School is back in session, meaning children are once again learning and interacting with their peers, making lifelong friendships, as well as developing lifelong hang-ups.
The school years can be fun and fulfilling, but they also can be marked by fear and frustration.
Children are not only gathering knowledge and skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives, but they are trying to find their way in the world, trying to figure out just where they fit in life’s great jigsaw puzzle.
Cool kids breeze through, seemingly never breaking a sweat or dealing with a skin blemish as they excel in everything from hoops to home room.
The rest, the geeks, nerds, misfits, and those who don’t fit neatly in any category whatsoever, approach the school years like a soldier traversing a field filled with deadly mines, moving slowly, stepping carefully.
And every step of that often awkward — sometimes downright painful — trek is captured in photographs.
Few, if any, of us can look at pictures of ourselves as school children without laughing, cringing, or a combination of the two.
Big hair, big glasses, big teeth, big braces, big pimples, clothing that was in style then but is chuckle-worthy now, all combine to make those long-ago photos a source of embarrassed laughter, at best.
In my school photos, the hair wasn’t the problem. At least I had some back then. I didn’t wear braces, so I never smiled so my teeth showed, which meant I always wore an expression like that of someone who had just sat in something noxious.
No, my photographic faux pas involved my complexion (pizza-like) and my glasses (huge, thick and clunky).
I know it’s hard to believe, when you look at the mug shot accompanying this piece, but I was a puredee, certified, card-carrying dweeb in school.
OK, maybe it’s not so hard to believe, but the point is it doesn’t bother me anymore. That is the overarching message of the Awkward Years Project.
The project was begun by Merilee Allred, a 35-year-old graphic designer from Salt Lake City who describes herself as the “queen of the nerds” during high school.
The Awkward Years Project is a blog site that invites adults to pose with photos of themselves as kids, to show how they turned out.
The photos are accompanied by the person’s tale of their freaky, fractious formative years and their journey into adulthood.
The point is not that these people went from Steve Urkel to George Clooney, but that there is life after geekhood.
More than one of these missives contain the lament that instead of spending these difficult years hating their lives, these people wish they had embraced their dork-itude and let their geek flag fly.
There are some gems of wisdom in their words. Athena, an 18-year-old from New York City, wrote “Everything you are can be used to build you up or break you down, it’s all up to you.”
April, a 28-year-old from Los Angeles, wrote “I learned to love myself and not worry so much about other people’s opinions of me. As long as I am taking care of myself, for myself, I blossom.”
In other words, take heart, troubled teens and tweens. You are not the person you will someday be. You are a work in progress, not a finished product.
Not that adulthood is a total walk in the park, far from it, but it is, for the most part, not fraught with the daily drama, infighting and backbiting that is daily fare in high school. The exception, of course, is reality TV, which, of course, bears no resemblance to reality.
You will grow, you will develop, you will mature. And so will the bullies currently making your life miserable. The nice thing about adulthood is, if someone tries to bully you, you can either ignore them, or tell them to perform a physically impossible act upon themselves, it’s your choice.
Love yourself, realize your value, and if there are people out there who don’t see you in quite the same way, to heck with them.
Because they have awkward school-day photos buried somewhere deep in their pasts, just like you do, whether they want to admit it or not.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org