“Slow Down, It’s Ok To Be A Kid” And Other Words of Wisdom I Would Tell My 16-year old Self

“This is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely.”

Jamaica Kincaid, Girl

I discovered this long-lost photo in the shed behind a house we had been renting out, mixed in with torn-out pages and several notebooks and sealed envelopes, all from various moments of writing my morning pages.
I always think of my daughter when I look at pictures like these, many of which I haven’t thought about in years. She is the spitting image of me in many ways and a constant, yet beautiful, reminder of how fast time flies.

Outside of moving around almost every two years and attending four high schools in for years, I largely enjoyed high school. I never wanted to go back, and I never reminisced on it–but I wish I would have appreciated it more. I wish that I would have appreciated what it meant to be a child. But, I also feel I was raised to be responsible and not to make the same mistakes my mother did. For example, getting pregnant at twenty-one or at all! I didn’t smile alot until I left my highschool in Atlanta and moved to Korea. Korea was the place I felt I blossomed, and it changed the way I viewed life.

As amazing as Atlanta was, my family life during that time was going through alot of changes. I was beginning to see cracks in our foundation and even what it looked like to have two partners going for different goals. I think those were the moments in my life that shaped my ideas on family, traditions and what is truly important in life. I don’t often complain because financially everything was great. However, finances, common interests and even basic compatibility doesn’t make a perfect union–it’s all about values and vision. At least that is what I internalized things to mean. Also, my natural affinity towards helping and fixing situations caused me to believe that through perfection and high achieving I could not only be seen, but find ways to make everyone happy. I am sure alot of kids feel that way. Yet what they don’t know is that, adults are adults, and kids are kids. Children have limited capabilities and although they may be treated like an adult, they are not. We do this often in the Black community. We make little men and women out of our kids and skip over the one time in life they will have to be carefree.

I beliveve that the latter is the natural order of things. When we rob our kids of this natural step, I feel the result is many adults existing in a state of arrested development. They are often non committal, confused, self-focused and searching for things outside of themselves.

“We do this often in the Black community. We make little men and women out of our kids and skip over the one time in life they will have to be carefree.”

I feel like I came out of the womb an old soul. I was always thinking, planning and strategizing about things internally and was unable to share them with anyone. The girls and boys in my circle were not interested. That’s why at some point I began to identlfy with the Beneatha Younger character from A Raisin In The Sun. At the time, I felt she embodied the feeling of wanting to express your mind but being seen as an object. But, I think I was also comfortable in my “role.”

Moving to Korea and Ending My First Engagement

Free wedding rings

I remember when my mom said that we were moving to Korea right after I’d had the most epic year of being on the homecoming court and co-captain of the cheerleading squad it was horrible. My mother delivered the news with no compassion accep to say that when she was a child she had to move around and I just needed to deal with it. When I went back to tell my friends, they all got together to come up with ways that I could stay back. We racked our brains about who’d ever done this before and how I could stay back. I don’t remember who said it, but someone said “you don’t have to move away if your married?” I thought to myself, “yes, then I would be an adult. I could also emancipate myself like Drew Barrymore’s character in Irreconcilable Differences!” Someone must have passed the message on to my boyfriend who must have picked up some extra shifts from Piggly Wiggly because he someone proposed with a whole diamond. I’ll never forget it, because it came from Helzberg Diamonds and he spent all of his money.

That night I marched into my mom’s room to tell her I wasn’t going because I was engaged and getting married and I was going to live with Alicia and her mom. My mom sat in the bed barely looking up, so that’s when I showed her my ring.

“What is that?” she laughed.

“I told you, I’m getting married.” By that time my dad walked in ready to co-sign whatever she said. My mom rolled her yes.

“Thats a promise ring and you’re still leaving.”

Over the next few months before I left I cried almost daily. Ultimately she was right. I went on to have a unique experience that changed me. I had the best year ever. I worked with dignitaries, officials, Korean businessman, and celebrities through my job at the Dragon Hill Lodge. I did not get married, and I don’t even know where that sweet young man is, or who he became. I forgot about it quickly–because although I felt like I was an adult, I was a teen.

Now as a mother, I allow my kids to be kids. I also raise them similarly to the way I was raised because looking back, my mom, was the best mom for me. Like I am for my daughter.


Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: