My Childhood Diary Is Helping Me Relate To My Tweens

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
My Childhood Diary Is Helping Me Relate To My Tweens
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I thought being a mom of a toddler was difficult, then realized that no one warns moms about the tween years. If you think a threenager is challenging, try dealing with a hormone-induced tantrum from a child who is almost as tall as you are. Where are the parenting books on raising nine to twelve-year-olds? I’ll tell you. They are nowhere to be found. It’s every mom for herself. Best wishes.

Take, for example, the other night. One of my two tweens (oh yes I have two) was having a spiraling, emotional meltdown because she didn’t have her best friend’s phone number. This is a friend whom I’ve never met let alone have ever even heard her name. Where the best qualifier came from is beyond me. Then my child continued to tell me her life was over because her baby sister forgot to flush the toilet again. Also, why did she have to get braces? Like, who gets braces? I honestly wanted to bail after a long day of working and watching the kids. I could have launched into a lecture about entitlement and complaining. I also considered quoting Moira Rose and telling my kid to stop being a “disgruntled pelican.” Instead, I recalled my own 1980s and ’90s tween angst which I luckily recorded, in great detail, in my childhood diary. What my tweens are working through is quite normal, and I need to work on my response to them rather than trying to correct their quite-typical feelings.

Last year, my mom brought a disintegrating cardboard box to my house and plopped it on the kitchen counter. In it were the most magical childhood treasures, like my kindergarten t-shirt with “class of 2000” printed on it. There were cassette tapes, including my two favorite artists, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Then, there it was. My childhood diary’s golden lock was tarnished and broken, but the pages were intact and full of my half-print, half-cursive handwriting detailing all of my life’s greatest tragedies. Please, note the sarcasm.

I had an amazing childhood. We grew up in the country on two grassy acres. My siblings and I spent hours in our treehouse, swimming in our pool, and playing in the one-hundred year old red barn. We would put on plays, ride our bikes, and play restaurant with frisbees as plates and moss as food. My mom would let us each lunch outside at a picnic table while our dog ran circles around us hoping we’d drop him pieces of our pb and j. We had plenty of free play, long before that was even a thing that moms talked about.

Yet this didn’t stop me from writing in my diary, at age eleven, that my mom made my life a “living hell” because she wouldn’t buy me $30 Tweety Bird Keds from JCPenney. Why did I have to wear shoes from Wal-Mart? I was never, ever going to survive middle school, that was for certain. I know this because a spoiled, youngest-child classmate of mine told me so after comparing her shoes to mine. My mom said all-white canvas shoes were impractical, and they were most certainly overpriced. (She was right, of course.)

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I also claimed my parents were the worst ever because they wouldn’t let me go on dates as a fifth grader. Why did they treat me like a baby? I already had my first training bra, so obviously I was ready to go to the movies with my crush-of-the-week without an adult hovering around us. I wrote in my diary, in big loopy font and purple ink, that my mom was an “old witch.” Boom, roasted!

Also, why in the world did I want to start my period so desperately? I wrote in the sixth grade, “Mom’s grouchy tonight. It’s probably P.M.S. I hope when I have my period, I don’t get P.M.S. I want to have my period soon.” I also wrote out everything I wanted to be able to do but wasn’t allowed to, including call boys on the phone, have my own room, and stay up late every night. Never mind that there wasn’t an extra bedroom for me to have my own, five of us shared one landline, and my parents needed a few minutes of peace each night without three kids peppering them with demands and questions.

I detailed writing a letter to the love of my life, Joe. I don’t recall knowing anyone named Joe, but luckily, my diary showed up for me. Joe is Joey, as in Joey McIntire of the hottest boy band ever, New Kids on the Block. Sadly, he never wrote back. Did he not realized I kissed his face, which was plastered on a poster on bedroom door, every single day before leaving for school? What a heartbreaking life journey.

I wrote about all the boys I “went out with,” that I wanted to shave my legs, and the friends who gossiped and back-stabbed. I also shared the latest fashion trends (hello, Lip Smackers and stirrup pants), our family’s holiday plans, and the ways my younger siblings tortured me. I had feelings, big feelings.

After spending an hour reading my tween diary entries, it dawned on me that my own tweens’ moods, questions, and even situations aren’t at all that much different than mine were. Now kids have the added layer of cell phones and Internet access, more extracurriculars, and of course, coronavirus. But our ups and downs over the tween years are nearly identical to one another. In essence, being a tween is exhausting and confusing. Yes, we blow most circumstances out of proportion. That’s how it’s supposed to work, I guess.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

There’s been other activities that have helped me better understand, remember, and reflect on tweenhood, such as watching The Baby-Sitters Club with my kids. But nothing was as effective than reading my childhood diary. The misspellings, the all-caps for word (ahem, feeling) emphasis, and the overuse of exclamation points at the end of almost every sentence reminded me of all my emotions.

I’ve shared some of my diary entries with my tweens, which had them rolling with laughter. The situations I obsessed over were quite ridiculous, but they certainly weren’t in the moment. My dramatic accounts of my “horrible” parents and siblings, the friends who turned out to be rude, and boy troubles are relatable to my kids. Luckily, there’s no problem too challenging that a few Pixy Stix and a journaling session can’t solve.

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