To my daughter, who’s almost 13

by Janelle Hanchett

You won’t believe me. You can’t. You show up to junior high and see two sets of humans: Those in and those out. Damn what’s up with those girls, right? How do they just know how to dress and do their hair and flip it just right and smile and talk and giggle? You look at them and are simultaneously star-struck and disgusted. You see through it. You know there’s more. But it’s alluring, fascinating. It seems real and fun. When nobody’s around you wonder if there’s something wrong with you, how come you can’t be one of them.

When I was in 7th grade I had acne. It started in 6th grade. The kids were horrible. They stood around and called me “pizza face” and asked what was wrong with my skin. When I got home I didn’t tell my mom or anybody else because I was ashamed. I thought there was something wrong with me.

I used to lie there and wonder what it would be like to be a CHEERLEADER. Ooooooooo.

I was too out of touch to even know I could sit in a classroom at lunch instead of around them. The boys terrified me. The girls intimidated me. If my one best friend wasn’t at school I would walk around while I ate so people would think I had somewhere to go and not notice I was terrified and lonely and desperately uncomfortable. I scribbled it all in my journal day after day, read Steinbeck and listened to the Grateful Dead and wondered how the hell to wear my mom’s blue eye shadow. (You’re way better off than me, love.)

Things got better in high school, sort of, but junior high? Junior high is bullshit.

I’m still saying the wrong thing and I have a messed-up sense of humor and see normal stuff in odd ways, and I still have no idea how to dress, and YEP I’m a misfit and weirdo and wonder sometimes if I’m alone in all this and you know what? This is precisely what makes me a writer (well, that and that I write).

I’ve always seen the world a little differently. It made me a freak then. It makes me a freak now, BUT IT GIVES ME SOMETHING TO SAY.

And it will give you something to say, too.

It’s all been done. It’s all been said. It’s all been painted and drawn and formed. So be delighted, be freaking overjoyed, that you’re a little off, for godddmanit you might paint or draw or write or form in a tiny new way.

Life is about that, my friend. My daughter. My beautiful child. That’s it. Hit the world a little new. Hit it a little fresh.

Watch the wonder unfold.

You got this.


Right now it’s all about fitting in. For the rest of your life it will be about setting yourself apart.

You see, as soon as you get out of junior high and high school it’s the misfits doing cool things, the brains running the show, the jacked-up dorks in the Museum of Modern Art, writing the music and the books, the nerds making the money and the movies and the plans for the new NASA project. Or cooking food people pay bazillions for. Or planting gardens in the middle of town. It’s the people with heart and enthusiasm, the ones ridiculed for caring, for seeing more deeply, for emailing the autistic child and being her friend.

Because it’s creativity. It’s individuality. It’s finding yourself unwilling to act like a fool, to violate who and what you are, to “fit in” with a bunch of kids you don’t actually like. It’s the ability to see through all that, to seek real friendships and real humor and conversations. It’s an interest in life, in the teachers and what they have to offer, in learning. It’s curiosity. It’s talent. It’s reading and ideas and imagination (maybe even a little too long. I played with dolls until 7th grade. DON’T TELL ANYONE.)

I’m not saying you’re better than them. You’re not. Well you’re probably better than some of them. I’m not saying you’ll be rich or go further than them. Some will grow up and realize they were fools in junior high and high school. Others will become Uncle Rico.

All I’m saying is this: The things that will make you an excellent human are not necessarily supported, appreciated or developed in junior high and high school, so don’t let this nonsense suck your soul. Your body image. Your heart. Your strength and sense of humor and love for Greek and Roman mythology that already has your dad and I lost.

Stay weird. Keep reading.

Know it’s bullshit and feel my love.

Say something new.

We’re listening.


You, at five years old.

You, at five years old.


37 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | November 12, 2014
  • Shelly

    Thank you for this. My daughter is only five, but I am saving this post to give to her in a few years.

  • Emily

    So what if I’m crying a little.

    This was me then (they called me pizza face, too) and it’s me now, too, and fuck if you didn’t just make kids and gals like us seem like the real heroes.

  • Jessie

    Because of you and your writing, my days are a bit easier. I hope that people like you and I and the rest of the freaks are raising kids who will fix our mess, because we keep it real. I didn’t have parents who shared that story you just shared, who told me what all of it meant and what it DIDN’T mean. But I do – I do share these things with my daughter. And after chewing her out yesterday because she waited until we were walking out the door to school to discover she hadn’t completed an assignment (you know, one of those “speeches” about natural consequences and I’ve told you six times this week to check your work over, organize it for your ONE day of homeschool classes on Tuesday, this was your responsibility, blah blah blah) I watched her walk into that building and stand in 5 degree weather a little longer than necessary to hold the door for a woman with a baby in her arms. After all that berating I did, she still had a heart to be kind. So fuck it anyway. Maybe I’m doing the important stuff right after all.

    • renegademama

      Thank you for this. And your daughter sounds wonderful.


  • Mommysquared

    Love! thank you for sharing and I hope those in Junior High read and get this!

  • Laurie

    Amen….from a junior high outcast who looks back and knows I am much better off than those who peaked too early…..though I still carry the insecurities of those junior high who-will-I-sit-with lunches! LOVE your writing, your honesty, your spirit.

  • Mountain Mama

    Wow – I wish someone had read that to me 30 years ago! Junior high (and to a lesser degree, High School) were the worst years of my life. I dread the day when my kids are out of elementary school (3 and 5 years to go). I am keeping your post for them to read. I love it and it is so true. Thank you.

  • Jessie

    When someone announces my daughter, age 9, is weird – she turns to me and asks, “What do we always say, mom?” “Proudly weird!” we announce in unison. Hoping she holds on to that feeling, that spirit, for the next few years and doesn’t lose it entirely to the pursuit of conformity. Thanks for your beautiful post.

  • elizabeth brabin

    So many times i struggle to find the words and my daughter is only 8, thankyou,you have found them for me,your girl is very lucky to have a mum with your wisdom and kindness. Xx

  • Jayne Formby

    This is beautifully written. Sentiments I hope I can someday express to my daughter’s.

  • Amie

    Amen! I agree 1000%.

  • Roxanna Smith

    I’m printing this and sending to my daughter – the most outspoken, creative, talented, sarcastic, brightly lit person I know. She’s in a therapeutic boarding school for self-harm. She’s 15. Junior High sucked for her. She’s different than a lot of her peers and thought she needed to be just like everyone else. I acted out as a teen, she turned it all inwards. Thanks for saying it so well.

  • Zoe

    Beautiful! In our family – 4 generations of freaks, it’s “freak freely” and let your freak flag fly”. My 8 year old grandson has been called a freak a time or 12, and we assure him that just means he’s interesting, funny, and absolutely one of us.

  • Nicole

    NAILED IT! I love this! I teach junior high for the precise reasons you listed here. It is bullshit but I try each day to make it a little less shitty for at least one kid. I have no idea if it helps, but it makes me feel better and the wounds left from my junior high experience aren’t so glaring.

    • renegademama

      I can promise you you are making a difference. I can tell just through this comment.


  • Aimee

    I am so in love with these words. Thank you for them and I will tuck them away for when my little misfit goes through the “fitting in” years. Xx

  • Bonnie Gregory


  • MomtoThree

    So true J. My dd is eleven and comes home with questions that break my heart “why don’t I have one special friend, Mum?”, “what do you do if you like a boy, but all he does ignore you or say spiteful things?”, or “can you help me find a penfriend so I have someone special my age to tell things to?”. Yes, it sucks. And I see the girls who ‘fit in’ with all their superficiality, unreliable outbursts of friendliness and their own hidden insecurity. It makes me glad it’s behind me. But I’ll be reading your words to my daughter …
    Thank you …

  • Nadezhda

    I wish my mom was like that. She wanted me to fit in more than I wanted myself.

  • Alex

    An awesome letter to your daughter. It’s public and anonymous at the same time and she will totally get where you are coming from.

    Oh yeah …
    She will be soooo thankful to you putting the picture up! Kids love it when we put up their childhood photos. 😀

  • Ashley

    “You see, as soon as you get out of junior high and high school it’s the misfits doing cool things, the brains running the show”

    This is great and your daughter is lucky to have a mother so wise. I so wish someone would have told me this when I was in middle and high school. It would have made things immensely easier. I’ll have to remember to tell that to my son one day.

  • Xavier Alexander

    I finally got to read one of your writings, I get email alerts and most of them get ignored, I decided to read this one because it seemed interesting since my 10 year old will start middle school next August.
    I am so glad I read your wonderful writings. Thanks for sharing your insights, From now on I am watching less “Mexican novelas” and reading more of your writings 🙂

  • Peggy

    WOW! so right. I was 40 before I knew this. Sending this to my girls.36 and 19 yrs.old maybe they need to hear it even now.

  • Kateri Von Steal


  • Jen

    Thank you thank you thank you. For this post and each one. I always either cry or laugh out loud–often both!–when reading your posts. They help keep me present with my 3 kids rather than agonizing over how I’m failing them–in the same way that this post reminds adolescents to stay true to their own hearts and not get distracted by all the bullshit. When’s your book coming out? Ready to pre-order, mama.

  • Colleen Arnold, PhD

    Love this. Showed it to my 7th grade son, and he promptly went and posted a pic of himself in a ninja hood and 3-D glasses to instagram. He says his motto is, “If life gives you lemons, make something other than lemonade.” He wears his tuxedo to school dances, and I really, really hope he remembers this. I have to remember it too, because although he’s the goofiest, most creative guy I know, it hurts me to know that the other kids sometimes think he’s weird and leave him out. Gotta remember that the reward is coming.

  • Jodi

    Well said.
    I remember spending the first year of high school trying to hang with the crowd that I went to elementary school with. It was not long before I started wondering who all these people were. They sure as hell were not my “friends”
    There was one friend (who to this day I am thankful for) that stayed true to herself and I did the same. We called ourselves the “ultimate free thinkers” and while not social outcasts we sure didn’t follow the crowd.
    I’m so grateful I didn’t.
    I have a 4 year old daughter that I even now hear her say “so and so isn’t doing this, or they are doing that”. I resist the urge to shake her and say “don’t do what everyone else is doing”, but I do try to nudge in the direction of independent thought if at all possible.
    With any luck we’ll all have daughters (and sons) who grow up to be just like their free willed/geeky/freak/independent moms, dads or caregivers.

  • Laura

    SO BEAUTIFUL! I’m saving this for 12.5 years from now. 🙂

  • Suzanne

    Word. Junior high sucked big time for both my husband and me. We often talk about how we’re going to get our daughter through it. Our parents did the best they could to tell us we were good enough, cool enough, pretty enough, to buy us the crap we thought we needed to be cool, and we both were still insecure messes. If the social awkwardness wasn’t enough, I’m not kidding, 7th grade was the HARDEST GRADE EVER. There was SO MUCH homework. I don’t think even college was ever that hard. It was stupid. So I was constantly stressed out about classes and then I had to figure out how to deal with all the little a-holes I went to school with. I think the only way I’ll be able to really help my daughter is to find her something to be involved in (sports or music or something) where she can be part of a group of kids that make her feel good about herself. I have no idea how to find that, but I know my husband and I didn’t have anything like that. We thought we were freak shows. We both hit puberty late (like, almost high school), we were both chubby, and the boob gods laughed and laughed when they picked my chest out. We let that kind of crap define us.

    Bottom line, I know I need to tell my daughter things like this, but it’s going to take more than that, since I know my mom telling me stuff like this pretty much went in one ear and out the other. What COULD she say? She told me those kids are jerks. I knew they were jerks, but I wanted those jerks to like me. I have to find a way for my kids to not care if the jerks like them. I think that’s the key.

  • Marianela Butler

    Thanks for this Janelle! I am also keeping this one for the future of my daughter. You are right, those days are and were bullshit. Just like you, I suffered from acne for many many years, since I was 15 actually, which is coincidentally the same time I stopped playing dolls and barbies. For goodness sake I had my best friend and cousin threatened to death if she were to say something in school. Then, according to my friends and cousins at the time, I became boring= I turned into an adult!! Why do you think I love children so much?


  • Aria Alpert Adjani

    whenever I reflect on how I’m almost 40 (!!) and how blissful I am living in northern california with my children and husband and farm animals- I forgo all ALL those years in junior high and high school of fakeness and acne and insecurity and depression and unconsciously trying to fill that void that I desperately wanted to fill but nothing ever did. Not going to “that party” or dating that hot guy or surrounding myself with people who I wanted it become in hope that their supposed “happiness” would rub off on me. Nothing filled. Nothing filled it until, well, it did. Until all ALL those experiences as hard as they were exploded and I suddenly became conscious of the life that I was leading and repeating and married to – literally. 5 years ago. Only 5 fucking years ago my life suddenly awoke. The veil lifted and I saw the woman that I was and realized that all I had to do was step into the light that was me and blossom into the woman I always knew I could/would become. My mothers influenced this no doubt. Her bullshit drama and fearful insecurities rubbed. But you miss thing – your strength and courage and blunt fucking honesty and gorgeous imperfection shine through. How fortune your daughter has you as her mother. The lot of them actually!

  • Debi

    I can relate to this post. I have a daughter who is 13 and in 8th grade.
    She is a brilliant, smart, beautiful human being…but she doesn’t think none of this. She is literally in her own cubicle in her mind and only lets very very few in. Sadly, I’m not one of them. The kids (especially the girls) are mean, rotten and cruel. Sorry to say, but my God, soooo true. I remember those days, they weren’t fun and I never ever wish to be that age again. I try to uplift my daughter when we have our little mother-daughter talks. But still, she doesn’t let me in her little world.
    I remember being the same when I was her age, but my mom was older and I think that’s why I didn’t. I will never stop trying though…I know she really needs me deep down and I will always be there for here…through thick or thin!

  • Winnie

    Please try to turn your blog into a book. I don’t think it needs any editing, just a hard copy format. You might also add some commentary and favorite comments. You could title it “Volume 1”. I just wish to be able to easily read and share your words in the future. They’ve brought me so much comfort and joy so far.

  • LaToya

    I hate this stage of life so much. I was suicidal and my parents (and no one else) ever knew. Thankfully, I never had the guts to go through with it but for this reason, I have a special place in my heart for the “misfits” of this age.

    Keep encouraging your daughter, listen to her, question her. Because of that ashamed feeling, she may not always come to you but it’s such a blessing to know what she is going through!

  • caffeine lights

    So, I should not trawl through your archives because I always end up sniffling (and damn, that connecticut article where you asked “Had those children’s moms bought their special Christmas outfits yet?”) … but anyway, I came across this, and I thought it made a nice triangle between this post, the “Letter to my newborn” post and that one.

    Everything ends. I’m glad that you got your Cricket back <3

    • caffeine lights

      Oh and while I am trawling the archives. Is a book on the cards any time soon? (Obv, you should wait until you’re out of the whole “Oh my god I have a newborn” phase, no rush, in any way.) I could do with another. I have a battered copy of “The Mama Trip” which I sneak out and read at 2am when I feel shitty and cry, and pass furtively around all of my friends when I detect that look, that desperate tone. We need more books to pass around like crack.

  • Melissa

    Yes, I’m currently reading all your posts, because I just discovered your blog. And kinda feel like you could be in my tribe.
    I have a totally different take with my soon to be 13 year old. While I was weird and different in Jr and Sr high, she is so very cool and popular and is a cheerleader and an amazing athlete. I have to try very very hard not to change her, because in all reality, she is being who she is…
    Honestly, I looked at her at 6 months of age and knew then I had a cheerleader on my hands…
    I know that even though she fits in, even though she is mainstream, she too will have much to give this world. Even though I don’t get it. Even though I am I uncomfortable about it. She is absolutely the kid who challenges me.