Sometime this fall millions of schools began a new year for kids with high hopes to be liked and accepted. Students enter the year not only carrying a bag of books, but also the emotional baggage they’ve accumulated year after year on their journey to adulthood.
I will never forget my first day in kindergarten at Farmington Elementary. After unknowingly sitting at the wrong desk, Miss Walsh came marching up the aisle, yanked me by my long brown ringlets, pulled me to another desk and sat me down in another seat by again yanking me by the hair. She then said, “THIS is your seat. Now do not forget it!”
Physical mistreatment of this nature isn’t allowed anymore. Still physical and psychological bullying carry on when teachers aren’t looking — mostly physical on the boys’ part and mostly psychological on the girls'.
I’ve been reading “Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek” written by 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen. It is the true musings of a young girl who was pretty much stuck on the bottom rung of the social ladder, a place most of us have felt we were at one time or another. Her father bought a book in a thrift store and in the nick of time her mom discovered the book by a former teen model, Betty Cornell, when cleaning out her husband’s office. Maya decides to use the 1950s popularity guide as an experiment to become popular.
My book-trading neighbor friend, Lynn Brady, brought the book to me and said, “Read it, it’s fun.” I found I was reminded of the many painful and stupid experiences I had on my road out of pimpledom, some similar to those Maya experienced.
She discovered whatever rung of the social ladder we are on, everyone has insecurities and a fear of making social blunders, even the kids who sit at the “popular kids table” at lunch.
The teen years, when our bodies are changing and trying to catch up to the size of our feet and our noses, left most of us with sometimes painful and other times downright hilarious memories.
During our teens, we usually think we need more. More good looks, clothes, money and all those outward semblances of what we think are important. Maya kept her mother running to the thrift store because that is where they could afford to shop looking for “things” to help her quest.
She discovered that outward trappings are not the secret to popularity. She wrote, “Real popularity is taking the time to love others, reaching out and never being afraid to be the first one dancing Personality is more than looks. It’s not clothes, hair or even possessions.”
Giving advice on how to be popular can be tricky. Take for instance the song, “Popular” from the Broadway musical “Wicked.” It’s a favorite because when our granddaughter Sydney was in second grade she sang the song for her grade school talent show and wowed the audience.
The song portrays Galinda, at this point a very shallow sort, trying to advise Elphaba how to be popular. During the play they both discover popularity isn’t the most important part of life when they sing their beautiful duet "For Good" including the line “Because I knew you I have been changed for good.”
As we mature in life most of us find it isn’t our bone structure, nose or even the space between our eyes that defines us. It is building on all the good qualities that define a life. Honesty, integrity, faithfulness, positive attitude, respect for others and pride in ourselves are some of the important ones.
When our friends Alan and Jackie Jacobson were working at the Salt Lake City Family History Center they invited us to see a genealogy chart featured on one wall linking descendants of Robert White and Bridget Allgar. The chart highlights their well-known descendants, two of whom are Donny Osmond and my son Steve Young. They are cousins of sorts having both descended from one of the Whites' daughters.
As I looked at the genealogy chart I thought, “If when we're young, we could only envision our posterity and the exponentiality of it and the love we will feel for our family, perspective would make us not care if our hair gets pulled or who likes us in junior high.”
It's one of life’s lessons that is often learned too late.
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