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The mind of a 16 year old

By February 5, 2008thoughts

When I was in the 11th grade I lived in France for the year, on a sort of exchange program. 60 of us Americans lived with French families and went to school in Rennes, a smallish town in Brittany, 3 hours west of Paris. I was deep in the throes of being a teenager and life was full of extremes anyway, all highs and lows with nothing in between. But living in another country, learning a new language, thousands of miles from my family, every day was downright fecund with potential adventure. The amount I learned that year still awes me, and the fact that I made it home in one piece, despite being a sensible girl with a good head on her shoulders, makes me shake my head in disbelief. Oh the bullets dodged.

This was, amazingly, also the only period of sustained journal keeping I have ever achieved. In addition to recording the life-is-awesome ups, the life-is-scary-downs and the gosh-but-aren’t-adults-annoying bershon of being a teenager (and living abroad), I made many lists in these journals. Things I would do that month. People I missed back home. People I didn’t miss back home. Things I would do once I got back home. Things I would miss about France. etc etc etc.

One of my favorites is a list called “Things I Like” that I wrote when I was supposed to be working on an Art History paper. It is clearly the list of a 16 yr. old in its bald declarations of newly acquired self-awareness. It bridges the gaps between being young and grown-up with an utter misunderstanding of what being grown-up is all about. But it strives so hard to be happy, about everything. And I like how it gets more earnest toward the end. Here it is, without editorial interruption (the parentheticals here are actually in my journal):


  • Friends
  • Mom, Dad & Mike
  • whipped cream
  • music I know the words to
  • orange t-shirts
  • people who dress well
  • responsibilities (the fun kind)
  • neat handwriting
  • being tall
  • big sweaters
  • worn, ripped Levi’s
  • new sneakers
  • old bluchers
  • feather pillows
  • good talks (interesting, deep, etc.)
  • pierced ears
  • being in control of myself
  • fresh squeezed orange juice
  • warm summer nights w/a breeze and sailboats bouncing in the water
  • nicknames
  • flags
  • acting grown up
  • snowfalls at night
  • being and feeling safe
  • ragg-wool socks
  • bring so tired i can hardly keep my eyes open & then being able to go to sleep
  • microwave ovens
  • long hair
  • big, soft towels
  • waking up early on a weekend & realizing I don’t have to get up
  • chocolate milk
  • my bedroom
  • vacation
  • thinking I’m not going to like something & then being wrong
  • crying when I need to
  • being able to say what I want to somebody when I need to say it
  • straight teeth
  • pictures w/great memories attached
  • watching a really good skier on a hard slope
  • perfect plans working out the way I wanted…
  • L.L. Bean Catalogs
  • salty, unbuttered popcorn
  • not having to put on an act in front of people
  • good looking people (girls &/or guys)
  • laughing uncontrollably
  • pretending
  • cream of wheat
  • red
  • diet coke
  • fires
  • little kids (of any age)
  • inside jokes
  • smiles : )

I love how the innocence of the list is punctuated with brief but sharp depths: – pierced ears – being in control of myself – fresh squeezed orange juice -…

I love the magnanimousness of “little kids (of any age),” spoken as only someone who has just gotten a taste of life as something other than a little kid can. Like, “Aw yeah, little kids are great. Just look at em all runnin around, doin stuff. Not carin about anything. Aren’t they great?”

But mostly, I like imagining myself spending so much time poring through my head, coming up with the things on this list. I’m sure it felt good to write some of the more confessional items here — deep thoughts are exhilarating for a 16 year old girl. It’s thrilling to have words to go with all the new emotions. But it’s also exhausting, so once those were written, it must have felt just as good to write the less serious ones. Lighthearted and simple. A point-counterpoint chicken soup for the teenage soul.

And I still like orange t-shirts.

Are you a list-maker? Do you have any journals or other “snapshots” of your teenage years that reveal your childhood giving way to adulthood? Do you remember when you were 16?

xo, L

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • steph says:

    you haven’t changed much.thank goodness. except maybe the bluchers. and, fyi that was our exact microwave oven. i love that you used both words.

    love, steph (who likes lots of the same things you do)

  • motherbumper says:

    I think your 16 year old self and my 16 year old self would have gotten along great. Ragg wool socks, big sweaters, worn Levis (button fly I assume?), chocolate milk, and neat handwriting – we could have been pals. I must see if I can find any old lists. I know I have a list of my fav baby names from back then – oh this is going to be fun 🙂

  • I love the idea of a list of people I don’t miss. Anyone could make a list of people she misses, but the reverse takes some effort.

    And oh, being tall. I still like that.

  • Betsy says:

    I kept a journal from age eleven to age nineteen, and they were the most important thing I owned. I remember thinking that these volumes would be the one thing I would grab from the house in a fire. Now they are lost. No idea where they are. Searched everywhere. My family moved six times during that period, so God only knows if they still exist. I still grieve.

  • I kept a diary as a kid, but my parents read it when I was in 8th grade, and man, was I busted! So I swore off recording my true thoughts, feelings, and activities until my freshman year in college when my new best friend bought me a journal. I’ve been journaling off and on ever since.

    But oh, 16. Sixteen still feels so close and raw, even though I’m now double that age. That was the year I fell in love with the guy I thought I would marry. He broke my heart so badly that it still hurts a little. That was also the year I briefly dated the guy who I eventually *would* marry. And he makes me happy. So I guess it worked out okay in the end. 🙂

  • This is awesome. I too enjoy good looking girls and/or guys and neat handwriting. But what’s a blucher?

  • Pretty Lush says:

    “Acting grown up…”
    & now most of us would be listing the opposite.

  • ruth Cohen says:

    This is awesome! Wouldn’t this make a great book? Lists from people of all ages at different crossroads in their life. People making comparative lists, whatever. I am sure you have thought of this and are too busy to take it on as a project. But you could place it on your future projects lists!

    Your most ardent admirer ( me )

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