It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since I packed that first school lunch and watched you stand bravely with the other newbies in the kindergarten line. While I tried to hide my tears behind the lens of a camera, you shone nervous but excited smiles back at me. We had just moved to a new town and you didn’t know anyone. I should have known that wouldn’t last long. Over the years, I’ve watched you walk into no fewer than four new towns and four new schools. And every time, I have lain awake praying that you would be ok. And every time, you have shown me a strength and resilience that most adults strive for their entire lives. It hasn’t been easy. I know that for both of us, there were times when we couldn’t wait for it to end and times when we thought it never would. But now that the last of the nearly 2,600 school lunches that I’ve made for you is done as you finish high school, I only wish that I had it to do all over again.
I doubt many things, but your success is not one of them. And now that you have walked across the stage for the final time, I know that you are excited about the future. You have so many old things that you are ready to leave behind and so many new things that you can’t wait to discover. And while I can see the faint glimmer of fear behind your eyes, you know you’re on the right path. You’ve done everything right, and you’re following your dreams in a big way. If anything, you’re a little smug. But that’s ok. Right now, you’re invincible. And that’s not a feeling that comes along very often, so enjoy it.
But as your mom, I feel like I need to get in at least one last lecture. It’s what I do. I won’t waste my time giving you a run down on all that’s about to happen. The marriages and the moves and the babies and the jobs and the constant undercurrents of change that threaten to pull you under. We’ll just let that be a fun surprise. What I will tell you, however, is that life isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rich and full and mind-blowingly fun. It’s ok if you don’t absorb everything I have to say right now, but carry it with you – and know that you are already well on your way.
- Chill out. Don’t waste time stressing about things that simply don’t matter. Right now, you’re a teenager and you’re supposed to be angst-ridden and hormonal. But don’t use up all of your energy on the little things, or the big things will fall on you like a landslide. When those big things come – and trust me, they will – you’re going to need every ounce of strength and sanity you have to stay on your feet.
- Enjoy life with intention. Make it a point to be present in every thing. Small moments. Big moments. Soak it all in, because you’ll never have that moment again. That includes the bad times. And yes, there will be bad times. In fact, there will be entire years that you will look back on and only see a black cloud. But that cloud will pass. And even in those blackest moments, be grateful for the darkness, because that is what can help you embrace the light with more joy and passion than you thought possible.
- Let your past propel you, not define you. I wish I could say that you had an idyllic childhood where everything went right and neither you nor your parents ever made mistakes. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We’ve traveled some rocky roads together, you and I. Some of it my doing, some of yours, and other things still, completely out our hands. But these are the things that have made you who you are. They are also the things that have given you a wisdom beyond your years. And with this wisdom comes the choice to define your own path – and avoid the mistakes that have come before.
- Always move forward. I’ve spent the last four years agreeing with you that, yes, high school is miserable. It’s supposed to be. Friends are weird. Relationships are confusing. Teachers are frustrating. And nobody “gets you.” We’ve talked a lot about how college is going to be a crazy, brave new world where you’ll finally be surrounded by people that see you for who you are, not just where you came from. And once you’ve gotten what you need from college, there will be a whole wide world of adventure waiting for you. And another after that and so on. Life is not about staying in one place forever. It’s always, always about moving forward.
- But don’t spend your life waiting for the next big thing. It’s easy to spend too much time thinking about what’s next instead of thinking about what’s right in front of you. And that only breeds dissatisfaction. Be happy where you are for as long as you can and when you’re not, make the changes you need to make.
- Be kind. I know you know this, because you are one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. But kindness sometimes becomes harder to access as we get older and the unkindness of the world at large wears us down. Don’t ever forget that something as simple as a smile, a helping hand, a seat offered to someone on a crowded train, or even a gentle word in return for one less gentle can be a life-saving gift.
- Give back. When you were a little girl, I watched you empty every last coin from your carefully filled piggy bank to donate to disaster victims in Haiti. Since that time, you have given time and again – to causes great and small. Don’t ever stop. Give what you can, where you can, and how you can. If you have time, give it. If you have money, give it. You may not save the world, but you can always, always change it.
- Don’t just have role models, be one. As important as it is to have role models (and you’ve picked some good ones), remember that people can disappoint us. The higher we place someone on a pedestal, the farther they have to fall and the greater the threat that they’ll take some of our faith with them. So certainly look to people you admire for inspiration, but let yourself be the guiding force. Follow what you know to be true and right and good and always strive to be the role model to others that you want for yourself.
- Be smart with your money. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Save all that you can. Don’t borrow from friends unless you are prepared to pay it back immediately. Don’t lend to a friend unless you are prepared for it to be a gift. Live modestly, knowing that it’s a lot easier to add comforts to your life than it is to give them up.
- Choose your friends wisely. As we’ve mentioned, high school was hard. There were people who lied and spread rumors. There were people who used others for their own advancement and tried to bring people down to lift themselves up. These people do not change. They work in the office next to you or live in the apartment across the hall. They hang out where you hang out and struggle with their own insecurities for a lifetime. Surround yourself with people that don’t need you in their lives for their own advantage, but who want you there because of who you are. Surround yourself with people who are intelligent, who challenge you, who respect you, who admire you and whom you admire in return. And please, for the love of all that is holy, hang out with people whom you can make laugh, but who make you laugh, as well.
- Choose your partners even more wisely. Lust is a fickle thing. Love it not. Try not to confuse the two. Being out on your own for the first time is going to give you more options than you’ve ever had before. You’ll meet boys who are more mature, more educated, and in your eyes, more “perfect” than you could have imagined. Go slowly. Lust fades, love does not. If love is there, it will still be there with time. If not, then thank your lucky stars and move on.
- Do the things that scare you. I don’t mean go base jumping or ride motorcycles. That would be doing the things that scare me, so if you do these things, please don’t tell me. What I’m talking about, rather, is putting yourself out there knowing that you’ll never know if you don’t try. Apply for the job you want, not the one you think you can get. Ask for things knowing that the worst someone can say is no. Live like you’ll never fail, and you’ll be surprised at how much you succeed.
- Remember, there are two types of people in this world: Those who get it. And those who don’t. Always be the former.
- Know that you will never outgrow your family. You might enjoy a break from us. You might even decide that you prefer us in small doses. But we are where you began and like it or not, we are in you as much as you are in us. And it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, you will always have a home with us.
- Call your mother. This one is simple. I worry. You know this. And I will call you until you answer, so make it easy on the both of us and just call me first.
- Last but not least, know that you are never alone. You are loved deeply, completely and infinitely. I want to tell you to always have faith in yourself, but I know that there are times when you will waiver. When that happens, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that to me, you are perfect and I have enough faith in you for the both of us. So lean in when you need to, my little one. I will always be with you.