To My Daughter: I Was 14 Once, Too

by Kari Wagner Hoban
Originally Published: 

Very, very long ago, I too had angst, constant attitude (sorry, Mom and Dad) and fresh cramps. Serious fresh cramps. Hence the constant attitude … duh.

So I get it. Except when I don’t.

It’s too bad we don’t have our kids when we are, well, kids. In the worst teenage pregnancy dissuasion conversation ever, the point I am trying to make here is this: Have your children as soon as you can, after getting your schooling, career choice and marriage taken care of. Don’t wait. Because the older you get, the more distance you put between your teen years and your child’s. It is getting harder and harder to relate to the feelings, the pain, the pressure that I once undoubtedly felt from 1982–1988. I have become what we all fear: a parent.

Annie, I know it is hard to believe but at one point in time, I had mad crushes on boys. Calling their house only to hear their dad pick up the phone, then quickly slam the phone down. “Slam a phone down” is probably a foreign term for you—make that quickly and fiercely press the end-call button really, really hard.

Oh what I would have given for Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook back in 1984. I feel I would have made much more informed choices in my love interests had I been able to “friend” them and see the faces they make in the bathroom mirror or what they look like flexing their muscles in a Kelvin filter. Yes, I have been there. Not exactly there but theoretically there. I see some similarities. You don’t have to struggle with acne. You are welcome. You have amazing friends. So did I. You love music and know all the names of all the artists that are popular. Like, freakishly know all the names. I am the master. Which I learned from the grand master, my dad, your papa.

© Kari Wagner Hoban

Would you have talked to me in high school? Or would you have passed me in the hall, smiling brightly but never getting to know me? Would we have been in the same classes? Would we order the same things at lunch?

At 14, I loved to ski, loved to stay at home on winter weeknights and snuggle with my dog. I was really good at playing the clarinet, had lots of hobbies and tons of friends, but I felt like I blended in at school. In a crowd of people, it was easy for me to just get lost. Go unnoticed. I still feel like that. Do you ever feel that way?

© Kari Wagner Hoban

At 14, I was always trying to make people laugh even at the expense of looking like a goofball. Making jokes about the school pizza looking like brains—it totally did. Sneaking up behind friends in the hall and scaring them. Ruining the French Club school picture with my friend Jenny.

At 14, I wore earrings the size of bagels, button-up shirts and penny loafers. Sweaters with unicorns or kitty cats and bouncing purple balls—it was the ’80s! Everybody was wearing them. Corduroy pants, jeans with lots of pockets, feathered hair. I am sure my parents cheered when feathered hair went away because I no longer had to get a haircut every four weeks. You know, to keep the feathers laying just so. Kind of the way we are counting the days until short shorts go away.

When I was 14, I was still very close to my parents. I didn’t go to band camp that year because I was too afraid to leave home for an entire week. I also didn’t go on the French class trip to Quebec for this very same reason. I can hear you sighing really, really loudly at this. And apparently, I also liked to dress up my dog, as you can see below. But it was New Year’s Eve! Me spending New Year’s Eve my freshman year dressing up the dog is probably one of the many reasons I was spending New Year’s Eve with my dog in the first place.

© Kari Wagner Hoban

I had amazing friends whom I could belch, fart and be a weirdo with, exactly like the friends I have today. They didn’t judge me, accepted me the way I was and helped to form the person I have become. My childhood best friend Wendy’s infectious laugh is part of the reason I love to make people laugh to this day.

She lived five houses down the street from me, and we were inseparable until graduation tore us apart. You have had bumps in the road, but you have amazing friendships that have developed since starting high school, some from elementary school, and you have your own “Wendy” who lives just across the street.

© Kari Wagner Hoban

I wore musk perfume, had stellar big bangs and always wore blue eye shadow. I danced and sweated for hours to “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan in my room behind locked doors. I was desperately in love with many different boys but didn’t have a single boyfriend. Probably because I was very busy perfecting my Chaka Khan moves and the whole dog dress-up scenario. I made mixtapes from songs on the radio on rainy summer days. I roller-skated through the neighborhood with my friends while listening to the Footloose soundtrack on a boom box.

I played basketball for countless hours in the driveway with my dad, sometimes even in the dark.

Really, aside from the doggy party hats and unicorn sweaters, we aren’t that different, you and I. Oh sure, there are generational differences but for as much as things change they also stay the same. There is no doubt that it has been challenging, these teenage years so far.

Personally, I feel this time around is so much harder—going through it on the other side of things as a parent. There have been lots of tears, yelling and many a sleepless night. And that has been on my end. It has been quite an education: speak only when spoken to while around your friends, don’t hug you when we are in public, don’t wear anything embarrassing to school functions. Its been hard. I know someday I will get you back.

I hold onto the promise of a day when I can grab your hand in public and just pull you in close, not worrying about who is watching. But for now, I will steal sideways glances, gazing at this amazing creature who I had a hand in bringing into this world.

Remembering that I was 14 once too. And I turned out pretty OK.

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