Last Monday, my little brother asked me to help him with an assignment in his English class. I was so excited by his project and impressed with the finished work that I had to share it. Whether or not the final product was worth the level of self-importance I felt after completing my responses is neither here nor there. This feeling is what makes writing worth embracing, and it’s so exhilarating that it seemed selfish not to attempt to share it with all of you, so here it goes.
Before we continue, there are two things you need to know about my brother and I. The first being that he and I are twelve years apart in age. This means I spent the larger part of his life hating and resenting his very existence due to zero fault of his own. The second is that I have spent the last four years of my life absolutely adoring everything about that kid. You guys remember that little dog from the cartoons that always bounced around that bulldog who barely seemed to notice his existence? Yeah, that’s me around my brother, and it will continue to be me until the day he finally breaks down and agrees to be my best friend. The most significant event that brought about this change for me was getting away from my childhood home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom to pieces, but that lady craves destructive energies the way a zombie craves brains. Pinning my brother and me against each other was just one of the many ways she satisfied her drama quota.
I don’t have a lot of details surrounding the assignment my brother sent me, because it was all through a text, but it involved four “simple” questions. In fact, my brother’s exact words were:
“Hey Ashley i have some questions to ask you it’s just 4 questions and you don’t have to spend hours on it it’s for my english class.”
Oh, my dear, sweet, naive baby brother. You absolutely know that I don’t need hours to make this into a full-length novel. I am presently grinning a devious little smile as I imagine how priceless his teenaged reaction must have been to the two-page self-help novel I sent him via email. *Note: I have since been informed by my mother that the total word count, including his response, was to be 2,000 words. I sent him 4,000.
So, since my answers were long, and because I had so much more to say, I have decided to break the questions up over four weeks for a little #MondayMotivation. I also feel that these questions are a valuable exercise to perform with any minors in your life. It also seems beneficial for anyone you know who is struggling to find purpose or meaning in this hectic world, or even as a couple’s exercise. It’s always a shocking and refreshing thing to realize that other people see us. That they acknowledge and value our strengths, and recognize, as well as accept our weaknesses. Many times, the people around us see our potential a lot more clearly than we see it ourselves, and it can be really beneficial to have it pointed out. I highly encourage you to use these questions with the ones you love and see how it might impact them positively and encouragingly.
Question 1: What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?
For my brother, I chose video games as his strength and his weakness. Here is what I wrote to him:
Your strengths and your weaknesses are one and the same: video games. While some people complain and criticize the fact that you stay home all day playing video games, I see this as a lesser of potential evils. It is unfortunate that you are not getting the positive experiences that come with venturing beyond the home ( e.g., a taste for independence/ a chance to discover who you are separate from a parental figure/ the ability to make mistakes that turn into character-building lessons/ develope elevated social skills/ etc.). However, it does also mean that you are not experimenting with the life-ruining experiences that many youths your age choose to partake in. Many sixteen-year-olds in America are experimenting with hard drugs, entering into gangs, engaging in turf wars, having babies before they are old enough to understand what a mortgage is, and so much more. You have avoided this lifestyle by choosing safe, docile friends who would rather ignore the peer pressure of the world and unwind with some hard-core gaming. I’m sure, if you wanted to, you would have been more-than-capable of finding a “bad crowd” to fall in with. Instead, you chose a path that merely delays your social development until a time when you decide it’s of value to you. It will be hard, and not fun to play catch-up later, but it’s most certainly possible. I can attest to that.
When I was his age – well, firstly, when I was his age, I was a punk-ass goth kid. Aside from that, I was a really good kid. I hung out with my friends. I wore all black. I cussed every third word. I wrote a lot of fantasy stories with vampires and werewolves that I’m ashamed to recall (because the writing was dreadful). I flirted with boys that I was too shy to do anything more than kiss, and even that I was probably too shy to pursue.
I didn’t have my first alcoholic drink until my 21st birthday. I never in my life have dabbled in any kind of drugs, not even so much as a single puff on a joint (unbelievable, I know). I never had suicidal tendencies nor took up cutting, as a few of my friends had when the depression became too much to bear. I have never knowingly in my life committed a crime- and listen, stealing pattern blocks in Kindergarten doesn’t count. I had no idea what theft was back then, and I needed to show them to my mom so she would understand what I was so excited about every day!
All that said, I did miss out on a lot of learning opportunities. Our teenage years are a time when we are supposed to build a mental separation between our parents and us. Between who we’ve been told to be and who we actually are meant to be. It’s a time to make really stupid mistakes and to learn what doesn’t fit well with who we are becoming. It’s also a perfect time to get out all those really bad ideas so that they don’t sneak up on us later in life when they can cause more lasting hardships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying go out there, give yourself alcohol poisoning while snorting cocaine and waking up in a jail cell, but I am saying that it’s okay to live a little and go enjoy your last hurrahs as a kid! Go loiter in front of a sign that says “no loitering” or drink a soda while driving past a sign that says “don’t drink and drive,” or zoom by on a skateboard in a shopping center that says “no skateboarding,” you know, annoying things that don’t hurt anyone.
One of the lasting hurts of my teen years, one I still find myself subconsciously seeking validation for, is that I could have been worse, and not a single adult acknowledged that. With the exception of my therapist, whom I love dearly (obvs), the only feedback I received was from everyone that was going to “pray” for me, and how “shameful” it was that I wore black clothes and dabbled in the “devil’s lore” (vampires, werewolves, Harry Potter, anything popular that came out of Japan, etc.). I also was really into video games, though, granted, not as heavily as my brother. In spite of all the criticism, harsh looks at church and strangers hands on my arm as they told me, “The devil- is bad,” (No- seriously. That actually happened) I knew that I was a good kid, and I knew how much worse off I could be. Hell, I knew how much worse all my friends were! I simply chose not to tag along to all their after-school parties nor partook in their questionable pastimes. In retrospect, they must have been good friends, because they all loved me despite that, and never pressured me. They simply respected that I didn’t care for drugs and alcohol.
My point here is that it’s important for my brother, and anyone who feels unheard, unseen, and unappreciated, to hear the words that I craved all through my high school years. Those words, are this: You are a good kid, whether you’re 10-years-old, or 100-years-old and the choices you’re making now are not going to ruin your life unless you decide they are. They are going to give you different experiences from everyone else’s unrealistic ideas of who you should be, and that’s absolutely, and unquestionably okay. Keep up the good work, and just be as aware as you can of the experiences you’re giving up as you continue to make the choices you are. If you don’t like something, or you’re depressed that you’re missing out on something, then it’s never too late to change it, and help will always be available to you as long as you’re determined to seek it.
Good luck, kiddos.
Next Week’s Question: How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?