By: Shannon Ralph
My Dearest Lucas,
This weekend I became the proud parent of a teenager. You—the first person in the world to ever call me mommy—just turned 13. It was a momentous occasion, of course, celebrated with nine boys, tons of junk food, and a loud and rowdy game of Dungeons and Dragons. I stayed out of your way, but my heart was full of joy. Nothing brings me more happiness than seeing you surrounded by your friends, joking and laughing and having a good time. I love seeing you in your element.
You must know by now that I think you are a pretty amazing person. I certainly tell you this often enough. You’ve developed a wicked sense of humor in recent years that I simply adore. And you are so incredibly smart, though your grades don’t always reflect it. (Come on, you know I have to hound you about your grades. It’s my job.) We talk these days. Really talk. About politics and history and current events. You possess a singular curiosity about the world that renders me completely speechless sometimes. Where did you come from? How did I get so lucky as to be one of only two people plucked from the universe to be your parents? To be the lucky souls who get to watch you grow and develop from a chubby little blonde cherub to the free-thinking, witty, kind boy who stands before us now? A unique person like no one else who ever walked this Earth. What could I have possibly done to deserve that honor?
As much as I adore you, I realize the coming years may prove challenging for us. I know that you may not always want to talk to me like you do now. I will annoy you. I may embarrass you. Let’s be honest, you will get really, REALLY angry at me. There will be moments when you might even hate me—though I hope and pray those moments are short-lived. Believe it or not, I was a teen once myself, and I get it. I do. Becoming an adult is no easy task. It’s hard work. Probably one of the hardest things you will ever do. These coming years will test us both, but I am confident we will come out the other side just fine.
In the meantime, I have some things I want to say to you. There are crucial things I want you to understand as you enter this new stage of life. You may be taller than me—you may even be stronger than me—but I am still your mother and I still have some relevant things to teach you. Contrary to the messages careening around at light speed inside your teenage brain, you do not know everything. Nor do I, but I do know a few things to be absolutely true.
- You are allowed to screw up. No one expects perfection from you, so please do not expect it from yourself. Allow yourself to not have the answers. To make bad decisions. To be confused. Learn from these mistakes. Don’t let them define you. Rather, let them inspire you.
- Popularity doesn’t matter. Who wants to be the kid that peaks in middle school? Or high school? Or even college? Your life is going to be amazing. Believe it or not, being one of the “cool kids” in middle school will have absolutely ZERO effect on your future happiness. Rather than being popular, strive to be kind. Friendly. Approachable. Fair. These are the characteristics that will matter in your life.
- What makes you different is what makes you great. No teen wants to be labeled as “different,” but I guarantee you that the things that make you stand out—your wicked wit, your insatiable love of history, the protectiveness you feel toward your little brother and sister—will be the things that make you great. Don’t be afraid of your individuality. Embrace it.
- It’s okay if you haven’t found your “thing” yet. You will spend the rest of your life discovering who you are. Your interests will change. You passions will gravitate as you become more comfortable in your own skin. So don’t give it a second thought if you don’t know yet who you want to be or what you want to do. You are a blank slate—what a phenomenally exciting thing to be!
- Trying new things is a skill that will help you your entire life. Join the glee club. Audition for the school play. Try out fencing. Karate. Baseball. Knitting. As I said before, you will change and grow throughout your life. The activities that ignite your passions may take you by surprise. Always be open to new experiences.
- Girls are people, too. Act accordingly.
- The internet is forever. Seriously. F.O.R.E.V.E.R. Photos you casually post as a teen may resurface when you least expect them. Please be careful. Be thoughtful. Be diligent. Do not post anything about yourself (or about anyone else) that you do not want to be everlasting. Think before you click.
- Not everyone is doing it. I swear. I know it will seem like everyone is. It will feel like you are the ONLY person in the world not involved in whatever it is you think everyone else is doing. I guarantee you—I PROMISE you—that is not the case.
- It’s okay to be sad. Or anxious. Or angry. Or frustrated. You might feel all of these and more on any given day. And that is absolutely and completely acceptable.
- Words have power. Use your power for good.
- Stop and think before you do something stupid. Risk-taking is part of being a teenager. But risk-taking and impulse decisions are not the same think. Trying out for the school play is takinga risk. Jumping from a rooftop on a pogo stick is an impulse. One will likely end well. One will definitely NOT. You can’t grow without a certain amount of risk-taking, but please know the difference between calculated risks and idiotic impulses.
- It’s not weak or sissy to tell an adult. Listen, I am so incredibly proud of the young man you are becoming, but you are not quite 100% there yet. It is perfectly okay to still need an adult. To require a parent. To need someone to intervene when life gets too hard. When new experiences prove difficult to navigate. This does not make you weak. Knowing when you need help and having the courage to ask for that help makes you brave.
- Nothing that happens in middle school is the end of the world. It might feel like it, but this is just the beginning. You have years and years and years ahead of you. Trust me, middle school will one day be a faint memory and nothing that happens there will matter 20 years from now.
- Talk to people, not about them. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a lesson to teach you. Talk to them. Listen to them. Every person you have in your corner will make you stronger. Do not alienate people by gossiping or talking behind backs. Embrace people and they will embrace you.
Your teen years will be an amazing time in your life and you will learn so much about yourself and about the world. Enjoy these years to the fullest. Don’t grow up too fast. You are extraordinary and I am certain the world will one day know it. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that I will always, ALWAYS be there cheering you on.
All My Love,