My Notes On High School

Janell Burley Hofmann, August 23, 2014

It’s not that I don’t think you’re ready. You’re active and smart and social. You work and set goals to meet them. You make consistently good choices. You have a compass suited for self-direction. You’ve grown taller than me. You’ve even grown away from me – pushing back, questioning – becoming an individual with thoughts, beliefs, ideas and experiences separate from the whole. And I love it. All of this, as hard as it can be to face, is the point of raising children – to grow you up, out, and away. So we start the great journey of high school soon, the final frontier between childhood and your future.

All summer I thought of this, without a tear or twinge of sentimentality. You, my dear, are just ready. And I always found comfort in that truth. Even if heading into this new chapter means it ends that much quicker, it is exciting for all us. But recently, as the start draws near, I feel myself hesitating. I have so much I want to say or maybe I’ve said it all, but I want to collect it, tuck it all in one place. So I scribbled notes on napkins and scrap paper and journals asking myself, “Have I said everything that I need to say? Have I been clear? Are we really prepared for this?” I look critically at the foundation we have laid for you and feel proud of what we have done, how you have grown and the potential for all that is to come. But still I think of the barriers, the blocks, the challenges to getting you on the other side of these four years happy and whole.

And today, as I picked you up from high school soccer tryouts, I remembered what it felt like to be in your shoes. Vivid and fleeting were those days that formed me. All at once, I loved those days and I’m happy they are behind me. Such is the duality of life. And now, my child, you are the one stepping forward to be shaped. A final required phase before you lead yourself away from us. I think of all the things I hoped to show you and teach you before now. But the time is passing. And you stand before me, growing, grown. So, I offer you the entirety of my heart, my fierce loyalty, and my relentless commitment to parenting you. And of course, I offer the notes I have scribbled in your honor, that even listed here, still don’t seem like enough. There’s more I want you to know. But I’m sure it will feel like that for the duration of my life and I’ll just need to stand with you, while you live it.

  • There is no one path. Listen for the pieces of life that excite you, that make you feel full and engaged and go towards them.
  • Play. Join. Volunteer. Work. Help others. Try something new. 
  • Talk to me. Talk to Dad. Talk to your Askable Adults – you have been blessed with plenty. The combination of us have heard it, seen it, done it all. We can handle it. You are not alone.
  • Stay organized. Stay neat. Honor the details. This will serve you always. 
  • Think about how you talk to and about others. Think about what you say and how you say it. Silence can be powerful, so can the wisdom of meaningful words. 
  • Be good to people. All people. See the best in them even if you have to look really hard. 
  • Kind before cool. 
  • Be proud of yourself, your peers, your school. Tryout, participate, play. Compete, sweat, learn to win and lose. But just play the game, not for a scholarship or the big leagues, but because you love it and you love how it makes you feel and grow and learn about yourself and about life.
  • Be a serious student. You were given a creative, strong and curious mind. Challenge it. Ask questions. Think critically. Do not take for granted your abilities. Love to learn and carry that always. 
  • Build relationships in abundance – with your classmates, with older and younger students, teachers and coaches – because we learn the most from each other. 
  • Be that friend.
  • Be safe. Wear your seatbelt. No speeding! Don’t drive distracted. Sober drive, sober ride. Please, please, please stay the hell away from pills, powder, and needles. And shots of things and chugging things and competitions about who drinks the most of things. Call me. Call me. Call me. 
  • Wait for sex. Please. You come from people that make babies early and often. And someday, if you find yourself in love and unable to wait another minute – know consent means two people verbally, deliberately, clearly saying the word “Yes.” Not sure? Wait! Body sharing is not casual business. But if you must, wear a condom. Every damn time, wear a condom. Babies & STIs – they’re the real deal, my love. The realest.
  • Save those dollars. That’s college knocking. All hands on deck.
  • Play an instrument or act or write or create. Make art. It will never leave you. 
  • You don’t have to. Seriously. You can say no to anything at anytime. Your body, your mind, your heart. Never forget you have choices. No is always one of them. Unless I ask you to watch your siblings or wash the dishes. That’s different.
  • Be funny and playful and ridiculous. Stay up late and sleep in, laugh until it hurts and don’t take yourself too seriously. Let the child in you live always. That spirit will see you through.
  • Take risks and mess up. Preferably in a typical, correctable, healthy, learn from your mistakes kind of way. But still, be vulnerable and brave enough to always reach and grow and stumble beyond what you thought was possible. 


And if you remember only one thing, let it be this: Whether you do or you don’t – my love for you is not conditional, not measurable, not connected to the outcome of your life. I will feel proud and I will feel disappointed. I will be certain and I will be afraid. I will know and I won’t. I am still growing and changing and figuring life out too. But underneath all of this life we are living, all of this life we are trying so damn hard to get right, my love for you runs steady and unchanging. And even in the messy notes, the corners of my mind, and my infinite offerings on how to live fully, my love for you is the only thing I know for sure. It is my only guide.

So go forward and do your thing. Embrace it all. Just be you. It’s the best way to be.



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