Long ago in a galaxy far away, my daughter Mikaela was one of the first contributors to a newbie HelloGiggles. She was a “tween” back then, and her posts were funny, touching, and pretty much exactly what you would expect from a 12 year old with plenty of moxie.
Flash forward to 2017 and that tween is about to graduate from high school. I was asked by the staff at Mikaela’s school to put together a memory box for a senior retreat they were having. I was supposed to put in letters, cards, photos, gifts — something that she could have for what they called “purposeful reflection.” As touching as that idea sounded, I know that my daughter isn’t really the sentimental type (and neither am I, if I’m being honest). What I wanted was to give Mike something useful. I wanted to pass along the knowledge that I wish someone had given to me when I was her age. She knows that I love her and that I’m proud of her — I tell her all the time. What I don’t always tell her are the hard truths about “the real world” because 1. I’m trying to protect her, and 2. Sometimes when moms talk about stuff like this, it just kind of comes out sounding like all the adults in the Peanuts cartoon.
I thought long and hard about all the things I wanted to say to her, especially in this particular moment in history. When I was done, I realized that some moms may not have the chance to create a memory box for “purposeful reflection,” and so I felt like I should pass these tidbits along.
If you are about to graduate — congratulations! If you are a mother with a kid leaving home, or even a big sister, or an aunt, or you have a younger friend about to make this giant leap into the future, then please, share this with them. We need to arm our girls with as much practical advice as we can, even if (or especially maybe?) that advice includes Twilight. Ready? Let’s do this.
1. It is okay to be a woman and be ambitious. We live in a world that is slowly waking up but still, ambition is a word that is (in my experience) associated with something positive in a man and somehow shady AF in a woman. Who cares? Demure only works in Tennessee Williams plays and even then…
2. There is never not a good time to watch the Twilight saga.
3. Do not eat cereal at midnight. It’s not good for your digestion and it gives you weird dreams.
4. It is more important to be respected than to be admired.
5. The first friends you make in a new place are never usually the ones you keep close. But sometimes they are! You never know.
6. It may seem like it now, but you actually do not have all the time in the world. Things can go sideways, so, don’t waste a single day. Every day that you get to wake up healthy is a privilege.
7. Speaking of privilege…you (probably) have plenty of it. Always look for the person in the room that you think might have the least and take the time to strike up a conversation with them. There are very few things that suck harder than feeling like you don’t belong. Always, whenever you can, make someone feel like they belong.
8. There is always going to be a human who is smarter than you, cooler than you, prettier than you, more worldly than you and who seems like they have it all together (they probably don’t btw — but they are good at making it LOOK like they do). Do not begrudge this human. Don’t punish them for being the person that they are. You might be envious of them (normal) but it is far better to be their friend.
9. Read at least one book a week for fun. Winners read.
10. Work out. Not because it will make you skinny, but because if you get in the habit of working out when you are young, you will keep at it when you are old. Old people who work out live longer.
11. Also, on that note — take care of your skin. Seriously. Wash your face. Moisturize and stay out of the sun. If you take care of your skin it will take care of you. YOU DO NOT WANT TO MAKE AN ENEMY OF YOUR SKIN.
12. Do not let love distract you from the future that is waiting for you. The right partner will be a partner. They won’t encourage you to put things off so you can spend more time together — they will bolster you when doing “whatever” is the last friggin’ thing you want to do. They will encourage and nurture your ambition — and you should do the same for them.
13. Find a place around school — a bookstore, a coffee shop, a park, some forgotten corner on campus and don’t tell anyone about it (including number 12 — no matter how great he/she is.) As a woman, you will need a private, secret space that belongs only to you. This might not make sense yet but it will.
14. If you are in a relationship and having an argument and you guys start to attack each other and not the problem, then the relationship is never going to work. If you ever call your significant other a total f#$@@g a#$*^*e — and mean it — no matter how much love is there, move on. We both know that love itself is never enough.
15. Don’t ever be embarrassed by saying how hard something was to accomplish. There is some stupid myth that we should all effortlessly have beach hair, a toned bum, fantastic grades, a great group of friends — but that’s all it is, a myth. If you work hard for something, there is no shame in telling people that. This world would be a much better place if, like in math class, we all had to show our work.
16. Save the drama for reality TV. Whenever you can, avoid dramatic people. They are energy vampires and you’ve got better things to do.
17. Kindness, being sweet and selfless, does not make you weak. It won’t encourage people to take advantage of you. I used to think that it did because like you, many people in my childhood let me down. But if there is one thing I would do over in my life, it would be showing kindness to people when I was younger. Be nice.
18. Never, ever throw away love letters. Even if you hate the person who wrote them. One day when you are an old lady, those letters will help you remember the girl you used to be.
19. Sexism exists. But no one is going to come up to you and say, “You can’t do that because you’re a girl!” What they will do is speak over you, around you, dismiss you, call you dramatic, emotional, assume you’re having your period if you’re in a bad mood, and call you “honey” or “baby” in a bid to infantilize you and assert dominance. Today we call this “micro aggression.” When I was your age it was just..normal. Never forget how powerful you are. You are a force.
20. It is never a good idea to make a sex tape whether you are 18, 28 or 48 for SO MANY reasons.
21. People tell you to always be yourself. I find this to be an impossible task. “Myself” is often anxious, nervous, afraid, offended, petty, bitchy, and intimidated. Sometimes, I have to pretend to be a person who’s not these things to get through a difficult situation. So like, yeah, deep inside, stay true to yourself, but you don’t always have to act like yourself and there is nothing wrong with that.
22. College will change you. College should change you. You might have a different plan for your life than the one you have right now and that is totally cool. Don’t bind yourself to teenage dreams. You are just discovering your gifts and all their potential.
23. Party. Seriously, get some epic nights in. Just remember, if you work hard in college, you get to play hard when you get out of it. If you play around in college, you’ll have to work that much harder to have any real fun when you’re a full-fledged adult.
24. Always keep at least twenty bucks in cash on you.
25. Your mother (me) loves you. I have been tough on you. I have pushed you. I am imperfect and I could have done a lot of things better. But everything I have done has been to prepare you for this very moment. You will not be homesick. You will not second guess your decisions. You will not need anyone’s approval. You will know how to make your own appointments, arrange your own travel plans, the value of a dollar, and that nothing that isn’t earned is worth anything at all. Many of your peers will not have this advantage. The path I took in raising you wasn’t, despite what you may think, the easiest one. The easiest one would have been to capitulate. Saying no and telling you to do it on your own often went against my maternal instincts to helicopter parent. Every time you leave the house, your well-being weighs heavy on me. I just wanted you to be ready for this next part. I wanted you to have the confidence. I wanted you to KNOW you could do this. And at the end of the day, it worked. I am so proud of you and I cannot wait for you tell me (on a mandatory weekly basis) how this grand adventure is.
Love always, Mom.