When I was in elementary school, I spent a lot of time learning about letter writing and envelope addressing. I had a few pen pals, but my personal interest in snail mail communication exploded when I noticed a consumer contact address on the back of a bottle of my favorite hair conditioner. (Seriously. I couldn’t make this up.) I really did love how my moisturizing conditioner got all of the knots out of my hair, so I sent a letter of appreciation to Salon Selectives. A few months later, a response with a bunch of coupons arrived in my family’s mailbox. This set me on a roll. I remember writing to actresses, authors, newspapers, and maybe even the Pop-Tarts people.
When American Girl Magazine had its premier issue, I noticed that there was a call for kids looking for advice for their “Help!” column. I wanted in, but this was a challenge. Writing gushy letters was one thing, but writing about my own problems was another. Was there anything with which I could use Help?
I remember brainstorming and considering all of my weaknesses-those that I felt I could publicly print (even with a pseudonym) and those that I’d rather keep under my hat. I ended up writing about my lack of cartwheeling ability. As soon as I dropped my note in the mailbox, I waited for the next magazine to be printed. Scanning the Help! section for my letter became part of my new-magazine-reading routine. My piece was never printed in the magazine, but at that point I was used to only receiving responses for every few letters I mailed out. I didn’t mind too much.
A few years later, I saw in a bookstore that Pleasant Company/American Girl printed an entire book of Help! questions and answers. Of course, I had to flip through it. When I arrived at pages 12 and 13, there were my words. THERE WERE MY WORDS!!! Scott Nash had even illustrated them and included my “Trying to Turn” signature in my own handwriting and everything. I had pretty much outgrown AG at that point, but I. was. psyched.
I’m writing about this now because I just found the book in my house, and that sense of accomplishment-as well as all that went into the writing in and waiting and reflecting on what I could ask in the first place-came flooding back. I am still so proud about this little thing. Why?
I feel that vulnerability gets a bad rap sometimes. People might be scared to show/admit/address weaknesses or mistakes out of fear that it’ll change others’ perceptions, get in the way of potential opportunities, or worse. I’ve tried to embrace the opposite, and I think the cartwheel reflection is probably one of the first times I was able to do that. Sure, there are things I don’t want to point out to the wider world, but it’s important to think about those and work on them privately too. If I can own my mistakes or weaknesses, I can actively work to change them. And even if I can’t change or improve on them (heck, I still can’t do a straight cartwheel), I can find pride in the knowing of them and maybe even discover ways to celebrate them as they are.
Citing the book:
Holyoke, Nancy. Help!: An Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Life for Girls! Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1995. Print.