They may leave me constantly sick, but the preschoolers are great for the ego. After 45 minutes with them, I feel so loved. Last night I got a big hug from one, who then clung to me all night. Another didn't want to go in the room but agreed to do so if I held her hand as she entered, and The Artist Formerly Known as Mole Boy, who used to stay in the hall and cry while trying to refuse to go into the classroom, was coming down the hall with his dad and when he saw me standing in the doorway, he left his dad and ran down the hall into the room. I swear, that kid must be a changeling. Either the fairies or the aliens swapped him out during the holidays because he's a totally different child now. Then during class, I usually had two kids in my lap and one leaning against each side at most times, with two more whining about wanting their turn. Though I may be spending too much time with preschoolers. I saw out the window that someone was walking a dog down the sidewalk outside, and I thought "Puppy!" at the exact same time all the little girls cried out, "Puppy!" and ran to the window.
Moving to a slightly older age range, I've been reading some young adult books to try to get a sense of that mindset, and I've realized that my problem isn't just the roiling emotions. I also have to keep in mind that the "too stupid to live" bar is set at a different level for teenagers. Not that teens are automatically stupid, but the whole reason "maturity" is even a concept is that younger people who have less life experience will often make different -- and sometimes bad -- decisions that make perfect sense to them at the time but that adults would see as totally idiotic. That's where it's difficult to think back to your own youth and notice those bad decisions, unless there were serious consequences to them, because at the time those decisions were made, they seemed totally rational and just the thing to do. If you're in your own head, it's hard to spot those things. It may not even be something you did, but rather a thought process or the way you assessed a situation.
The trick is that I'm writing a very sensible character, and I want her to come across as a sensible person. I just need to think teenage sensible as opposed to adult sensible. I was a very sensible teenager, so I've been trying to think of silly things I did. I think a lot of my silliness came from my defense mechanisms. I was afraid to have people think I wanted something, so I acted like I didn't want it, and then of course no one gave it to me, and then I was hurt. Take homecoming mums. If you're from Texas, you'll understand what a big deal that is. In my day, they weren't quite the production they are now, where girls are essentially wearing Tournament of Roses parade floats on their shoulders (I hear there are even full-body mums that come with harnesses), but they still involved a huge flower with floor-length streamers and cowbells and other trinkets attached to the streamers. The really popular girls would be covered in them because they'd get one from their parents, sometimes one from other family members, one from their boyfriend (sometimes mums from multiple admirers), then the cheerleaders each got one from the football team, and the homecoming court members all got one. In my freshman year, I had a pretty good feeling I wouldn't be getting one (and I didn't realize what a big deal it was), so I remember making remarks about how I hoped I didn't get one because I had allergies and wearing a mum all day would make me sneeze. So, of course, no one got me one. I don't know if that was the only reason, though I do recall a guy saying something about it years later when I'd even forgotten what I'd said defensively as a freshman. I did finally get two mums my senior year, since my dad had been teaching at the school long enough to have realized what a big deal it was and got me one, and then the band gave all the senior girls one. And I was ridiculously excited about walking around school all day with those horrendous things attached to me. At the time, telling everyone I didn't want a mum seemed like the best way to avoid looking bad for not having one, even though now I can see that pretty much ensured that I'd never get one. Now that I think about it, I think the remark from the guy about me saying I didn't want one came my senior year when I was wearing two. I still don't know that he was someone who would have given me one, but it indicated that someone was listening.
I think most of my bad decisions as a teen, that led to me missing out on some things that might have been good, came from me being terrified of anyone thinking I cared too much about something that I actually cared deeply about. No, I don't really like that guy. We just do homework together. No, I don't want a homecoming mum. I don't really care about being at the top of my section in band because it's not like I'm a band geek. I don't really want to hang out with these people because it's not like I have anything in common with them (but, of course, if they asked me, I'd jump at the chance). Now I just need to find the story equivalent of "I don't want a mum (though really I do and I'm just covering in case I don't get one)" for my character.