While walking my dog Griffin in Balboa Park, I was wondering what to write about for Day 21 (of my “40 Days of Writing” project). Right then I noticed a folded white slip of paper stapled to a tree. I opened it, leaving it intact, and on it was this typed-written message, “What would you tell your childhood self?”
If that’s not a sign, then please show me what is. It reminded me of the freeway sign that kept sending Steve Martin messages in “L.A. Story.”
As I continued to walk Griffin I began asking myself not only what I would tell my childhood self, but also asking my present self, “How far back am I going, and at what age is the cut-off point?”
Age 12 and under seems about right. There is always time for a sequel where I can cover my teen years; then twenties, perhaps even thirties.
I can probably come up with more pieces of advice to give my childhood self, than there are crayons in a jumbo box of Crayolas, so it is probably best to just hit the bullet points.
1. What I would tell myself first and foremost is, “Kelly, please stop worrying.”
I inherited much of my mother’s anxiety when I was a child; always fretting, “Would I be liked at school?” “Would daddy come home drunk again and terrorize us?”“Will one of the Rickies – several bullies in our neighborhood all sharing that name – try and beat me up tomorrow?” “Will Mom fix something I don’t like for dinner tomorrow and try to make me eat it?”
I even credit my constant worrying for my being a bed-wetter until I was 8 years old (which only added, “Will I have a dry night?” to my repertoire). I only know this because one night as my mother was tucking me into bed, she said, “Before you go to sleep I want you to take all your worries out of your head. I want you to tell yourself that everything is going to be fine.” I don’t find it much of a coincidence at all that I never wet the bed again after that.
2. Without being paranoid about what people think of you, do care enough to ensure that you use good manners; remind yourself that to say “please” and “thank you” will get you invited back to peoples’ homes. Be sincere about it; Mrs. Cleaver saw right through that crap that Eddie Haskell handed to her, and your friends’ parents will, too.
3. Be kinder to animals. Just as they appreciate love and affection as much as you do, they are also frightened of any abuse that is inflicted upon them – just like you are. You’re still little, but you’re much bigger than they are. Treat them, as you would like to be treated. On a side note, also talk to mom about getting your pets neutered and spayed, offering to donate some of your allowance if necessary. You have way too many kittens and puppies running around this place.
4. Also remember to treat people, as you would like to be treated. I know this is a tough one for you, but you’ll get the hang of it after a while, and it will pay off.
5. Pay all good things forward, and share. If you find a dollar in the street, buy some Cracker Jack or red licorice ropes for you and a couple of friends.
6. There is no shame or cowardice in saying, “You hurt my feelings.”
7. Spend more time with Grandma and Grandpa, and ask them to tell you some stories from when they were young.
8. Get up and sing a solo in front of people. Pick something you know well, like “Over the Rainbow,” or the Carpenters’ “Close to You.” You may surprise yourself.
9. Rest assured, the bullies in your life right now will wind up getting their own asses kicked later in life. Some may not even make it out of their teens. One very close to you, in fact, won’t be in your life much longer. Let’s just leave it at that (and for Heaven’s sake, please don’t worry).
10. The spoiled brats that say and do anything they want with no consideration for your feelings will more than likely not amount to much, either. Just sayin’.
11. On that same note, reach out to the underdogs and those that are bullied by others; not only will that help your compassion shine through, but they’re the ones that will provide you with more insight, and they’ll more than likely grow into worthwhile, quality adults that you will want to have in your life.
12. Floss your teeth. Don’t just wait until you have something stuck in them; floss everyday. If you need proof of how vital this is, go a couple days without flossing, then floss your teeth and smell the floss. That’s right, smell the floss. That putrid smell is bacteria that have accumulated since you flossed last, and enough of it will cause cavities.
13. It is never too early in life to start surrounding yourself with people that not only make you feel good, but that are good for you.
14. Don’t worry about boys just yet, and don’t rush things. Believe me, when you’re ready, they’ll be there.
15 Karma. Learn what it is, how to trust it, and how to apply it.
16. Trust your instincts (trust me on this).
17. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor, joy and wonder; they will see you through many obstacles and heartbreaks.
I am sure there are plenty more, but since 17 is my favorite number, I’ll conclude there. Just the same, wow, that really turned out to be quite the box of crayons! For the record, blue-green was always my childhood favorite; but as you would now find a dozen different names for similar shades – Mountain Meadow, Caribbean Green and Magic Mint, just to name a few – in the average Crayola box today, there are dozens of paths we can take in life, no matter what kind of advice we receive.
It’s not possible for me to go back in time and apply all of this wisdom to my youth (wouldn’t I be quite the child prodigy of Dalai Lama-esque virtues if that was the case?). But it is somewhat remedial to be able to put it all into perspective, and in the process perhaps honor the child that – even without all that great advice – still persevered and made her way out into the world and into an adult who, in spite of numerous foibles, (including a mouthful of cavities), really didn’t turn out so bad.
Although I have no child of my own to pass any of this on to, I do cherish the thought of anyone reading this to perhaps enlighten a young person in their own life with what I have learned, and what I wish I would have known. Whether he or she will take the advice to heart is really up to the child.
Most kids have to stumble through life and gather wisdom along the way. Some of us are still stumbling, learning and growing. But I’m happy to say I haven’t had a cavity in years.