What I'd Tell My Younger Self If I Could

If I knew then what I know now...

August 21, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

It’s funny to me how certain trends catch on like wildfire in schools. I see it in the stories my son Henry brings home from school, where he learns what’s cool by watching the other kids.

So far, his lessons in assimilation have been innocuous: Some days he slips on a new behavior like a borrowed shirt, only to toss it aside when he feels it doesn’t quite fit on his body. He grew his hair long this year, for instance, insisting he enjoyed the feeling of it in his eyes, only to chop it off at the start of summer. He’s become a rabid soccer fan, famous among his friends for his ability to score goals on second-graders.

While I hope that the process of adjusting and comparing himself to his peers remains as sweet in his progressive school, where inclusion is an articulated part of its ethos, I know it will only get harder as he gets older.

When I was growing up, cookies the size of pizzas were one of the social currencies of my high school experience. (Now that I think about it, so were pizza parties.) This was a problem because I loved cake and made them regularly at home, but begged for a giant mall cookie on my birthday because that’s what you did. Homemade cakes were embarrassing to teenage girls, these complicated humans I was trying to be friends with and occasionally looked in the mirror and saw reflected back at me.

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Top Comment:
“Caroline, this is so beautifully written--and so full of a beautiful, thoughtful, wise, hard-won sentiments. I plan to read this again and again (and to try the recipe!). Thank you.”
— Posie (.

Maybe cakes were embarrassing because they was messy and old-fashioned. All I knew was that having the right cookie cake at my birthday felt like one way I could reduce the otherness I felt inside me, since it was my personal hobby to pull at the threads of my hand-knitted self confidence and unravel it when no one was watching.

I wore too much makeup, dyed my hair blonde, hated my body for not looking right in a bikini, and let myself feel unintelligent or unworthy or unloved with no connection to the curious, beautiful, strong young woman I was then. I didn’t introduce myself to the world with my thoughts, my writing, my love like I do today. I look back now and wish I had shown the kind of bravery I’ve always had in me, the kind I wear outside my skin now for my kids.

It all changed when I went to Paris, really. In Paris, I felt unimportant in the right ways—swallowed by a big city, like I had so much to learn from what was around me because what was around me was so worth learning and assimilating to. I made friends over intellectual conversations, over what I was reading and writing, friends whose cultures and stories were so much more interesting, far braver, than my own.

I met the love of my life there, too, a young liberal American whom I coaxed into a new wardrobe as he coaxed me into independent thinking. I saw food as if for the first time there, not just diving back into “homemade” as was my high school secret, but soaking up new traditions, learning about generations of cooks and how their country’s culinary history defined popular culture and the personal identities of my young Parisian friends.

In Paris, I was given so many languages to speak—and with this new vocabulary, I found my voice.

What would I tell my younger self if I could? Probably: "Drop everything and take a bite out of this." Maybe: "Nothing's black and white. Let go."

With the distance and experience I have now, I often wish I could somehow hold the younger version of myself, mother her like I do my own kids, and tell her that she’s exactly where she needs to be. That a real challenge is ahead of her, and that she doesn’t need to create it for herself. That things aren’t always one thing or the other; they can be both. In fact, the most valuable things in life are.

I do this by devoting my days to baking cakes at home, writing and reading things that inspire and challenge me, making friends by turning myself inside out for them—and most of all, being a good mother to my sons.

And assembling this giant cookie sundae, an echo of that mall cake of yore. Stirring it together, I consider the biggest difference: that baking this is not just a reconciliation with my younger self, the girl who tried so hard to be accepted by the world, but also (and perhaps even more) an act of self-love that embodies the healthy forgiveness I live with today. This cookie cake is a culmination of so many things—my past, present, and future, all rooted in life as it were.

As we dig into the sundae as a family, I look at Henry, wondering what nonsense he will convince himself about his peers in the years to come and carry with him unnecessarily. Will his burdens be as easy to resolve as this skillet cookie?

Maybe not, but it can’t hurt to wish.

What would you tell your younger self if you could? Let us know in the comments below.
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  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
  • Caroline Wright
    Caroline Wright
Before her diagnosis, Caroline wrote a book on cakes called Cake Magic!. She started developing a birthday cake using her gluten-free mix found in that book. Check out other recipes she’s developing for her new life—and the stories behind them—on her blog, The Wright Recipes. Her next book, Soup Club, is a collection of recipes she made for her underground soup club of vegan and grain-free soups she delivers every week to friends throughout Seattle's rainy winter.


Posie (. August 21, 2019
Caroline, this is so beautifully written--and so full of a beautiful, thoughtful, wise, hard-won sentiments. I plan to read this again and again (and to try the recipe!). Thank you.
Caroline W. August 25, 2019
Thank you, Posie. I love this recipe and want to hear how it treats you. xo