Recently, I dug up my old journals in search of a list titled “Things to do before I turn 30.” I’ve always loved making lists because it helped me organize my thoughts. I recalled keeping lists upon lists in my diaries even when I was very young–lists of places I wanted to travel, dream careers, books to read, movies to watch, etc. I didn’t find a list called ”Things to do before I turn 30″ so perhaps I never wrote one.
I stored my old journals in a plastic bin along with old photos. (Yes, photos from 35mm film.) I found my photos from my 6th birthday when my parents surprised me with a birthday cake in my kindergarten class (I remember my teacher was just as surprised because they didn’t tell her in advance). I found old class photos. I found photos from our trips to Ocean City, DC, the Baltimore Inner Harbor, Hawaii, China, Toronto… I found photos of my dad’s first car–a red Ford. Our house in Parkville, MD. Playing with my cousins on the playground. Playing with my cousins at their house (the same house one of them still lives in). My childhood looked so colorful and idyllic in these pictures.
After I removed all the stacks of photos and albums, there were my journals in the bottom of the bin. The earliest ones are in spiral-bound Lisa Frank spiral notebooks; the later journals are hardcover notebooks. I flipped and scanned through each journal chronologically. I paused here and then to read an entry or two. I relived my childhood through the pages and I remembered why I started writing in my journals.
I had started keeping journals because I was lonely. Outside of school, I didn’t have many kids my age to socialize with. My parents did not have time to schedule play dates for me, not to mention dropping me off and/picking me up. I spent some time with my cousins on the weekends, but other than that, I spent most of the time between ages 3 and 13 in the back of my parents’ restaurants. My parents did not talk to me except when it was necessary (i.e. dinner is ready, turn off the TV and go play outside, peel these shrimps, go ring up the customers, answer the phone and take orders, etc.).
After I placed the old journals and photos back into the bin, I started thinking… If I can go back in time and talk to my younger self,what would I say? At what age would I try to catch myself? Maybe when I was 10 and miserable at school because I was being bullied. Or maybe when I was 12 and my relationship with my parents started deteriorating even further. Or maybe when I was 13 and I was extremely upset about relocating from Baltimore to Brooklyn. Since today is my 30th birthday, I think it would be most appropriate to speak to my 15-year old self. I was still adjusting to life in Brooklyn. I was thinking about where to attend college. I was dealing with bouts of depression which wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20′s. My experiences as a child–tough as they were–made me the person I am today, but 15 was when I had encountered most of the traumas that caused me to spiral further.
Dear 15-year old self,
Happy Birthday! I wish I can tell you that things will be better this year, but I can’t.
You know all those times when you were ready to run away from home? You had a bag packed and a goodbye note to leave behind. You planned to sneak out the back door at night and walk down the alley, but you didn’t know where to go from there. That was why you never carried out your plan. When you’re 30 years old, you will be grateful that you stayed in your bed, just dreaming about escaping. Years from now, you will realize that you’ve had a guardian angel your entire life.
These are the things I wish someone told me on my 15th birthday:
- Regardless of what your parents say, you are not selfish, fat, dumb, and untalented. Most importantly, you are not unlovable.
- You grew up in a home that didn’t have a lot of love, so you will look for it. Don’t look for love in the wrong places. In fact, don’t chase after boys. Love will find you in time. Save yourself for someone special and worthy.
- When you reach your twenties, be selfish. Don’t worry about dating, marriage, and your parents. It’s all about you. You’ve had to take care of your parents and your brother since before you learned how to write. It’s okay to give yourself a break from that.
- You’ll learn that in whatever situation you find yourself, you have to make the best of it. Yes, right now, you hate being in New York and you miss your friends and family in Baltimore, but you will be in New York for a while so take advantage of all the food, museums, and live shows.
- Get a math tutor–you will need one to get through high school and it will only improve your chances of getting into a good college.
- Don’t close yourself off to all possibilities. When you’re working on college applications, don’t cross University of Florida and Vassar off your list–you will regret it.
- Make sure you have a diverse group of friends. You’re in a graduating class of 1,000 students–don’t just hang out with the Asian crowds. You will surround yourself with a more diverse crowd by senior year, but I’m telling you this now so you can start sooner.
- Although it doesn’t seem possible now, you will eventually realize that you can choose your family. Dad will never be the father and the man you wish he can be, so don’t hold your breath. Your cousin, Sue, is truly vindictive; stay away from her, especially when she’s visiting New York.
- Stay away from credit cards. For financial advice, talk to anyone else but Dad. Don’t listen to him when he tells you to get your own credit card.
- For relationship advice, talk to anyone else but Mom. Don’t listen to any relationship advice Mom gives you. Whatever she tells you to do, just do the exact opposite.
- Always trust your instincts.
- Don’t give up on your dreams. You know that goal you’ve had forever about traveling around the world? Your dreams will come true sooner than you expect because you will make them happen.
- Keep your feet on the ground. You know those boy bands you’re obsessing over? Well, all of those ballads, dance moves, and good looks set an unrealistic standard for romance. Nick Carter and Taylor Hanson will disappoint you for sure.
- Keep dancing.
- There are moments when you will feel lost, powerless, and lonely–those are the only consistent emotions you’ve felt you’re entire life. You’ve often asked if God exists, and rightfully so. You will find God in time, and He will be there when you need extra strength.
Today, I turn 30. I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I’m happy I made some of those mistakes because I’m all the wiser for it.