I was recently telling my husband a story about the time in the fourth grade when one of the more popular boys picked me up and deposited my little body into one of those giant elementary school garbage cans. He told me, “This is where you belong because you are garbage.” It was the last day of the third…or maybe, fourth grade and we had all been responsible for cleaning out our desks, so the garbage thankfully was mostly filled with papers. “B” picked me up and my initial feeling was of happiness that the popular boy was paying attention to me. That happy feeling was immediately squelched by his unkind and UNNECESSARY words, and it sucked. The same boy had told me “you’re so homely,” a few years prior.  I had confused the word homely with the word homey and saw it as a positive…..until I got home and looked it up in the dictionary. (Remember those?) Well, at least he had assisted me in expanding my vocabulary. I guess he was good for something.

When I was younger, most of the boys usually only paid attention to tease me and usually it was not out of affection. The other times they paid attention was to pick me as one of the first few girls in gym class because I was scrappy and didn’t back down or flee in fear from a ball flying towards my head during a game of dodgeball. (as if that game would be acceptable as physical education today) Otherwise I was just Jennie who was innocuous and well…… just O.K. I was outgoing and friendly, so people knew me. I was loud and made myself known everywhere I went, so people really had no choice but to take notice…..even if they didn’t want to! Neither popular, nor a nerd. Neither pretty, nor ugly. Just, plain Jennie. Just somewhere in between. I would long to be prettier, yet once I “blossomed” slightly I didn’t really enjoy that type of attention either. I just wanted to be seen and appreciated for the core of who I was. I also wanted to be understood by someone…..like ever. Doesn’t everyone though?

My husband seemed a bit aggravated with me after I had told this story and asked, “Why do you even remember this type of stuff? You are 47 years old! Forget it already because you are no longer that person.” He is completely correct….. if I was just obsessing and unable to let go of silly things from 40 years ago but that is not what this reminiscing was about.

I have daughters.

Every negative that my daughters experience dredges these old wounds up to the surface and it isn’t because I am NOT OVER IT. I just want so desperately to keep my girls from the hurt, insecurities and self-sabotage that I once experienced. I am often rendered incapable of giving them guidance and comfort because I don’t want my negative experiences to unfairly cloud my advice to them. We can only give advice based on what we ourselves have experienced. What if our experiences haven’t always been positive, yet we strive to always look on the brighter side and want to convey positivity with a dash of resilience as a lifestyle choice? Painting things rosy is not realistic. My daughters are still young though. Do they really need to know about hurt just yet?

When my ninth grader tells me of an experience where close friends are talking about her behind her back, my knee jerk reaction is to remember when something similar happened to me at her age. It did not turn out well. I remained friends for almost an entire school year with a group of girls who had basically ousted me without informing me, except for their horrible treatment of me; whispering to each other about me at the lunch table while I sat there not ever knowing fully what was happening. We had been the best of friends. Here is my dilemma. My knee jerk reaction is to tell my daughter “RUN! Run far and fast and leave their asses. This will not turn out well.” I do not want to be a negative voice in my daughter’s lives so I find myself often silent. Their individual situations may not go as I assume.  I would love to save them from hurt but I am also aware that they need to have their own experiences both good and bad and that they WILL learn from and overcome it all….stronger and more diverse.

If I could express (out loud) everything that is on my mind, this is what I might say to my daughters:

For every former friend who becomes the “ringleader” in ousting you from a group of people whom you thought were your friends, may you know that the problem lies deep within her and it is no reflection on you. Realize that the ones who blindly follow her may lack the strength to disagree with the larger group and it is also no reflection on you. They might not actually even share her negative sentiment towards you. Don’t let  this define you.

For every media image that makes you feel inadequate, may you rise above and be able to look in the mirror, truly appreciative of what makes you special and uniquely YOU. May you realize your own idea of beauty and live comfortably in your own skin. You are not THAT YouTuber, or THAT Supermodel, or THAT actress but you are YOU and  that is …….. AMAZING.

For every boy or girl who has once called you friend but later sent you mean texts expressing that they never really liked you anyway, may you realize that possibly they are going through something difficult and handling it improperly. Maybe they really are just mean. Either way, this is THEIR issue. It hurts. Move along. There are people out there who think the world of you. Maybe you haven’t even met them yet. Don’t let others negativity make you doubt yourself. Always put yourself out there and be open to new friendships and experiences.

Don’t be afraid to invite that new girl into your fold. Always be welcoming to the new kid, or anyone who may look like they are feeling left out. Don’t worry what others may think. Chances are everyone else would be amenable but are too afraid to go against the grain. Be the leader. Maybe it turned out miserably the last time and someone was not appreciative (and stole all of your friends – not bitter, lol) but you may one day discover that it meant the world to others for whom you had done the same.

Don’t allow anyone’s dismissal of you make you believe that you are unworthy of friendship. Other friends may have decided to hurt and exclude you. Not everyone will. Don’t allow yourself to believe that those nice girls from the lunchroom are only inviting you to sit with them out of pity. They really do like you. Don’t screw it up because other people made you feel unworthy. May you rise up and be stronger.

There are most likely many compatible friendships around you that you are not allowing yourself to “see.” Look around you. REALLY look around you. Your people are out there. They are most likely right in front of you: every day. Don’t become complacent with so-so relationships. If you aren’t happy…..look further.

For every girl that appears to be prettier, happier and more popular than you, may you realize that she may also be struggling with her own issues of self-confidence or personal sadness. Don’t allow self-doubt and fear to rule you. Believe it or not, EVERYONE is feeling the same self-doubt, sadness and even betrayals that you have experienced. Some just hide it better.

Don’t ever let any teacher tell you that you will never succeed in something that you love. He or she is probably personally miserable in life to ever say such a thing to a child. If anything, may you use that negativity to fuel your personal growth in that area. Might I even suggest going back someday to brag in person about your achievements in that very same area? (Possibly I have been known to be a tad petty with such a thing.)

For every individual who feels it necessary to say rude or sexist things, may you have the confidence to not allow it to erode your feelings of self-worth. It was not due to your tight pants or having given the wrong impression. That person is an asshat. End of story. Hopefully you will have enough friends to cherish you and make you realize that it is unacceptable and not everyone acts that way. You are a valued individual whose personality, intelligence, talents and kindness are appreciated and seen by the right people.

For any romantic interest who seems initially attracted to you, only to eventually criticize everything about you, may you have the self-confidence to ask that person to kindly move along. Know that your reward will be finding someone who appreciates you just as you are and suddenly those supposed flaws will be viewed as being endearing, rather than as deficits.

Get that different haircut, or edgy hair color. It is hair and it will grow back. You may just love it! If you cut it yourself though…..just make sure you have a great friend nearby who will be willing to call her Mom to guide her through fixing what you messed up! That friend should also be willing to tell you truthfully that you look less than stellar but are always beautiful in her eyes. That friend should be a keeper. Wear the “weird” shirt or shoes too. If you love it….DO IT! Do it, even if you think it’s too unique and not mainstream enough. Don’t always live in fear of trying to toe the line of what is considered cool and acceptable because you will be denying your true personality. You will someday regret it. Just step out of that confining box and express yourself. A bold decision may just be the thing that opens your world up to new friendships and experiences in way that you never could have expected or knew that you needed.

Just relax. Just enjoy being young. Things may feel overwhelming now, but you will someday look back and wish you had gotten out of your own way.

Don’t change for anyone. Well, maybe if you’re told you are being an asshole…..then stop to reconsider. In general though… don’t change to accommodate others’ ideas of whom they feel that you should be. Don’t hide who you are and never settle. You are worth more. You are worth EVERYTHING and you deserve nothing less.

Also…..please put me in a GOOD nursing home someday….or maybe a cute Granny Pod in your yard. Remember. I wiped your stinky tushies.

Jenn Miele Leslie lives in Woodbridge, CT with her husband, three kids ages 7, 9 and 14 and a stubborn but cuddly bulldog who likes to fart and snore. Originally from Long Island, N.Y. (yes, that IS how you say it – if you’re from there you just understand) she misses being able to find a decent bagel or breakfast sandwich. Once an Art Therapist specializing in working with adults with various developmental disabilities, Jenn now spends her time shuttling her minions to: school; playdates; dance classes and competitions; occupational therapy; coding classes; and what feels like a million additional places, on a daily basis. In her occasional down time, Jenn enjoys photography, painting and an iTunes playlist that boasts way too many 90’s alternative songs.

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