Dear children of O'Neil, Nebraska,
I heard you playing yesterday. While I ate a picnic lunch under the huge old cottonwood trees in the park, you were splashing and shouting and living it up in the town pool. Teenage girls with golden tans guarded your lives while at least some of your moms sat near us and chatted in the shady park. .
Music from summers gone by played over loudspeakers at the pool. I know these are old songs from at least ten years back. But you will remember them as the soundtrack of your childhood.
Thunderheads rolled in.
A lightning bolt flashed overhead.
Both lifeguards blow their whistles at the exact same moment and all of you obediently climbed out of the pool, wrapped up in your towels.
As I packed up my picnic, I watched you.
As I drove past the front of the pool entry, I saw you slowly streaming out.
As I stopped at the gas station mini mart down the block, I watched you there too.
Girls with girls. Boys with boys.
All of you ten or eleven or twelve years old.
And like all children, you are most certainly full of dreams for your lives to come.
But as I continued to watch, I noticed something more.
I saw the teasing.
I heard the flirty laughter.
I could feel an irresistible tension springing up between you, as you watch each other begin to change from gangly tweens to beautiful young women and handsome young men.
And in my mind's eye, I knew what is most likely to come.
I could see you pairing off.
Having sex by age 14.
Having kids by age 16.
Having your dreams cut short.
Having dead end lives in this tiny little town with nothing more to look forward to than someday dropping your own kids off at this very same pool.
So I wish with all my heart this wish for you.
Please do not give in to the small town trap of thinking that sex is an answer to your dreams.
Instead, I hope that you will:
Graduate high school
Go see the world
Learn who you are
Give yourself time to grow up.
And then, if you are still dreaming about that little girl with the sunburned freckles on her nose, or the skinny-chested boy who made cannonballs off the diving board, back at this very pool, then by all means reach out and tell them so.
Maybe, in the end, you'll be dropping your kids off at this same pool after all.
But I hope with all my heart that you, adorable children of O'Neil, will have first made all your dreams come true.
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A summer road trip across America - read more: