Monday, 14 July 2014

Auntie Seraphic and the Thirteen Year Old Reader

A comment found in my moderation box, to go under 2010's "How to Look Like a Nice Catholic Girl":

I really enjoyed this post with all of its great information!! I am trying to impress a very nice boy at my church so this article was EXTREMELY helpful!! I know I am only 13, but a lot of the topics covered I could very much relate to. Also, any tips for personal style? I love going shopping at thrift stores to find & remake old things into new. Some of my family & friends look at me like I'm crazy when I show off a new creation. Can I still be myself without getting the same crazy looks, or should I play it safe? Thanks, Mia

Dear Mia,

I am thirty years older than you, and I often think about how cool it would be to be thirteen. You see, you have something that most adults over 25 do not have: an almost limitless capacity to learn. And because your body is still growing and developing, you have the opportunity to help it become the healthiest, strongest and most flexible adult body you can have.

As a thirteen year old, you have at least seven years to go before you need to seriously think about impressing boys with your looks and personal style, falling in love and getting married. And, in fact, your entire life may very well be determined by what you do with these seven years. These seven years are very, very important.

I see that you have a creative mind, and that is wonderful. However, there are better things you can do with your creativity than shop for clothes, alter them and show them off to friends and family. The altering part, I admit, is pretty cool, if you mean that you are practicing cutting and sewing--real and useful skills.

Love of being noticed and applauded is the big temptation of teenage girls. It isn't such a problem when teenage girls strive to be noticed and applauded for your deeds, like getting an A in math, learning Italian or scoring the winning point in volleyball. It's a problem when teenage girls strive to get the attention merely by what you look like. At thirteen, as long as you are clean, healthy, happy and and wearing clean, modest clothing appropriate for your age and the weather, it does not matter what you look like.

Now you may feel disappointed and think I am either crazy or boring, but I remember very well what it was like to be thirteen. I even remember sitting on my bedroom floor trying to make "looks" out of my clothing after studying my latest thrilling issue of Seventeen magazine. I also remember the boy I had a crush on; I even remember his birthday.

But I have had thirty years to think about this, and I have come to the conclusion that the most important things you can do when you are thirteen are to learn, especially languages, to master skills, and to find a sport that you can excel in, even if that sport is chess. Instead of shopping, you could be reading. Instead of showing off looks, you could be showing your friends and family stories, poems or essays you have written on the subjects that interest you most. Instead of altering clothes, you could be doing math puzzles or learning new languages.

To be frank, you do not want to be noticed by boys right now. Any time you spend with boys that does not involve learning school subjects or playing games like chess or soccer is wasted time. At your age, boys are tempted to waste a lot of time.

My article about "looking like a Nice Catholic Girl" is one of the most popular posts I have ever written, but it was meant for women who are old enough to think about getting married in the next few years. The idea was to make women who have been unable to attract church-going men think about what messages their hair, make-up clothes might be sending.

When it comes to adult (20+) women befriending men who might make good husbands, having a nice appearance is only the beginning. It's like having a very impressive looking science project: the science project has got to be interesting through-and-through; it can't just LOOK good. People will notice the project because it looks good, but unless it involves excellent research and creative ideas, readers will become disappointed and lose interest. My post assumes that my adult women readers are already "fascinating science projects" underneath--the results of years of their own study, work and development--and just need some tips to be noticed by the people "at the science fair."

A young Catholic man once said to me, "I understand that girls are interested in me, but why do they think I should be interested in them?" He wasn't just talking about what the girls looked like; he was also talking about their interests and accomplishments. At thirteen, you are embarking on your high school career. If you excel at your studies, and if you excel at at least one sport, you may be able to win scholarships to college. This may mean the difference between a boring adult life and an exciting adult life, between meeting boring men who are not interested in creativity, and meeting interesting men who are interested in creativity. Boys and men who are interested only in superficial appearances, like the clothes you wear, are losers.

This is what I wish adults had said to me when I was thirteen--or if they did and I didn't listen, this is advice I wish I had followed at thirteen. I hope you take it seriously and find it helpful. And I hope you share what I have written (here and in the original post) with your mother or another adult who loves you. Please don't automatically trust complete strangers whose advice you find on the internet.

By the way, that guy I had a crush on when I was thirteen? While I was wasting time thinking about him, he was playing sports and studying. Now he is a wealthy accountant, highly respected in the business world of our hometown. Back then, I wished he would notice me. Now I wish I had worked harder to do what he was doing: working on becoming a better athlete and a successful student!

Grace and peace,

Update for Canadian Readers: Sure, we don't really have sports scholarships in Canada--not like they do in the USA, but making a varsity team looks very good on a resume because it shows you can perform, and work with others, in a competitive environment.


MaryJane said...

Seraphic I completely agree with the need to develop a good mind and a good skill set (anything, really!) at a young age. But Mia sounds to me less like she's obsessed with boys and more like she loves the creative outlet that do-it-yourself fashion gives her. There are all sorts of skills needed for re-purposing thrift store clothes! I would encourage her to keep up this hobby alongside other things, and maybe take advanced sewing lessons, pattern-making classes, etc. Of course, thrift-store shopping can also be a miniature version of "we live on a tight budget" (which, let's face it, most Catholic women seem to) or the more glamorous world of merchandise buying. Maybe she will be the future winner of Project Runway! (Lord knows they could use some good people in that world...)

Christine P. said...

Canadian readers also take note -- if you're good enough, you can get sports scholarships to the US. My husband and his brother were both recruited by American colleges for baseball (my husband declined but his brother accepted).

If you think that you have a chance for that, you need to be playing in a city league. Primarily recruiters are looking at city teams, not high school teams.

I would echo MaryJane re. sewing etc. -- if she has a talent and passion for fashion and for using her creativity that way, absolutely that's something she should pursue. I believe that our natural aptitudes and interests are tolerable indicators of the directions in which we might shape our lives -- and that, if nurtured, they can lead us to all sorts of amazing and useful places.

Gregaria said...

I agree with all the advice about boys and think you should wait to date until you've at least finished high school. :)

However, creative outlets are great! I mean, if languages and chess aren't your thing, sewing, designing, and art are all great hobbies!

I see where Seraphic was coming from, though. Too many girls get caught up in their looks, afraid no one will love them if they aren't beautiful. This isn't true! I know people say this all the time, but it's true: what's on the inside matters more than what's on the outside. :)

Sheila said...

As someone who never really developed a fashion sense, I say she should knock herself out! 13 is a great time to wear what you want and be a little crazy in your clothing choices. It's a good time to experiment and find out what colors and styles make you happy. If you can do it by sewing and upcycling thrift-store finds, so much the better!

One of two good things could happen from this -- you could develop a great fashion sense which gives you confidence and enjoyment for your whole life, or you could even make a career out of it!

The boy will not notice what you're wearing, because 13-year-old boys are dumb. That's okay. Enjoy the clothes for the sake of the clothes.

Claire said...

I learned how to sew when I was about Mia's age and it led me to my current profession (which is sadly underpaid, but still fun and fulfilling) as a professional costume and clothing maker. However, Mia - do yourself a favor and start taking sewing classes RIGHT NOW if you are interested in sewing as a hobby or a trade. Or get someone who knows what they're doing to show you what to do. You'll save yourself a lot of grief and wasted time if you learn the importance of seam allowance, the difference between bias/straight grain, how to properly put in a zipper/thread a machine/wind a bobbin/ etc. NOW rather than when you're at your first paid sewing job and realize you have no idea how the slipstitch works (true story!)

I had a counselor at a middle school camp who told us she didn't see the point of dating until you were ready to get married. I thought she was CRAZY - after all, if I didn't start dating until I was 22 or older (the arbitrary age when I decided I would get married), how would I know what to DO?! Unfortunately because I didn't listen to her I caused myself and some very nice boys a lot of pain over my teenage years. I would have been better off paying much closer attention to algebra and physics and actually practicing for my piano and dance lessons and and not coasting so much in French. I also wish my mom had said I wasn't allowed to date until after I graduated high school or something. When I mentioned this to her a while ago she said that since teenage girls are going to think about boys anyway she didn't want to make me rebel and act out by refusing to allow me to date. (I am like the least rebellious spirit in existence) ARGH. No use crying over spilt milk.

Now that I am 24 and very happily not married/otherwise partnered up I feel silly for thinking middle- and high-school-age dating was building up my "experience" for some sort of "relationship resume" that would culminate in me getting married straight out of college to some amorphous perfect man. It doesn't! I wish someone had told me that teenage boys are PEOPLE and male friends can be great, but a boyfriend at that age can be more trouble than he's worth (bless 'em), even if all your friends say it's the best and most desirable thing in the world to have one. Or if someone told me, I wish I had listened.

Anyway, you go Mia! Learn how to sew properly, find physical and academic activities you enjoy to improve your health and your mind, and focus on making great friendships with the people around you. And DEFINITELY talk with an older female adult in your life about what you're reading on here. Like Auntie said, we're all just people who don't know you dispensing advice on the Internet :)

Sarah said...

As much as waiting to be ready *yourself* for the possibility of marriage is important, it is also important, and comforting, to remember that boys of my generation and younger are not ready for romantic relationships of any kind until they are nearly 30.

Believe me-- a teenage boy is not where you want to keep your heart. They simply don't know what to do with it. :) And you might try to convince yourself that the particular boy you like is really mature for his age, but there is just no such thing as an emotionally mature teenage boy.

Julia said...

Seraphic, fabulous advice. If I had a daughter, I would happily refer her to your opinion if she wouldn't listen to me.

And Sarah, you nailed it.

Mia, if you're reading this, I would like to tell you a bit about my life.

I'm 24 in eight days' time. I have never had a boyfriend. I've never even been on a date! And you know what? I don't regret a thing.

I worked hard in secondary school, even topping the grade in year eight in a class of about 120 girls. I worked hard at my music lessons and participated in music exams and competitions. I even did science competitions at the invitation of my science teachers! (And believe me, I'm no science girl.) I did foreign language poetry competitions. For senior secondary school, I gained entry into a selective-entry music programme at another school. I took many opportunities there and succeeded in gaining entry into a very well-reputed classical music undergrad degree at my first-choice university.

I worked hard there too. I won entry into my Honours year, which I excelled in. Because of that, I won entry into a FREE Masters degree on a hefty, competitive scholarship programme.

I am not the most talented student I know. Far from it. But when I look around, I'm one of the "last men standing", so to speak. Many of those students who I admired very much in school and undergrad uni are no longer doing music. I am. I've discovered a real passion for chamber music, and I've won recognition for that too.

I enjoy teaching private instrumental lessons, which is my job as I complete my Masters, and in my country it pays well too. I feel confident that while I won't be on $500K a year, I'll be able to provide for myself and have control over my career. I am thinking of further steps to take to increase my marketability.

I write all this not to blow my own trumpet, but to impress upon you that you won't regret working hard at something while you're a teenager. If that's dressmaking or sewing, well, I know nothing about that, but aim to excel at it. Aim to be, I don't know, chief wardrobe designer at your national theatre or opera company.

I do truly and firmly believe that having a boyfriend before finishing some sort of post-high school qualification is a big mistake. Many of my friends had boyfriends in high school and uni, and they got nothing but drama as a result. I don't believe that you need to gain "relationship experience" by dating. Wait. Please do not worry about impressing that boy at church. It's so not worth it.

And please do read the post and these comments over with your mother or some other adult who loves you (aunt, older sister, godmother.)

God bless!

Breana said...

Wish I would have read this when I was 13 (and listened). I coasted through high school, eventually dropped out of an accredited homeschool program because, well, I'm 18 and can just say I finished what I wanted to. I neither did anything athletic or developed my writing capacity, which is my predominant talent, passed writing obligatory essays while exerting as little effort as possible. I didn't try hard to be a good friend or daughter or sister. I didn't do much of any kind of meaningful service. Catholicism consisted of me talking to God about me and weekly, boring (I allowed myself to think)Sunday Mass. And all this because I was fixated on a guy who moved cross country when I was 14.

So now I'm 18, no grade point average or SAT scores, no money, no community service, no athletic skills, no real job history, no social skills (well, only a little), no all consuming crush on a guy (yeah, recently realized I was over him ((mostly)) about a month ago), only a rudimentary understanding of Spanish...

I'm so full of regret for just skating by in pretty much everything except in the arena of unrequited love. That I did quite well, if a thing like that can be said to be done well. Sigh... you ladies have any words of wisdom for me? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Seraphic said...

First, don't panic. You are only 18, so all this is fixable. I don't know what country you are in, so I can't tell you that there are programs available to help you out if you are in the USA. In the UK and Canada there most definitely are programs to help 18 year olds to get back into school or training programs. I recommend finding out through government or accredited college websites on the internet how to get some remedial education so that you can get some decent grades and sit your SATS.

You may be FEELING old because you are 18, but honestly you are still young and your brain is still fresh and springy. 18-25 is excellent brain-developing time. All you need is a work ethic and some adults to show you the way to boost your education and get some skills.

Seraphic said...

I can't stress enough how great it is that you have determined to get your act together and stop drifting at the tender age of 18.

MaryJane said...

Breana, I second Seraphic! There are tons of 18 year olds who enter college with some "skills" but really have no direction or sense that they ought to be building their character as well: you are a step ahead!

If you think writing is your talent, then write. Write a lot, write every day. Go to writing groups and get your stuff critiqued. Send in essays / stories / poems and get rejected. Just write! You build a skill by doing it.(Seraphic can say more about this, as she is the published novelist.)

As for education, etc. - there are some states in the US who are starting to offer programs where you can attend community college for 2 years, and if you keep your grades way up, you can switch over to a (highly ranked) state school for the last 2 years, paying only the same minimal tuition. There are a lot of options like that. (If you don't have a 'certificate' you may want to get the G.E.D. at least.)

I'd also recommend getting a (part-time?) job, preferably in an area you like. But even working somewhere you hate can be a great experience in what works for you and what doesn't. I learned a lot of "people skills" working at jobs I hated. And most of the time you figure out what you like and what you don't like by doing it, not just by thinking about it. - Go outside the box, too. There's always retail and waitressing, but what about tutoring? working with people who are disabled or elderly? coaching or being a referee? Even volunteering often leads to a job - and if it doesn't, it is a valuable way to give of your time.

Lastly - but really it should be first - it sounds like you are ready to take your spiritual life seriously. Have you thought about a spiritual director, maybe? Or committing to a certain type/ amount of prayer every day? These things can help you discern the direction of your life, as well as grow into the person you are called to be.

Again, to echo Seraphic, you're really in a great spot and ahead of the game, just by knowing yourself and hoping to move forward purposefully in life! Don't beat yourself up about unrequited love - it's totally normal - just move ahead with purpose!

Seraphic said...

Yes, indeed. Getting a grip at 18 is fantastic. I wish I had been so rooted in reality at 18. Okay, I got good enough grades in high school and dreamed big, but I did not really have the work ethic university required. Oh boy, if I knew then what I know now...!

At any rate, thank you, Breanna, for supplying some important details for people living in the USA. I welcome other American readers to offer any knowledge they have that can help out 18 year old Breana. (I'm guessing Breana is American as she mentioned the SATs.)

If I woke up and discovered myself back when I was 18, I would do anything to get to the University of Aberdeen to meet B.A. and to take Russian and business, so as to get in on the ground floor or of the post-Soviet boom. Unfortunately, I was not very rooted in reality or current events and had "Brideshead Revisited" on the brain.

Sarah said...

I don't think life really begins at all until you are in your 20s. My 20s was when I started going interesting places, when I learned a language, when I picked up my most interesting hobbies, met my best friends, and read the best books.

It's great to get a head start in high school, but please, Breana, do not stress about not having done so. Life gets so much more interesting after that, and you still have so much time to learn and do amazing things. :)

Breana said...

Thank you Seraphic, Mary Jane, and Sarah for all your kind words-they really helped me to take a breath, smile, and look at my circumstances with a bit more peace. It's interesting to me that you, Seraphic, wished you could be as rooted in reality as I am, because that's something I didn't think I was. Before reading everyone's comments, I forgot how young I am, that I'm only 18. It kind of made me laugh when I realized how much I was thinking that I was sooo old. I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to reply, just think I've been having a lot of things to think about. (Oh and I am writing from the USA:)

I've been applying for part time jobs and I'm deciding if I want to a) re-enroll in highschool and work diligently to finish it this year and get the highest SAT scores I can get, then get scholarships, etc. b) go to community college and perhaps transfer to univeristy or c) get a part time job, write as much as possible, help around the house. Probably won't do c) as my dad is pretty convinced that in order to be a good writer you have to go out and do lots of things, but I'm still considering it. I'll probably spend this month having nice long talks with my parents about what I will work on doing for the next few years.

So again, thanks for all you guys had to say and Seraphic, I haven't been on the blog in a while and man, you've been a very prolific writer lately! (: