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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Kuehn

Dear Johanna: From Playing Pretend to Finding Your True Self, Thoughts on Becoming a Teenager

Dear Johanna,

This month you become a teenager. A teenager! All of us have known this season was coming, from the first time you insisted, “No, I do myself!” to that moment on my wedding day when you stepped out of the hairstylist’s chair in your purple dressing gown, looking all of 16 and ever-so-elegant as you sipped on a goblet of orange juice. Growing up is a part of being human, a part of acknowledging that change is our only real constant.

The last time I saw you we went to Target together to pick out your birthday present—that stylish off-white backpack with the leather trim and secret back pocket. (Such a great choice). While we were in the parking lot getting out of the car I asked how you felt about becoming a teenager and you responded, with all honesty, “I don’t know. I kind of like being a kid.”

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, and I’m so glad you shared it with me.

Sometimes Johanna, I am so eager for you to grow up, that I forget you are still only twelve (soon thirteen). I forget the importance of cuddles, the heartbreak of gossip, the bigness of the world, and the impossibility of feeling so many things at one time. I am just so eager for you to get to the season in life where you can fly to California and we can drive along the ocean and drink milk tea while we talk about relationships and plan trips to Paris. That season will come, but right now is not that season, not yet.

Right now you are navigating one of life’s great mysteries—you are learning what it means to be in the in-between. In between playing outside and retreating to your room, wearing high heels to play dress-up and wearing them for real, enjoying the spotlight and feeling the need to withdraw, fulfilling your role in your family and becoming your own person. These in-between phases are their own sort of paradox. They can be fun to figure out, but they can also be hard.

Yes, you are growing up. You are ready to test new boundaries, develop deeper connections, and try on new responsibilities. But a part of you is still a little girl. A part of you just wants to be a kid. And that is a good and beautiful thing.

Here’s a secret, Jo, that many adults have forgotten. All of us are still kids. Even your parents. Within each of us is a little boy or girl who longs to run through fields, turn cartwheels, and lick popsicles. Somewhere beneath all of the poise and posturing is an unbridled child who isn’t ashamed of who they are or concerned with what anyone else thinks. That part of us never goes away, though many of us bury it deep down or try to forget about it altogether. Sometimes there are good reasons for this. Sometimes our inner children have been hurt quite a lot, and it takes a lot of courage and trust to let them be seen, even by ourselves.

Your inner child is still very present, Johanna, and it is my hope that you will learn when and how to keep her with you, even as you become a teenager. I hope you will remember what she loves and what brings her joy even as you discover what this new version of you delights in—whether that’s a series of books, a style of fashion, or another form of creative expression.

As you begin asking big questions about who you are and making important decisions about who you want to become, I hope you will remember that a part of you already knows. A part of you has been sure of herself since before she could talk in full sentences. It’s okay if you forget her once in a while. I’ll be here to remind you and help you find your way home.

All my love,

Auntie Amanda

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