Last Week, Kellie posted a fun flashback featuring Belle childhood photos. I happened to be visiting my mother in Louisiana when I received that request, so my mom and I looked through some old family snapshots that had captured the highlights of my childhood.
My return to “the good ol’ days” got me thinking.
If I could go back in time to chat with the fledgling Julie in these photos, what would I say?
The first photograph shows me at one year of age, mesmerized by a flock of fluffy baby chicks. Ironically, the day I found this photo at my mom’s house, I had spent the morning back at home in Mississippi, feeling as excited as a school-girl because our incubator at Valley House Farm had finally worked. We had welcomed a brand new batch of hatchlings to our barn, and all of us crowded around to ooh and ahh, snuggling the chicks’ soft feathers and tuning our ears to their high-pitched chirps.
Now, looking back at the the dark-haired toddler in the barn all those years ago, I say to her: “Never lose your sense of wonder and always remain connected to the greater world. Life in all its forms is a miracle, a mystery, and worthy of our attention. Slow down, take notice, and surround yourself always with the smallest of souls. They deliver peace and remind us that we are all fragile beings.”
Next, I see myself at 16 months, proudly displaying my new Easter dress for the camera. Arms outstretched, smile big, flashy red tights and a sailor cap that yells “I’ve got pizazz!” And then another image, this one from New Year’s Day, with a snappy red faux fur coat and a joyful laugh that seems ready to conquer the universe.
Here’s what I say to that confident little fashion guru: “Never lose your own sense of style. There will come a day when you will no longer care about your own appearance. You will not spend money on yourself, even if that means you wear your husband’s shirts and jeans from the thrift store. You will eat the crusts from your children’s sandwiches and call it a meal. You will ignore the gray roots that frame your temples and the crow’s feet that jetty out from reddened eyes. Remember how good you felt in this brand new dress, striking a pose without a care in the world about what anyone else thought of you. It felt good to look good. Remember that, when you are 40 and feeling frumpy. Splurge on yourself for a change, and enjoy the way it feels to shine.”
Now look at this one. Here’s a girl who is fearless. I’m four and doing my “dangerous tricks” with no hands. I would spend my afternoons balanced on the precipice of these monkey bars as if I had summited Mt. Everest. Better yet, a boiling volcano with lava leaping over the edges, a sinking ship surrounded by swarms of hungry sharks, an iceberg breaking apart beneath me.
“Listen, little daredevil, yeah you…the one with the astronaut on your tee-shirt, who believes whole-heartedly you will someday walk on the moon. As you grow old, I hope you continue to fear nothing. Go out into this great big world and explore every inch of it. Climb those mountains, swim those seas, hike those jungles, and never stop living the grand adventure. Life is short. Go live it!”
Now we see a girl without a worry in the world. This little Julie is living it up on the beautiful white-sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast…still one of my favorite places to vacation. Look at that smile. I’m not thinking about how my thighs look in that swimsuit or whether the sun will make me age too quickly.
To this bathing beauty I say, “Never lose your free spirit. Run carelessly in the warm summer sands and never feel ashamed of your body. Celebrate the fact that you CAN run, swim, walk, talk, and move around this glorious land with ease. Never look in a mirror and think a negative thought about a body that still does its job for you. Count your blessings. Live in gratitude. And what the heck…go ahead and forget all that modesty that will keep you from wearing a bikini when you have the figure for it. Also, don’t take that perfect figure for granted. Exercise and stay in shape because one day you’ll wake up and wish you had.”
And finally, we see a girl who believes in herself. Not a single ounce of self-doubt or insecurity to be found. She’s a smiling, trophy-gripping, wide-eyed ballerina. There’s really no sense in telling her she hasn’t just danced lead in The Nutcracker. She’s on top of the world. The ultimate prima-donna. Look at her shine!
To her, I say: “Never lose your ability to feel good about your efforts. If you want to dance, dance. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to write, write. If you want to farm, farm. If you want to teach, teach. If you want to parent, parent. But whatever you do, give it your all; and never let anyone stop you from doing what you dare. If you dream it, do it. And celebrate the effort whether it leads to success or failure. The joy, remember, is in the trying.”
I encourage you to look through your own childhood photos. Write a letter to the younger YOU. What do you want to say to her, knowing now what you didn’t know then? And what aspects of yourself do you recognize in those early photos that you would like to rediscover today?