High School Revisited
Often when I’m talking with friends or colleagues about teenagers, I hear something along the lines of “I’d never want to relive those years!”
Are they nuts? I’d jump at the chance!
Me in high school
My high school years were not particularly happy, though I suppose almost everybody would say that. My skin was pimply, my eyes were extremely nearsighted (so I was constantly teary-eyed, doing battle with contact lenses), I thought I was fat (I wasn’t – see the picture.), my hair was thick and frizzy and unmanageable. And let’s not even get into my level of insecurity about absolutely EVERYTHING: my classes, my appearance, boys, my friends, my future. You name it; I was insecure about it.
But that’s just the point. Knowing what I know now, but in that place and time – and that body – I’d do everything differently, and better.
As for my looks, there wouldn’t be too much I’d need to do:
- I’d get a haircut with bangs and layers. Why I never did that then, I just don’t know. No, actually, I do know: my mother wouldn’t let me get bangs because that would make my forehead even pimplier. (Of course, with bangs, no one would see my pimply forehead, but that argument didn’t sway my mother.)
- I’d wash my face more often and pick my zits much less. (My mother told me that, but I ignored her.)
- I’d realize what a good figure I had and enjoy it. I’d also not wear all of that baggy clothing I used to wear to cover up what I thought was fat. I’d wear snugger clothing that showed my curves and perhaps show some cleavage from time to time.
And as for what I’d do, well, everything would be different:
- I wouldn’t spend nearly so much time worrying about my hair, my zits, my fat.
- I wouldn’t worry at all about what anyone thought of me. The first time around, I SAID I didn’t care what people thought, but really, it was probably my deepest concern.
- I’d do my homework far more efficiently so I could get just as high grades as last time, but spend far less time working.
- I wouldn’t waste so much time partying with my friends for lack of anything else to do. Instead, I’d find something else to do: I don’t know what, but something. Perhaps a hobby of some sort. Maybe scuba diving, rather than waiting until I was past 40.
- I’d try out for the volleyball team, something I was too much of a coward to do the first time. It wouldn’t matter if I got in or not, but I’d try out.
- I wouldn’t be so uptight about sex. Of course, that was related to my low self-image: if I thought I was ugly, then certainly I thought that boys would think I was ugly too. I would be much more in control this time around: deciding who I wanted and what and how much and when and why, and be much more assertive about it. Of course, this would be the main problem about this second time around: I suspect I wouldn’t find any of those boys attractive this time. They were teenagers, after all, and I don’t go for teenagers! I’d probably find some of the teachers more attractive than my classmates this time around. Hmm. Could get interesting!
- I’d be much more sensitive to difference: sexual orientation, race, disability, etc., and not join those who excluded or teased kids who were different. I wasn’t a bully and I didn’t tease, but I didn’t defend those who were bullied or teased either.
- I’d follow the news.
- I’d be a helluva lot nicer to my parents, especially my mother. I realize now how incredibly hard I made things for her: refusing to do chores, arguing every decision, yelling, slamming doors, and generally hating her. I can’t for the life of me remember why I hated her! We did repair our relationship later, but this time around I wouldn’t damage it in the first place. She was a good woman with some very set ideas. I should have been able to work around them.
- I’d write down every one of my grandmother’s stories. (Click here to read the ones I remember.) I was too busy rolling my eyes at her old-fashioned attitudes to realize the value of the history she was telling me.
So, generally speaking, I’d do everything a lot better than the first time, and I’d have a great time. But here’s the problem: if I did everything so much differently from the first time around, could I still arrive at the same place as now? To get here, I’d have to go to Malawi with the Peace Corps in 1984 so that I’d meet Albert. Would that still happen if I did high school differently? Or do you believe in fate, which would mean that I’d meet Albert – somewhere, somehow – anyway?
When I finished high school I went to Yale to do my Bachelor’s. I spent one semester in France and a summer backpacking around Europe, which, like all of the stereotypical Americans-backpacking-around-Europe, gave me a taste for foreign travel. I decided to apply to the Foreign Service so that I could become a diplomat, a career I imagined was exciting and glamorous, with a lot of free travel. I passed the written exam but failed the full day of oral assessment that followed that.
If I had done so many things differently during high school, especially the part about following the news, I also would have ended up doing things differently during college. And I suspect that then I might have passed that foreign service exam. Which means – unless you believe in fate – that I wouldn’t have met Albert, since I wouldn’t have ended up in Malawi in 1984.
So if I did so much differently in high school, I’d still have to do everything the same afterwards, in order to get to Albert.
Because the fact is that I may have done high school badly, but I love where I ended up: right here in the Netherlands with Albert and my two kids and one foster-kid and a big house in a small city and three jobs I’m just managing to juggle.
So I think I’ll modify what I wrote at the beginning: I’d jump at the chance, IF I had a guarantee of ending up right here where I am. So, do we have a deal?