesn’t even remotely compare to how you feel, or come even as close as we are to Jupiter to express what you’re going through. Even though I am 40 years old now, I have always been so deeply connected to my inner child, and no part of me has forgotten or begun to trivialize what it was like to be your age and remember how I felt when all those changes were taking place in my body, mind, and heart. So, even though I know that it is hard to talk about these things with your old, stodgy mom who watches lame Lifetime movies and lives in sweatpants when she’s home, I am here to tell you that it sometimes seems like yesterday that I was just like you trying to make it through growing up. Gruelingly.
I’ll be honest, we’re always and forever still just trying to grow up. I will be even more honest, it doesn’t always get easier, but I *can* tell you this:
It is always worth it.
Girls are going through puberty earlier these days. You’re only 11 and are now right in the thick of it, but I didn’t really start going through it until I was about 13. I did not get my period until I was 14. I was already in middle school when I began the journey you are now on, so it is so hard for me to fathom all the emotions you are having while doing this in elementary school, but I know that puberty is difficult no matter what age you are — your body feels like it is betraying you. All of a sudden, the only body and feelings you’ve ever known are now dramatically changing and you don’t get a say-so in that! It kind of feels like there’s a stranger living inside of you that you knew was coming, but you didn’t get to choose who they were. And you know what? That can be scary. This stranger puts a lot of thoughts in your head that you didn’t know were up for debate until they got there. All I am going to say is…
It’s going to be alright.
Don’t be worried. You’re going to get to know this stranger, and as hard as it is to believe, you’re going to end up loving them one day because the two of you are going to become one. It just takes a little bit of time getting used to, but trust me, baby doll,
… it’s all worth it.
You’re going to hear a lot of metaphors about how you’re “blossoming into the beautiful butterfly” and puberty is like that children’s story The Ugly Duckling where the little awkward, fuzzy duckling turns into the majestic swan. Believe me, it’s all true — you’ll see, so have patience — but I also know that this is of no comfort to you NOW as you’re going through it. It’s okay to hate those analogies. They don’t make this any simpler because you’ve got to get through puberty! Puberty is just as important as the butterfly or the swan because this is a crucial and monumental part of your metamorphosis. What I want you to know is, even when it doesn’t feel that way, it’s just as beautiful as what comes out on the other end.
But, I know that’s not the way you feel right now.
TRUST ME, *I* remember.
When I began to go through puberty, my emotions started before my body got the memo. I felt like crying before getting on my bike to go to school every morning. I felt like throwing up before dressing out for PE (how could girls my age look like THAT already?!!). I felt like shooting death rays out of my eyes when my mom told me to go back to the bathroom and hang up my wet towel that I left on floor or that I did not know what true love or lifelong friendship was because I was just a kid. And, I felt like everyone else had a charmed life and mine was a walking land mine of possible catastrophe and embarrassment. That one really tough and troubling year, Nana and Aunt Diane took me to Washington DC. I LOVED dinosaurs (as you know I still do now) and they bought me a diary with dinosaurs all over its cover; it was from the Smithsonian. I wrote in that thing every day. It was like lifeblood to me to pour my prepubescent pissiness out onto the pages. I’ve gone back and reread it many times and it’s, quite mortifyingly, nutty! I thought my mom was the antichrist; I thought all my friends were characters out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; I thought all the people I crushed on thought headgear would have made an improvement on me; and, I just knew it would someday read on my headstone: Died of Embarrassment. I felt every emotion possible — from anger to melancholy to shame to alienation — in the time it took me to get through my locker combination before homeroom even started.
Beyond my emotions, I had so many insecurities about my physical appearance when I went through puberty. My 8th grade school picture looked more like a Picasso painting than it did a yearbook photo. I was getting taller, but I wasn’t filling out. Where all the girls in my school were getting boobs and bums, I looked like a human head on a bendy straw. Girls were developing into women right before my very eyes, and I pretty much looked like an illustration of Greg Heffley in your Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. For real, I might as well have been a 10-year-old boy. It was nothing shy of painful.
So, I get it. I get all of it. I know you don’t believe that I do, but you don’t forget things like that. Even when you’re 40.
The good news is that as excruciating as it all feels now, later it becomes an integral part of your character. You just have to trust this, as hard as it is.
Again, it’s all worth it.
I see your confidence wilting. Where you were once a carefree, adventurous, plucky and stalwart little girl with some hardcore tomboy tendencies, you’re now feeling uncomfortable in your own skin and your thoughts are consumed in inadequacies as a preteen. What I want you to know is that that little girl was no better or no worse than the person you are now or the person you’re becoming. Even though you *feel* like there’s a stranger living inside of you right now, all versions of you make up the whole YOU that you are meant to be. You don’t need to feel wrong or guilty or less than because of all the changes you’re going through. YOU ARE LOVED even when you sometimes struggle with loving yourself like you used to. Everything you’re feeling right now feels so hard and unnatural, but it is completely natural. You are not weak; you are human. More than that, you are stronger than you think. You are still that plucky and stalwart little girl, but now you’re becoming a woman; together, those two can — and will — kick puberty’s butt like a TKO in an MMA fight. Sure, this is just another notch under your belt to some, but you’re going to WIN the belt like a champ.
You’ve opened up and told me some of the things you see about yourself. No one else sees them, and because of that, I have to be your constant reinforcement even if it’s coming from your old, stodgy mom who rarely gets out of her terrycloth Wonder Woman robe. This is because I know the truth that your prepubescent eyes have begun to lose their 20/20 vision. (Again, that is normal.) I am far from the only one who sees all your worth and your value and your gifts to the universe, but I am the one who will never cease telling you, over and over and over again. I think you know me well enough by now that you know I am a straight shooter who doesn’t sugarcoat anything for anyone. I’ve never done it for you and I am not doing it now. So, I am not going to get into a discussion with how the things you feel are wrong with you are not right, I am just going to tell you here what I see when I look at you…
* You’re smart. You’re beyond just smart, you’re gifted. Your test scores and everything about you proves how intelligent you are. It’s one of the first things people notice about you from how articulate and well spoken you are, to how simple things come to you that are very hard things that never come easy to a lot of people. Your intelligence doesn’t just sit inside of you, it pours out of you without you even realizing it. That is the sign of a truly smart person: they don’t even know it because it comes that naturally to them. The fact that you’re humble and still smart is the even greater sign of your intelligence.
* You’re strong. You’re both physically strong and resiliently strong. I’ve always told you that you came out of the womb with these magnificent muscles in your legs and arms — honestly, you have muscles in your body some people train every day for! But, beyond your physical strength (which you haven’t even begun to test), you have this resilience about you that has always just been able to pick up and move and change without ever seeing it as an obstacle. In fact, you were always able to get excited about it where most people would have felt fear and trepidation. This part of of your person has always astounded and amazed me. It gave ME courage so many times! Even as your mother, I grew strength from YOU!! I have always been someone who has dared to make bold, unknowing moves in my life (sometimes without any sure footing or security underneath me), but no matter how many risks and chances I took, I always had fear and nervousness inside. You have always just looked at change as a new adventure full of new possibilities. I have always marveled at your fearlessness. I have always thought you were a true daredevil.
* You are kind. For me, this has always been the most important characteristic that you possess. You have always been kind to all walks of life — not only people who are black, white, red, green, purple and blue, gay, bisexual, or transgender, but you have also had friends with Autism, Aspergers, physical & cognitive disabilities, and some developmentally younger than you are. In my presence, I’ve never seen you treat them any differently, loved them any differently, or even notice their differences from each other, let alone from you. I don’t just love this about you, but I admire it and respect it. I have never been any different, but I have learned that no matter how much we try and teach our children these things, this is also something that comes from within. Within you is a really incredible person who just loves people for who they are. This makes me so proud of you every day. You are respectful. And for the record, in the 11 years that you have been my daughter, you have never ONCE been “sassy” with me. NOT once. Even I am shocked, no matter how I raised you. Not so much as a dirty look. This is not about me and my parenting, this is about you and the respect you have for others. I appreciate this and honor you for this every day of our lives.
* You are talented. I know you’re somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to some things and that you wish you were good at everything, but that’s impossible. No one is. You’re used to so many things coming easily to you that it is hard when things don’t, but don’t focus on that. Please don’t, sweetie. Life is about having passion for those things that make us tick, and you have so many extraordinary gifts! Your talents are abundant. Sometimes I think you can’t see them because they come so naturally to you that they seem mindless and commonplace. They aren’t; they are splendiferous! Your talents are obvious to everyone, so, I someday hope that they become as apparent to you as they are to the world around you. Believe me when I say, they are going to take you somewhere grand. Your future is bright, my love. Even moreover, I believe they will take this world somewhere wondrous in their own designed way.
* You are friendly. Honey, people are drawn to you. They always have been. From teachers to friends’ parents to principals to neighbors, I have ALWAYS been told how much you sparkle and shine to them. I don’t know if they’ve always told you, but they have ALWAYS told me. All I’ve ever heard, “Everyone loves her!”, “Everyone gets such a kick out of her!”, “Everyone is so impressed by her!”. It’s endless the accolades I hear about your transcendent personality. I know puberty has dulled that sparkle and shine a little bit in your own mind and spirit, but those explanations have not ceased or been erased. Your personality is a giant. You make people happy and want to be better. You exude an energy we all wish we had, even when you feel like you’re losing it. This is not just something that is special about you, it’s a blessing to everyone who is graced to know you. You give others a gift every day, and that gift is being you.
* You’re a leader. You have always liked structure. When you were super little, you required it from me and I oftentimes made up a small “curriculum” of sorts to help you through the day because this is how you thrived. But I will admit, I wondered how you would fair once you got to school. Well, nothing changed except for the fact that you found your leadership skills in a school environment even more. EVERY teacher you have ever had in the last 6 years has told me, “She is my teacher’s assistant. I knew if I assigned her to the task, her peers would listen to her. She’s been a godsend to me this year!” Same thing every time you went to a sleepover or a birthday party……you just had those leadership skills. I watch you do it with your friends to this day. I was much the same way growing up. I always thought of myself as “bossy” once I got older, but now that I am a full-fledged adult, I realize that I had passion and zeal in me that made me want to just get stuff done! Sure, I know I have annoyed people in my path with my passion and zeal, but we learn and we adjust, so long as we do not change. I hope you never change. Your inborn leader is a blessing, and there are so many things you will be able to do with it if you don’t let anyone squelch it.
* You are beautiful. Yes, I have always taught you that beauty is only skin deep, but you are truly beautiful. You’re a stunner, actually! You are uniquely beautiful, and this is the very best kind of beautiful to be. Everyone who has ever graced my path while you have been in my life has told me this. You have this INCREDIBLE olive skin tone that me and your dad still can’t figure out where it came from because it is not like ours, but you hit the skin tone jackpot! You have these eyes that are sometimes gray, sometimes a (like your skin) olive green, and sometimes lavender. I’ve never seen an eye color like yours before, and it could not be more resplendent. You have incredible eyebrows that frame the most alluring almond shaped eyes too many people never see; you have thick, silky, shiny hair that is wash-and-wear fantastic; and you have a face that no one could ever forget in the best possible way because it glows with authenticity. Most of all, you have a glint in your eyes that’s unrivaled, a laugh that is infectious, and a smile that lights up every room it walks into. Your beauty knows no bounds. Most of it comes from inside, but you have a magical way of making the outsides of you illuminate it.
I know there’s too many parts of you that don’t feel “beautiful” right now. As much as I hate to say it, that’s “normal” (as abnormal as you feel). That’s because society, media, culture, and maybe some people you know are all telling you otherwise in some way. This is all a lie. It doesn’t make it any less hard to deal with, but it’s my duty as a mom, person, friend and activist to tell you so. You’re young, and no matter how smart you are, you are human for letting all of this sink into you — we all do. Don’t let feminism or any other movement fool you or make you feel bad about it — but there’s a reason: Without you fearing yourself, companies couldn’t make money off you, political and social agendas could not prosper on your submission, peers could not pull rank over your personal security, patriarchy could not exist, and you could not……go through puberty without coming out unscathed. This is what THEY want, but it’s all nonsense. It’s not a perfect world that we live in, and it never will be. You’re not a perfect person and you should never strive to be by those standards. Even beyond all of these influences, you have natural and normal emotional feelings that are bearing down on you. Some of it is hormonal and much of it is environmental. YOU are NORMAL. If you don’t feel that way, let’s talk about it every day. I may be 40, but it was not long enough ago that I was just like you.
We’re all actually perfect. We are. I understand that you don’t feel that way right now. It’s OKAY. None of us have ever truly felt that way during such dramatic change. We need others to lift us up; we need people to help us solider on; we need friends and family and fortitude to help us through sometimes — especially during hormonal changes. No one, and I mean NO ONE, makes it through this life alone without others’ help (especially with all these untruthful messages we receive every day). Just know that you’re never alone. Just know that you never need to go through or at life alone. And most importantly, just know that…
It is all worth it.
Lastly, also remember: even though I am now your old, stodgy mom in her sweatpants and terrycloth Wonder Woman robe, I was once a Picasso painting who has never forgotten those days. This does not mean I am even a masterpiece yet, but I am a definite work of art. You are too. You’ve always been and you always will be. Keep talking to me. Keep painting. You will one day be remembered for how colorful you were because all these moments add to the canvas that makes up your whole self-portrait.
I love you more than the whole wide world with a cherry on top.
~ Mommy XO
Written by Heather Angelika
Founder/Owner of Gallant Girls