The In-between: 10 Reflections for a 10 Year Old
On Saturday, I celebrated my thirty-seventh birthday with sparkling wine and unicorn cake pops surrounded by some of my closest friends. It was a fun-filled day with many of my favorite things, beginning with an alarm clock-free morning and brownies for breakfast, and ending with heart thumping music, great conversation and the energetic glow of new friendship. Although, admittedly, thirty-seven is not a particularly significant year, my middle goddaughter and I share our special day and this year she was turning ten. Ten, unlike thirty-seven, is a very significant year, as it means that she is officially leaving her early childhood behind to embark upon the ever-confusing (in-be)tween years.
After our FaceTime conversation that morning, of which I spent most of the time marveling over how grown she looked, I paused for a moment to reflect upon my life at thirty-seven, and couldn’t help but chuckle at how different it was from where I had pictured it when I, myself, was turning ten. Back then, I was convinced I would be happily married with two kids (one boy, one girl), all by the time I was twenty-five, because everyone knew that anything beyond that age was just waaaaaay too old. I was also certain that my thirty-seven-year-old self would be well into a successful career, although the exact job kept on changing from lawyer to meteorologist to mathematician to teacher. Beyond that, the details of my imaginary perfect life got pretty fuzzy, but in general I expected to be happy, healthy, popular, successful and relatively unscathed by the ups and downs of life.
The reality, of course, is that things have turned out quite different from this “perfect” life I had imagined, which has prompted me to pen some advice for my ten-year-old goddaughter. After some reflection and a couple enlightening conversations with friends, I came up with these ten important truths that I desperately wish I had known when I was entering the tween years. And although, thus far, our life experiences have often been quite different from each other, my hope is that my goddaughter will still be able to take something valuable from it and avoid some of the most damaging mistakes that I have made along the way.
1. It is okay to be smart.
Really, it is. You will probably be made to feel otherwise as a young, attractive Black girl, but don’t buy it. You don’t have to pretend to be less intelligent than other people just to get them to like you. If they can’t handle your amazing brain, then don’t even waste your time.
2. Adults don’t know everything.
First of all, you know things. Way more than most adults will probably give you credit for. I know it can be frustrating, but please don’t let that discourage you. Eventually the adults will catch on, I swear. It is just that sometimes we get so focused on protecting you from our mistakes that we forget how thoughtful and insightful you are. It’s annoying, I know, but try to give us a break, being forgetful and thinking we know everything is just part of getting old. Moreover, being an adult does not mean that somehow we suddenly have all the answers. We might put on a good show sometimes, and occasionally even believe it, but the truth is that we are usually just as mystified by this thing called life as you are.
3. Find an adult you can talk to.
Even though we don’t know everything, adults can still help you navigate the world. If you are feeling close with your parents and you want to talk with them about your life, that’s great! But please know that if you are not feeling close with them, that is okay too. The important thing is that you have an adult figure in your life whom you respect and feel comfortable opening up to, so that any time life throws a curve ball your way, you have somewhere reliable to turn.
4. Bodies are weird.
Like, really, really weird. As I am sure you have already begun to discover, your body is designed to do all kinds of things that no one ever told you about, and as you continue to age, you’ll find this to be true more and more. Often, you might be tempted to feel awkward or ashamed about these new discoveries, but please know that everyone else is going through the same thing as you are. And despite what you might see on Instagram, on billboards, or in the movies, your body is already perfect no matter what its shape or size, just like the rest of you.
5. You are more than your body.
Especially for a young Black girl who fits or exceeds the social standards of beauty, the world will often attempt to overlook everything about you that is more than skin deep. People might often tell you how beautiful you are, but please don’t forget that this is not where your real value lies. Your intelligence, your creativity, your magnetic personality and your loving heart are just a few of your true gifts, and those who focus instead on your exterior are missing the point entirely.
6. Healthy relationships are not conditional.
This point might sound complicated, but it is really quite simple. If someone insists that you must do or say or be something specific in order for that person to love you or be your friend, then they don’t love you, they aren’t your friend, and you are better off without them.
7. Being popular isn’t everything.
Over the next several years this truth will likely seem like total nonsense to you, but once you get past high school and even more so after college, you will see that popularity is not only fleeting, but also relative, and overall it really doesn’t matter that much to your success in life or wellbeing. Now that we’ve established that popularity isn’t that important, you can spend all that time you would have wasted trying to be like everyone else, on figuring out yourself. Who are you? What do you like? How do you feel? What are your beliefs? Most of us don’t really start to ponder these questions until our mid-twenties, so if you start getting to know yourself now you’ll be decades ahead of everybody else.
8. Get to know your boundaries.
This reflection goes hand in hand with knowing who you are—figure out what your values are, how they are shown to you and how you communicate them to others. For example, is respect a non-negotiable? If so, what does respecting you look like, and how do you show respect to others? Once you know what your boundaries are, don’t be afraid to enforce them. Women, especially, are often encouraged to think they must be agreeable, which can keep us from speaking up about how we really feel. A good rule of thumb is that if something makes you feel uncomfortable, then there is likely a boundary there that you shouldn’t cross. Don’t get it twisted, you still have to eat your vegetables and be nice to your little sister, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to say yes indiscriminately or compromise your values just to make other people happy.
9. You are ten, so be ten.
I know it might not seem like it now, but you won’t be ten forever. Before you know it, you’ll be all grown up and setting out in the world on your own. It is totally okay for you to daydream about adulthood and even start to make plans for the kind of life you want, but just keep in mind that there is no need to rush these things—you’ll have plenty of time for all that grown-up stuff later. For now, just try to enjoy being a ten-year-old kid, so that way, when you are an adult you won’t regret missing out on all the great things happening in your life right now.
10. Everyone else feels just as awkward as you do.
Even though I am encouraging you to enjoy being ten, I also fully recognize that being ten can be hard. You probably don’t feel like a little kid anymore, but are still many years away from being considered an adult. This in-between space is often quite lonely and can also be confusing, particularly when it seems like no one else around you is struggling at all. So please know that despite these appearances, being ten is an awkward period for everyone, and no matter how together your peers may seem, they are all stumbling through adolescence at pretty much the same pace that you are.
Finally, in closing, I just want you to know how much I love you. It is that simple. No matter who you become, how you love, where you live, what you look like, who your friends are, what kind of mistakes you make or how many times you change your mind, I do now and will always love and accept you, completely. My only hope, today and always, is that you do, too.