On a recent visit to my mom’s house, I was rummaging through a closet, looking for American Girl Doll clothing I could bequeath to my daughters, when I found a diary. I recognized the shiny mauve binding in an instant, and the white kittens on the cover — lounging elegantly on velvet furniture — called to me.
Only eight or so pages had been filled out over the course of a few months in seventh grade. I tend to look back on my middle school self as awkward but oblivious. I had fun. I had a sense of humor that helped cushion the blows of early adolescence. I had friends I’d known since toddlerhood, a tight knit and comfortable group.
But the filled-out pages, festooned in bubbly letters, weren’t so sunny.
It was fairly typical seventh grade stuff. I was sad about boys and frustrated with petty things. But, reading the entries, I was struck by my acute awareness of who I wasn’t, and what I didn’t have. Four pages in, I wanted to go back in time and give myself a hug.
I imagined sitting next to 13-year-old me on my Laura Ashley bedspread, picking at a nail polish stain, listening to “Jagged Little Pill” on repeat and absorbing the overpowering fragrance of a Freesia-soaked rug. I wanted to tell her that none of this matters. At 35, it’s easy to say that none of it matters.
But the truth is, it does. When you’re in it, it’s difficult and overwhelming and important. And while I can’t go back and comfort the younger me, I can tell my own daughters the two things that got me through it all — middle school and high school — relatively unscathed.
First, find good friends. Real friends.
Surround yourself with peers who make you feel at ease and understood. If they can help you feel comfortable in your own skin, they’re perfect. And if they can make you laugh, even better. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they come from, what they have or who they know. When you’re safe, secure and supported in their company, everything else — the concerns about status and social standing — will fall away.
If you find yourself anxious in their presence or if you see yourself changing to be accepted, move on. Talk to someone new. Try until it clicks.
Second, be a good friend.
The recent events in Parkland and the many others before that have revealed a lot of wounds. A lot that needs to change. One less-prominent theme is the importance of friendship in high school. The dire, undeniable need to have people who will listen and love you. We all have it in our power to be a good friend.
So open up your arms, embrace the friends who get you and absorb the people who need you. Maybe it’ll be the girl who understands you on a telepathic level, shares your love of late-90s teen comedies and always has your back. Maybe it will be the kid who’s desperately hoping to avoid another lunch alone.
I’m still a little sad for 13-year-old me. She was less secure than I realized and less optimistic than she should’ve been, but she was also surrounded by a group of girls who knew her well and loved her at her dorkiest.
To my daughters, and anyone else struggling through life’s less-than-smooth years, find your people. Good people. Real people. And stick with them. Because sure, one day, none of it will matter. But right now, it’s those people who mean the most.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 6, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.