What you wish you’d known when you were 10

{Mom and me at my fifth grade promotion, 1996}


When I was 10, I was captain of the safety patrols. My hair was thick and tangly, and I wore red Sally Jesse glasses. I had already outgrown much of my wardrobe and was actually borrowing blouses from my tall, pretty mother. I was on the math team, wore multicolored moccasins I picked out from Kmart and was obsessed with tornadoes.

I had a wicked crush on a boy named Matt who was “dating” a pretty curly-haired girl named Andrea, and I fell asleep at night praying he would eventually like me back. Despite my crush-to-end-all-crushes (Jessica Darling-style), I thought kissing a boy would be gross — and couldn’t actually imagine doing such a thing. I had friends who were just about as awkward as I was, and we agreed that kissing was really disgusting.

My fifth-grade teacher realized I liked to write, and she read one of my short stories — “Night Of The Twisters,” title shamelessly ripped off from the Devon Sawa made-for-TV movie of the same name — to the class. Though I was proud of my work, I was embarrassed when Mrs. Smallwood tried to read lines like, “Get away from me, you morian [sic]!” aloud. I’d actually meant “moron,” which was some pret-ty unkind language for a 10-year-old, but we didn’t have spellcheck in 1996. “Morian” it was.

On Monday morning, I got a really interesting call: a local elementary school asked me to be their keynote speaker at a fifth-grade promotion ceremony in June. The event’s theme, “Turning the Page,” dovetails nicely with my job as a newspaper columnist — and the school’s vice principal was actually my second grade teacher (she of the “I’m proud of you” note). Without thinking, I agreed to come and speak — and have already drafting my five-minute speech. I’m a teensy bit nervous.

Despite the fact that I have approximately .4672 ounces of patience in my entire body, I’ve always thought teaching would be a really rewarding profession. (The teachers out there might be cutting me the eye, but I’m sure it is sometimes — right?) In my daydreams, the opportunity to help kids seems awesome. I think about how much my own teachers inspired me, and the chance to encourage other kids at such a tumultuous time could make a difference.

Of course, the story has already been written — and I’m a writer. I wouldn’t — and couldn’t — have it any other way, but I still jumped at the chance to live out my teacher daydream for a few minutes: speaking to today’s youth and encouraging them to be brave, bold and kind.

I know it’s, like, 10 minutes of the kids’ lives — and that much of my own, too. But I remember my fifth grade promotion ceremony like it was yesterday, and I definitely remember all the people who encouraged me to do great things as I grew up.

As the Rod Stewart song I always have stuck in my head goes, “I wish that I knew what I know now . . . when I was younger.” So here’s the question I have for you, friends: given the chance, what advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Like any commencement speaker, I want to be inspiring, pithy, funny and . . . quick. No one enjoys some long-winded old bag talking endlessly about the “good old days,” and I refuse to go down in flames. Those 10-year-olds are going to be give me a standing ovation.

Unless, you know, I suck.

So please help me not suck.


What advice would you give
your 10-year-old self?


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29 thoughts on “What you wish you’d known when you were 10

  1. Wow. Now there is a question. I think it would be this. “Just because you think it is cool now, does not mean it is something you will still want hanging around in 20 years. Some habits are a lot harder to break than they are to start.”

  2. Two pieces of advice for me personally, but would probably be helpful for anyone. One: Leave the boys alone. They will be there when you are 30. Two: Appreciate your grandparents while you have them.

    • So agree, Sandy — what a treasure our older relatives, especially grandparents, are!

      And leaving the boys alone when I was young would have cleared up lots of head space. In fact, leaving the boys alone all through high school probably would have been a good idea, though you live and learn . . .

    • Good to remember at any age, I think: today’s troubles won’t necessarily be tomorrow’s, so keep pluggin’ along and don’t worry! 🙂 I tell myself that often, actually. “This too shall pass.”

  3. I would go a little farther than Sandy’s advice and say to interview your parents and grandparents and get their stories while *they* are still young!

    And safety patrols! what fun! I had totally forgotten about them!!! I always wanted to be one because they got to have hot chocolate when they came inside. I was only ever a substitute!

    • Um, I’m totally jealous of this hot chocolate — I don’t remember getting any treats! Though I did have the satisfaction of, you know, saving lives in our school parking lot. No big deal.

      (Actually, I’m totally joking . . . all I remember about my days of saftey patrolling was the fact that we got out of class a few minutes early, had cool badges and got to help “direct” buses and traffic with real crossing guards. Still, it was wicked cool.)

      Very good advice about interviewing your parents and grandparents, too. Everyone has a story . . . and it’s so important to get them when we still can.

  4. I would tell my 10 year old self that it’s ok to be silly about things in life an not be embarassed by them. I would also remind my 10 year old self that I should always listen to my mother. She’s not as corny as you think. 🙂

    • That’s a great one, especially thinking back to all the “embarrassing” things that happened to me when I was a kid. Now I would laugh it off or even joke about it myself, but it’s so hard to deal with when you’re a self-conscious kid! And mothers definitely do have good advice . . . something to always remember!

      • I was incredibly awkward between 9 and 13 (like many kids) and i found everything under the sun to be horribly embarrassing. Looking back I too laugh at that stuff now. I definitely want to teach my kids to not be so serious about everything in life. Sometimes you just have to be silly!

  5. I would probably tell my 10 year old self: You’re moving on to the next of many steps in your life. And although your middle and high school years will feel like the most important moments in your life, try to realize there are not. They are stepping stones to the truly monumental moments in life.

    Oh, and those embarrassing moments that make you want to die – eventually they’ll make you laugh too – I promise!

  6. Oh my goodness, its so cool that you’re doing this. Sounds cheesy, but I think I would tell my ten year old self to be who you are and not be ashamed of it. There’s so many people telling you how to be and what to wear and what to love, but it’s important to just do your thing. What I want to tell ten year olds now is to be kind to one another. Kindness is far too underrated. In my opinion, it’s cool to be nice. Good luck, not that you need it, you will inspire these kids with your passion 🙂

  7. I have no clue but this post is too funny…aren’t ten year olds the only ones who actually vote on American Idol?

  8. Boys can wait. Make lots of friends and be a good one yourself. It’s okay if you’re not popular or you don’t fit in…be a good person and everyone is bound to like you. Wake up each day with a smile on your face; being happy is a choice, and it’s an infinitely better one than the alternative.

  9. I teach the pull-out GT program at an elementary school, and every year before my fifth graders leave me for middle school, I tell them the story of the girl who picked on me relentlessly when she was in 6th grade and I was in 5th. I don’t give exact specifics–the names that girl called me are not appropriate for me to discuss with my students–but I tell them in great detail how it made me feel and how I used to try so hard (in vain) to avoid her. I also point out that I am now 33 years old and I can STILL remember her name and face vividly. And then I tell them–don’t be that kid that someone remembers for being horrible. Be that person that someone remembers for being great.

    Now–obviously, your whole speech won’t be about something like that–but I highly encourage you to include the “be kind” part like you were thinking of doing. That is a GREAT idea.

  10. Also–remember that they are 10 and 11 years old. I would suggest focusing on their transition to middle school…these kids are very ego-centric and getting too abstract about the future will cause major zoning out. 🙂 Good luck–you’ll be great!

  11. meg, what an honor for you to have the opportunity to speak at this ceremony–congrats! i’m sure you’ll be eloquent, inspirational, and funny. working with kids–as a teacher, tutor, volunteer–can be so rewarding, and i hope you find more opportunities in the future to speak with young people. with your energy, enthusiasm, and positive outlook, you’re sure to be a hit. as for advice, i think it’s great to tell kids to be themselves but it’s SO difficult for them to do it. my graduates come back years later and tell me that though they listened to my ‘life lessons’ and advice, but didn’t actually HEAR it until years later. when my students are having a tough day, i ask them to categorize the challenge–will it matter in a week? a year? five years? that’s how i try to put things into perspective for them. i wish you lots of luck and look forward to hearing about the standing ovation!!! xo

  12. I love your story! I can relate-when I was in elementary school (fifth grade, I think) I had to read something I’d written aloud to my peers. I was proud of it, but I still felt very self-conscious. Advice I would give to my ten-year old self would be: DO NOT, WHATEVER YOU DO, TRY TO BE LIKE SOMEONE ELSE. You are an amazing person and you should not want to change anything about you. Just because you are not the most popular girl and may be considered a nerd doesn’t mean you need to change yourself to be like that preppy girl who does gymnastics and whom every guy likes.
    -Spoken directly from personal experience 🙂

  13. I would probably tell myself not to be in such a hurry to grow up. I remember when I couldn’t wait to be 13, then 16, and 18. Now I think….what do you mean i’m almost 30? The years suddently seem to fly by…

  14. While that kid might be Booger Becker now, he won’t be when he’s 30. Those things just don’t matter in the long run. (and yes, there was a poor kid who was nicknamed booger becker…wonder what ever came of him?!)

    What a neat experience Meg!! Wonder if you’d be able to post your speech for us? Would love to see it!

  15. Everyone has such great advice. Be yourself and be a good friend are two favorites. Oh, and listen to your mother 😉
    I was on safety patrol and loved my ‘uniform’ & badge. I was never lucky enough to be captain, though.

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