Dear 17-Year-Old Me

High school was a series of dark, dreary lows and dazzling reach for the stars highs.

That’s not true. Not really.

Except for the occasional moment, there actually wasn’t much drama in my high school experience. Every morning I slept as late as possible and rushed to throw water on my face, brush teeth and pull a shirt on before my ride cruised by my house honking. We were rarely late, but not a minute early.


Adolescent mood swings notwithstanding, some routine was built into my high school experience. For example, lockers were organized alphabetically. I remember my locker neighbors, for better or for worse. Routine can be a very good thing for works (and human beings) in progress.

Some schools around the country are removing lockers for safety reasons… kids hide stuff they shouldn’t have in lockers, obviously, and also for changing norms… Kindle Fires and other e-readers require less storage than heavy textbooks.

But beyond the locker, nearly everyone’s high school experience seems full of events that are either real, not real, fantasized, or flat out made up. High school is quite terrible and wonderful. Or so my high school was, all those years ago.

In high school, I had a huge crush on a BFF’s boyfriend – which is to say I experienced a thing quite common and impractical and mostly not acted upon – because he was nice to me.

Never in a million years would I have copped to the crush at the time, given that I didn’t really understand that it was happening. While surrounded by loyal and not-so-loyal friends and beautiful and not-so-beautiful people for four years, my adolescence was more or less romance-free.

Instead of making out, I got good grades and lettered in track, cross country, swimming, and soccer. I didn’t excel in any of those sports, but I wasn’t the worst, either. It sounds crazy, but I would love to show up for practice tomorrow… in the pool, on the track or field. I loved being a part of a team in spite of the tough parts (read HERE for my thoughts on team sports).

This past Saturday my husband and I were walking toward the stadium to watch our dear Timbers draw another match, and we spied a young couple dressed to the nines, the girl in bright rose, the boy in a tux and a pink bow tie.

Prom? Prom! we both noticed simultaneously.

They were holding hands and happy as they strode past us in downtown Portland. Unknowingly, the young couple brightened up the street.

I secretly thought they were very brave, but I kept that thought to myself.

Seems a bit early in the season for Prom, I observed out loud instead.

Because once I got asked to the Prom by this guy who was a friend. It was cool because we were friends, and also friends within a larger group of friends, and it seemed right at the time.

Somewhat awkwardly, we got dressed up and took pictures.

I thank God regularly for a lot of things, like for my amazing family and my health and Pharrell Williams’ song Happy, but mostly right now I thank God that I am old enough not to have had social media at my fingertips when I was 18 years old. Those who scan old photos of that era, well, you know I love you but please keep me out of those publicly shared memories.

Now back to Prom. My date and I headed out for dinner and dancing, teenager-style. At some point I danced with another guy. A guy who, I guess, was interested in me. Thinking that my “date” was no big deal because he expressed zero interest in me, I thought nothing of said dance. A few weeks later, we drank too many Miller Lites plus an unknown quantity of cheap tequila, got into an argument and the sad story played itself out.

Fast forward to High School Graduation. I was a capital W Wreck. But I was also thoughtful and surrounded by wonderful friends. I was happy and worried and excited. I was eager and motivated and ready for summer, post-high school style.

And did I mention I Was Surrounded All The Time By Other Teenagers?

Who wouldn’t be a Wreck?

Oh, and by then I was a practicing bulimic.

In other words, totally ready for college.


Recently a distant friend from high school suggested that we meet up at a local race this summer and grab a beer afterwards… a lovely invite, absolutely welcome. But a little, long ago voice inside of me inquired: Why? Why on earth would she want to hang out with you?

It made me remember those days, high school days, filled with highs and lows and in-betweens that I would not change today. Well, maybe I’d change a few of them. But mostly I’d change the way I perceived myself, and others, as a result.

Dear 17-year-old Me, please know that you are not all that ugly or different or bad.

Please reach out more authentically to those smart, interesting people that don’t play sports or direct student government and produce talent shows.

Please connect more willingly and openly with your closest friends and teammates. 

Please notice that one of those people was nice to me, and especially realize that this same guy who once gave you a rose before taking you to a movie isn’t deserving of you being a jerk, and please stop being so unresponsive to his kindness.

Dear 17-year-old Me, please consider that what it takes to bring people together is more important than what may be taught by your peers, teachers, coaches, siblings and parents resulting in people remaining apart. 

My kids are little guys. They embrace and reject their friends all the time, depending on the wind, day, sport, class. It’s a joy to witness their friendships and observe how they learn, grow, stretch, and challenge one another.

I suppose we “grown ups” continue to do so as well, but we don’t hold hands spontaneously anymore.

Every night at the dinner table we take turns around the table sharing our gratitudes. Once a novelty, now it’s a tradition. Both boys raise their hands frantically, competing as to who gets to state their gratitudes first.

It is a time when we can each think briefly about something – anything – for which we are thankful. Some nights, like tonight, it’s hard to think of things for which I am thankful. I’ve got a parent who is hurting and friends who are wandering. I haven’t met personal goals that I set earlier in the year. We put the boys down unhappily last night –  I try to time it so we avoid meltdown sibling squabbling, but didn’t close the deal tonight before they fell apart. It’s so frustrating.

And yet…

they slept nearly twelve hours last night, blessedly ignorant of what awaits them in High School.

Today I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up.

The oldest responded confidently, A professional soccer player and a shark explorer.

The youngest said, I want to be the Happy Guy.

You mean you want to be like Pharrell Williams, the singer who sings Happy?

No. I want TO. BE. THE. HAPPY. GUY.

So you want to become Pharrell Williams when you grow up?



I love my guys. And High School wasn’t awful. It was actually pretty good. I am grateful.






4 thoughts on “Dear 17-Year-Old Me

  1. Yeah… I just kind of hated high school for the most part.
    People were mean.

  2. qrparker says:

    It’s weird looking back to how miserable I was in high school. Looking back, things were pretty awesome. I wonder what it is about that time in life that makes it so hard to enjoy things.

    • skpadilla says:

      There is a lot of stuff going on internally in people aged 13-18, that’s for sure! Navigating one’s way through adolescence is tough for most of us. Thank you for reading!

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