Don’t worry; this isn’t going to be one of those letters. You know the kind. Some well-intentioned and wise adult writes with a just-trying-to-be-helpful shrug about how you should stop doing this or change that. Usually it has something to do with your clothing choices or selfie-taking habits or flirting protocols. Believe me, I’m just as sick of those “letters” as you are.
You might not remember me, but we met at the public pool last week. I use the word “met” loosely because I never actually learned your names, and you didn’t learn mine. I had ventured up to the high dive after striking a deal with my older son. You go off the high dive, Mom, and I’ll do my master cannon ball, he propositioned. No problem, I thought. What’s the big deal? But after I walked up the stairs and took one look over the edge into the water below, I realized what the big deal is. The high dive is HIGH! I cannot do this!, I thought, but got in line behind you anyway.
The last time I jumped off a high dive I was 18 years old – a teenager just a few years older than you – but a whole lot changes in twenty years. For one thing, the diving board seems higher; the fall seems farther. And worries about a possible swim suit malfunction and water up my nose and doing an embarrassing belly flop seem a whole lot riskier.
“It always takes me a few tries before I actually jump,” one of you said to me. Then you walked to the end of the board, turned around and walked back. You walked to the end of the board again, waited, turned around and walked back again. Just as you had predicted, after a few false attempts, you walked to the end of the board and jumped. A few minutes later, you were back in line with your friend.
A few more kids – mostly young kids, eight- and nine-year olds – jumped off the board. You waited while I stepped onto the board, then stepped off, and walked to the end of the line again. Some of the kids told me how fun it was and how it doesn’t hurt and how it really isn’t scary. The two of you waited in line, cheering each other on when one of you prepared to jump.
Eventually it was my turn again. I walked halfway down the length of the board and looked down. Nope, can’t do it, I thought.
For twenty minutes, I stood on the concrete platform that surrounds the diving board and watched the two of you, along with the other kids, jump. For twenty minutes, I tried to muster the courage to jump with internal pep talks. I reminded myself that I can do hard things. I’ve done hard things. I remembered some of the words that I’ve written about jumping in and overcoming fear. I told myself that I would be setting a good example for my kids about being brave and taking chances and trying new things.
I stepped on the board and tried to jump, tried to be brave, no less than five times. And each time you offered words of advice and encouragement. You patiently waited while I walked halfway down the board, paused, and then walked back off the board.
“It’s okay,” one of you said. “I get scared too. But after you jump, it’s kind of fun.”
“Just don’t look down,” said your friend. “Look out at the trees instead.”
“It’s kind of like flying,” one of you observed. I commented on the appropriateness of the song playing on the loudspeaker – Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty – and you laughed.
I stepped onto the board. Walked halfway. Then took another step. And another step. I followed your advice and looked at the trees. And then I looked down. I turned back around and got off the board.
“Agh!,” the younger kids groaned.
“Not today, kids,” I said to you all. “I’m sorry. Maybe next time.”
And then one of you looked me right in the eye and, with a firm gentleness, said, “You will regret it if you leave here today and do not do jump. You will regret it.”
“I know,” I whispered. “You’re right.”
Two minutes later, when it was my turn, I walked to the end of the board. I looked out at the trees and I jumped. I heard the cheering before I hit the water.
“Good job!” you called out to me from atop the platform.
“Thank you!” I hollered back. Thank you.
A few minutes later, you walked past me and I called out, “Thank you, girls! Thank you!” But you were laughing at something teenage girls laugh about and didn’t hear me. I tried to follow you with my eyes to see if you were with your parents, but I doubted it. You’re too old to need or want parents at the pool with you. And then my younger son wanted to get a snack and then my older son did too and then ohmigosh it was already 3:00 and we needed to leave soon and I never saw you again that afternoon.
As I walked to the snack counter, my friend turned to me and teased, “I expect you to write something about jumping off the high dive soon.” I laughed. And as I considered what I might write about, I immediately thought of the two of you.
Sure, I could write about doing hard things. I could write about how it’s important to let our kids know that we, too, get scared. I could write about fear and obstacles and jumping into the deep end. I could write about all of those things. I have written about those things, and I will continue to write about those things because they are important. But today, right now, what I really want to write about is two extraordinary teenage girls.
There is so much is written about teens these days, and young girls in particular. There are complaints about the over-sexualization of young girls by retailers who sell padded training bras and too-short shorts. There are sundry discussions about your clothing choices. (Are those crop tops and bikinis and so-very-short shorts scandalous or empowering?). There are viral blog posts that publicly shame middle school girls for flirting – gasp, flirting! – at the pool. And there is the collective eye-rolling over your obsession with selfies and Instagram and social media.
We, as parents, try to teach our children to be strong and confident and self-assured. We tell you to be kind and brave. We teach you to be strong and fight hard. We tell you that you are beautiful and worthy and valued. We teach you to respect your bodies and demand respect in return. We teach you how to love yourself, despite the fact that we live in a world that might not always love you back, in the hopes that you grow into good and kind and confident women and men. We teach you.
But what we forget is that there is so much that YOU teach us. You remind us what it is like to be brave, if not fearless. You urge us to take risks and jump in. You tell us that it will all be fine if we just don’t look down. You tell us that jumping is like flying, after all. You remind us that we, too, made mistakes and sometimes acted foolishly. Very foolishly. You teach us the importance of second changes and forgiveness. You teach us how to be patient and tenacious, gentle and resilient, soft and strong. You teach us to jump.
We strive to set a good example, to teach you what you need to know, to guide you on your path from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. We like to think that our experience has afforded us wisdom. And in many ways, it has. Been there, done that, we tell ourselves.
But what we forget is that we don’t have all the answers and that you are on this journey through life with us, not behind us. We are all learning as we go. There is so much that we can learn from you – whether you are our daughter or our niece or a teenage girl we meet at the swimming pool.
So keep jumping into the deep end. Keep on doing your thing. Keep learning and growing.
Because we’re learning and growing right alongside you.
Beautiful, Christine … And so my life right now! Thank you.
Thank you, Liana! xoxo
wow. just wow. thank you SO much for this refreshing reminder. <3
i'm sorry but the site made me leave a url. i'd preferred to be an individual who encouraged YOU. oh well….
Thank you, Sonya!
Thank you for writing this
I love this! It is so refreshing to hear such a positive story about teenage girls. You provided a lot of good food for thought that came at the right time for me too. My oldest daughter is starting middle school in just a few weeks and getting so close to being a teenager herself. I am nervous for her about this new phase of life she is entering and I am extremely nervous about this new phase of parenting. 🙂
Thank you, Erica. I get so sick of all of the criticism – most of which comes in the form of public shaming – of teens and young people. The teen years can definitely be challenging, no doubt, but there is a kind of brave authenticity too. I think… 🙂
As a woman who would have been scared to jump off the high dive like I did so easily as a kid, I relate to this. As a mother of a teenage girl, this made me smile. My teens are not perfect, and they drive me nuts, but they are amazing human beings, just like the girls at the pool.
Way to conquer your fear and jump!
And you are an amazing mama.
So wonderful! Just love this from start to finish. Your perspectives always take me somewhere new and familiar at the same time. Love and appreciation xo
From the bottom of my heart, Nicki, thank you. Love and appreciation for you too.
Oh Christine… I just LOVE this!!! I love so many things about your story, and your message. First of all, I would totally have been just as terrified as you! So girl, you DID IT!! (Not sure I would be able to go through with it, no matter how much encouragement I received!) But even better, I love how you credited these girls with such grace and dignity. There truly are some beautiful teens out there… and I’m so glad you honored them here.
*I hope you got a really good cannon ball out of the deal!*
Thank you so much, Chris! I’ve grown weary of all the bloggers who use their platform to criticize or shame others – why not use a public forum to praise someone?! I do wish I could have somehow told the girls’ parents how kind and lovely they were.
I loved this so much, Christine! Such a good point that there are things we can learn too and that is is not all bad out there in the world of teenagers.
By the way, I am SO impressed that you jumped. I don’t think I would have even thought to try.
Thanks, Nina! Your kind words and support mean the world to me.
Oh, my! You absolutely made me tear up as I read. Loved what you said and how you said it.
Thank you, Marsha!
Awesome post, Christie…. my 13-year-old niece just spent a few weeks with me, as she does every summer. I always learn something from her. She is one of those girls you describe: polite, encouraging, a lovely, all-around nice girl. Thanks for putting it out there… not all teenage girls are provocative, scantily clad instagram hounds… I know they exist, but far more are of the type you describe. They deserve our praise. Your post is a timely reminder.
Thank you, Stephanie! What a lovely gift you have in your relationship with your niece.
Now I’m all teary. That was lovely.
I go back to work in less than two weeks. 7th and 8th grade language arts, usually the kids who don’t really LIKE school. Your post reminds me of why I love my job. Teenagers continually surprise me.
Also, it reminds me of my nine-year-old daughter, who says to me at least once a week, “It’s okay, Mom; everyone makes mistakes.” It is such a gift to hear that from her.
A middle school teacher is a special kind of angel in my book! And what a wise daughter you have. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Yes. Yes. Yes. There are so many lovely things about this generation. They are tough and impenetrable in ways we never dreamed. I love the cheering and encouragement they had for you.
Me too! Honestly, if it weren’t for their encouragement (along with the encouragement of my sons), I’m not sure I would have jumped. And i am so glad that I did.
I love this post, it may be my all time favorite! Thank you for truly empowering and seeing the beauty in teenagers instead of passively aggressively posting about how you just trying to help them. I love this.
Oh my! What a compliment! Thank you so very much. There is beauty everywhere, just like there is much to learn everywhere.
I have such respect for young women. I remember what it was like at that age, trying to navigate through this male-centric world. So many have such courage, brains and pluck. I’m proud to be the same gender.
Pluck! I love that!
Loved this Christine!! So proud of you for jumping, and so wonderful to be learning from the younger generation. I loved what you said at the end about learning and growing together! xo
Thank you, Mimi! Always so much to learn.
Oh, what a beautiful essay. Speaking as a teenage girl myself, there is something incredibly wearying about reading article after article criticising every choice we make for ourselves – alas, we seem to be one of those groups of people who are universally despised for no particular reason whatsoever. It’s so lovely and refreshing to see a brighter point of view on the subject; thank you so much for sharing your story.
Thank you for reading and sharing your kind words. Keep on doing your thing.
Such a great post. I can totally relate — to both the reality and the metaphor. I wanna meet those girls! – Kat
Thanks, Katherine! I’ve been back to the pool twice since then and have been looking and looking. No luck. I want to tell them (and their parents!) about the big impression they made.
I really really loved this. I’m afraid of heights and can’t imagine jumping off a high dive these days. Then again, I rode the Tennessee Tornado (a scary roller coaster) with my six-year old this summer because he wanted to so maybe I would jump after all. I hope you see the girls at the pool again. They sound lovely and I bet they’d appreciate reading this! (and so would their parents)
Love, love love this! As a mother of three girls, two who are teenagers and one a 22 year-old travel adventurer who is always jumping in the deep end be it Turkey or Greece or India or somewhere exotic:) , I SO love this! Thank you!
Thank you!! And travel is so great — it makes jumping in fun despite some of its hassles and challenges.
What a fun story. Those two girls sounded like really nice people, I hope their lives go well. I haven’t gone of the high dive in a while either, so I bet I would have a hard time as you did. When I do, I just hope that I have people as nice as these two teens to help me out. Maybe my family will want to go to the swimming pool tomorrow.
I hope their lives go well too, Phillius. And if you went to the pool, I hope you jumped.
I did indeed, thank you very much! 😀 I even thought about this story when I did it, and didn’t need help.
Reading this as I wait for my teenage daughter, with tears in my eyes. Loved it. Just wanted you to know.
Thank you! So much.
Thank you for this!! I have a 27 year old daughter that I sometimes still treat like a child. She is a strong, independent, educated young woman. She is stronger than I sometimes realize and I need to start reminding myself of that. She unknowingly has taught me so much about life and being brave and jumping in. I don’t give her the credit sometimes that she undoubtedly deserves from her Mom. You made me realize how SPECIAll having a young woman with fresh ideas and endless confidence in my life truly is. I’m going to look to her now, as she has always looked to me, for confidence and advice and wisdom. Why shouldn’t I? She’s my daughter and she’s amazing!!! Thank You.
You have a new fan in me!!
Nancy, your daughter sounds amazing!
Wonderfu about the girls. What stood out for me was not so much that you didn’t jump but that you kept getting back in line, knowing people were watching you. I think that takes more courage than finally jumping!
This made me cry. I am sobbing. I have 3 little girls and I hope they grow to be as empathetic and kind as the girls you met. Great writing and gorgeous message?