Notes for a Younger Me

When I look at photographs of myself when I was younger, I experience a strange, out-of-body feeling. It doesn’t feel like I’m looking at myself. It feels like I’m looking at someone else. The child of someone I know, maybe, or a distant relative. It doesn’t feel like me.

Sometimes this slightly freaks me out, because it makes me wonder if this is how it will always be. In twenty years’ time will I look at photos of myself now and feel like a different person? Will I have changed that much? Will I feel like the experiences and memories and thoughts of Now Me are so removed and foreign that they might as well belong to somebody else?

*shudder*

I was sorting through old photographs a couple of days ago hunting for something in particular when I came across a number of photos of Baby Quinn. There I was meeting my godmother for the first time. There I was going to school. There I was building LEGO and jumping through a stream and walking around with a Pampers box on my head. I have chubby legs and big eyes and wild hair. I am wearing flowery hand-me-downs (which means the anti-feminine movement must not have been active until much later) from what must have been the set of Mary Poppins.

In many of these snaps I am looking at the camera head on. There is no expression on my face. I am just staring, wide-eyed, either straight down the lens or with my gaze turned slightly upwards at (presumably) the photographer. I look as if I might be waiting for something. Maybe waiting for someone to tell me something? Maybe waiting for the manual?

Since we all know the manual never made it, I thought I might tell her something now.

Baby Quinn,

You are a small, round little ball of pudge. Look at you! You weren’t always like that (I’ve seen the earlier photos where you look like an alien beamed down from another planet complete with tubes in your head; those photos are less than lovely), but from this stage forward you’ll basically look like this, only stretched.

Not stretched by much, mind you. We stay pretty low to the ground.

In case you’re wondering, that pouty bottom lip will never go away. Don’t worry, you kind of grow into it. Anyway, it will come in handy whenever you want to make your feelings known. For example, on your way to school…

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Yep, just like that.

You will have a brother. You get on very well except for a brief period during which he does nothing but scream for things at the top of his lungs and pinch you when your parents aren’t looking. Don’t worry, he improves.

Your first friend is a boy called Peter. You spend many hours flinging micro machines at walls of LEGO, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is an age during which you frequently collect worms and put them in your pencil case to “save them” from lashing rain and the indiscriminate stomping of children’s shoes. Please do not do this. They die from dehydration and you feel absolutely terrible when you have to shake their desiccated, hardened corpses out of the pencil tin. It’s very grim.

You also stop eating around this age. Why? Who can say? You hate food. All food. You are not a picky eater, you are a non-eater. You just can’t stand the horror of having to taste and chew and swallow. You can’t bring yourself to eat. Every meal is a battlefield. The very idea of a future filled with the torture of breakfasts, lunches and dinners looms ahead of you every day for the rest of your life.

Luckily, as with the worm infirmary, this too shall pass. I am happy to relate that I now enjoy eating very much. VERY much! Food is amazing. So are drinks (although stay away from the fizzy ones; you can’t burp, so fizzy drinks make you feel like you have a chestburster from Alien struggling to get free). Wait until you try a White Russian for the first time.

You make a best friend. She is awesome. She likes Oasis when other people like Boyzone. You spend a lot of time thumping up and down the stairs of her house and playing on her road. There are many sleepovers and late night chats. Mind her, love her, be good to and for her. She’s still our best friend. She’s still awesome.

With the help of many books from the public library, you reach your teenage years with a wealth of information at your fingertips. You are ferociously outgoing and impulsive to the point of stupidity. You make decisions that are questionable at best, downright dangerous at worst. You skate along safely though, blithely unaware of the disastrous consequences you narrowly avoid along the way.

You fall in love.

The first year or so is amazing and then it’s just one long, drawn-out, awful descent into misery. You follow your heart and it leads you right into The Swamp of Sorrow. You’re not experienced enough to recognise or understand the lies or the gas-lighting. It’s a long three years of crying and fighting and crying and feeling like an idiot and crying and being manipulated and crying. Just… a lot of crying. Prepare yourself. Invest in tissues, even though you don’t use them. Your heart gets irreparably cracked (although you don’t realise it then) and over time, words and actions bluntly bash at it until the cracks grow wider.

The last, powerful, brick-breaking karate chop makes sure it’s properly smashed into glittering shards.

You end it, too damaged and much too late. For three long years you’ve been told that this is what love is, that your idea of love – with respect, and honesty, and common decency – is straight out of the storybooks and that this is as good as it gets… but you (finally!) realise that anything at all is better than this war of attrition you’ve been losing.

There’s more crying, because your heart is still broken after all.

Let’s just speed through that part.

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If I could warn you about all of this… I wouldn’t. Yes, it SUCKS. It sucks. It’s honestly brutal. The lessons you learn are emotionally beaten into you with what feels like a sledgehammer.

But after all that, you do learn.

You’ve learned what you need to be happy, and so you go do that for a while. You spend time with nice people who love you and you slowly put yourself, your sanity and your heart back together. You become a real person, not just a tangled mess of emotions  and frustration strung together in human form. You make good decisions, or at least decisions that are good for you. You take your time.

You fall in love again, and it’s pretty great. Better than expected.

Better than the storybooks.

So here are a couple of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way, Baby Quinn. The things that should have come in your manual. Here are the lessons you learn along the way:

Stay creative.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how it turns out. Some part of you is always waiting to create something. You’ve drawn, painted, cut, carved. You’ve burned names into chopping boards and made cakes that lean like drunken towers and sliced paper into slivers. You are happiest making things with your hands, and the end result is not always delightful but it is always satisfying.

Play with gouache, with watercolours, with acrylic. Play with clay, and candle wax. Crafting is the one area in which you’re never afraid to fail, so keep trying. Keep failing! Every so often you’ll find something that you’re good at that makes people happy.

Do that. It makes you happy to see other people happy.

Fall in love.

You are an affectionate child. You love hard. Keep that with you.

As you grow up, you grow less willing to be open about how much people mean to you. You close yourself off. You still care, but you hide it. You get shy.

Fight that!

It’s nonsense. You still think about people you haven’t seen in years, and cry for people you don’t even know; the least you can do is reach out to the people you love and care about now, today. I know that it makes you feel vulnerable and you hate feeling vulnerable, but the alternative is letting them think you don’t care, and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fall in love, and not just with people. Let yourself fall in love with places, with animals, with experiences. Fall in love with lessons learned and dreams that dissipate five minutes after waking up. Fall in love with food (Italy will help), with adventure, with strangers. Fall in love with all of it.

Be excited about the future.

Sometimes things are really rubbish. Sometimes life feels endlessly terrifying and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. You look ahead and all you see is an expanse of hopelessness. There are panic attacks and weeks of dull numbness.

DON’T WORRY.

I mean, worry – by all means worry; you’re going to do it anyway – but as Sunscreen says, know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. In the midst of all that worrying, be excited for the future! Even when things look grim and you can’t imagine what there might be to be excited about… be excited about the unknown, because great things happen.

Great things happen to you, I promise. You, I, we have fed pelicans at a zoo! We’ve played with a tiger cub! We’ve bumped around Goa on a scooter, and gone swimming with sea turtles in Gili Air, and seen Mayan ruins in Tulum, and eaten ramen in Tokyo, and galloped around the pyramids of Giza, and sat drinking mint tea in Marrakech, and had gelato in Rome, and lived in Heidelberg, and gone skiing in Bansko, and seen a fever of rays in San Diego, and, and, and…

… And we’ve had hot chocolates on snow days. We’ve read great books. We’ve had long conversations with our grandfather. We’ve had hugs when we most needed them. We’ve danced in the apartment alone, and talked with friends over cups of tea. We’ve discovered maltesers in salted popcorn (the only decent way to watch a movie), and combed the beach for seaglass after a storm. We’ve had quiet, happy slices of time where everything was just right, just for a moment.

Those moments are all you need.

We’ve had good times so far, Baby Quinn. We’ll continue to have them. In the darkest times you couldn’t even have imagined any of those moments ever happening, but they did. They continue to happen. Right now I’m sitting here typing this to you under a barrage of raindrops with a cup of tea next to me and a cat curled up at my feet. I’m more than okay. We’re more than okay.

You’ll be okay.

 

28 comments
  1. Why do baby pictures always look weird? I was a completely bald baby myself. The pictures of me then worry me. I can see me in the pictures of a little girl but baby me is just odd.

    I’m so going to try mixing maltesers and popcorn now by the way…

    1. Ohhh the maltesers in salted popcorn thing is so beautiful. When they melt on the popcorn, or when you shake it up so the maltesers are little chocolate surprises… So good. SO GOOD!

  2. Great photos, Quinn!

    1. I wouldn’t say GREAT photos, but they’re certainly….. photos!

  3. You can’t burp!? How!? Why!?

    This is oh so sweet. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yeeeeaaaah… I don’t know. I just can’t. If it gets too bad I have to lock myself in a bathroom cubicle and stick a finger down my throat to make myself gag up air. It’s disgusting and inevitably leads to worried glances from strangers when I emerge. I think they think I’m bulimic? Nope. Just trying to kill the chestburster.

      1. That sounds horrific!!

    1. Hahaha thanks Pantho!

      1. You’re welcome 😊🌷

  4. You were a very cute baby! But yeah, that bottom lip has not changed much.

    1. Not at all! Still unwittingly pouting my way through life….!

  5. Oh Quinn! This brought me smiles and a couple relatable heart clenches. Thank you for sharing this, you beautiful soul! With kittens are your feet, tea and love of blogging friends and more – I think your younger self would be happy to see this. I’m sending you much love and chin scratches for the little fluffs! <3

    1. Thanks for reading it! I think my younger self would mostly be interested in the addition of cats and would be wondering “BUT WHERE’S THE DOG?!” I passed on the chin scratches. Maya fell down the side of the sofa and Oscar flopped onto his back with his legs stuck straight up in the air like a dropped taxidermy. I think they’re turning out to be as odd as I am!

  6. You might have just found your manual.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Definitely scribbled some notes in the margin anyway! Thanks for reading it, it was a lengthy one!!

  7. Could you write a letter to my baby self. I am okay if you make it all up. I was pretty stubborn then and probably wouldn’t have listened.
    Great post Quinn. You got such great emotion and narrative in that one.

    1. Hahaha, I was also pretty stubborn but I was also desperate to know that things would be fine, so I think even if I didn’t listen I would have hoped for it to be true! Thanks Anthony.

    1. I actually own a photo from my communion that’s not too dissimilar to this one. Except I had whooping cough so I’m an unhealthy shade of pale yellow. And there’s no professional background, I’m just standing outside in the cold. Also I’m squinting because the light hurt my eyes. And my smile is more of a grimace because I was absolutely miserable.

      So, you know, just like that but different!

  8. That pic of you with legs crossed, the sidelong Glance of Fury, dragging the rucksack of…what the hell is in that thing anyway, that you needed it all on the first day of school? It looks like you’re dragging an anvil. And were you too poor to afford anything other than a pillowcase with a drawstring for your school bag? Anyway, I was going to say that was one of the cutest kid pics I’ve ever seen, which is saying a lot because I hate kids with a passion. But I make an exception for that pic.

    Sorry about the burp thing. I guess tragedy befalls all lives at least once. You have my condolences.

    1. HEY! That was my lunch bag and I was very attached to it. It had fat teddy bears with epic bloat printed all over it. I dragged it along behind me wherever I went that lunch was required.

      Don’t worry about the burping, it turns out there are dozens of us. I found my reddit community and now know I am not alone in my lack of burping ability.

      1. You ate teddy bears as a child?! No wonder you eventually stopped eating. All that batting!

        DOZENS have been cursed with your disfigurement? Damn. Still, it’s better than not being able to fart. There are some joys it would just not be worth living without….

  9. Baby pics and all, it was sweet – and sad – and cute 🙂 Did you never burp, even as a baby?

  10. this was beautiful and oh so relateable. Thank you 🙂

  11. And that right there is the manual you have been looking for!!!
    Life can throw some very sour lemons our way but knowing you’ll be okay, well, that’s all you need to know, right?
    1) cutest baby!!!!!
    2) Hello, cake decorator extraordinaire – they look incredible!
    3)You are awesome (you and baby Quinn) this post was awesome and now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

  12. Beautiful post! I remember what I was like when I was younger, and this has me wondering what advice I’d give to my younger self.

  13. Your baby photos are so cute Quinn!
    And DAMN did you make those cakes? They are amazing.
    I love this post, I’d love to do something similar (though I don’t think it would be very happy).

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