A Letter To My Baby Sister On Her First Day of High School

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My baby sister starts high school tomorrow.  My little butter-bean-bug, the alien baby--whose umbilical cord I cut late in my own junior year of high school--is...oh fruck-a-dilly, I can't even think about it without my eyes welling up a little.

While our relationship is different than that of sisters closer to the same age, I've been thinking all week that this would be a good time to "put in my oar" with some big sisterly advice.  But I've been having the darnedest time collecting my thoughts.  

Yesterday afternoon, however, a light bulb went off.  I firmly believe that my co-workers are, not only some of the finest attorneys in the state, but some of the smartest women, as well.  So I put the question to them, "If you could go back in time and talk to yourself on your first day of high school, what would you say?"  Their answers were brilliant, as usual, with lots of practical advice--be careful of white pants, don't get a bottom locker, and "for pete's sake" wax your eyebrows--interspersed with words of deeper wisdom.  

While I promised not to name names, the words below are an amalgamation of their thoughts and my own.  (With direct quotes in quotation marks.)

I think the resulting list is a fine piece of guidance, and, Sweet Sister, I hope you can take it to heart.

1. Take care of yourself.

One of my co-workers was very direct, "Do not have unprotected sex.  Do not get drunk in moving cars.  Do not get drunk at all.  Don't hang out with drug dealers.  Be careful of debaters.  For reals."  She hedged with a "that is probably not exactly what or how you want to say things", but she was wrong--that's exactly how I want to say it!  

Along with debaters and drug dealers, you should also be wary of people who want you to be less than you are.  If a boy is intimidated that you can kick his ass at math--and you will--he is not the boy for you.  If a girlfriend cuts you down behind your back, she is not your friend.

And, while we're on the subject of sex, drugs, and alcohol, I would also add, be nice to our mother.  I know that at times it will seem like her goal in life is to keep you from having any fun ever--there were two weeks my freshman year that we didn't speak to each other, I think our brother is still too traumatized to think about it--I assure you that she's really just trying to get you to adulthood alive and without any babies or STDs.  She really does have your best interests at heart, swear it.

2. Be kind.

"Just be kind. . . . [Y]eah, other people might not think you're 'cool' if you're nice to the 'uncool' kids, but believe me, looking back, you'll respect yourself so much more for being 'kind' than for being 'cool'.  Ten years later, the only people who will care about who was cool and who wasn't are the people who haven't made anything of themselves in the meantime and have nothing to cling to except the trappings of their high school popularity.  But that small kindness you extended?  Ten years later, some kid's gonna remember that.  Believe me."

Put more bluntly:  "Girls can sometimes be assholes to each other.  Don't be one of those assholes.  No one really likes those girls, they don't even like themselves."

You aren't a mean person.  Don't let anyone else suck you into being one.

3.  Real friends are the bees knees.

This isn't from my co-workers, it's from pinterest.  But it's so very true, all the same.  "Collect good people, truly good people...And protect and love them the best you can."  I am convinced that this is one of your brother-in-law's (Sweet Husband's) greatest natural gifts.  It's taken me to my 30's to even start to really figure it out.  I hope you won't take that long.

In someone else's words, "If you make good friends, you will have 'chosen family' for life.  And it feels great to say things like 'I have known so-and-so for over 25 years' when you are all of 42."

Some friends will come and go--and that's OK--but I still hang out with my best friend from high school whenever I get the chance.  He knows enough about me to make a career in politics impossible, and he still loves me anyway.  Somehow those relationships are easier to forge when you're sixteen.

4.  Try new things.  Challenge yourself.  Find yourself.

"Make room to keep doing what you love even if you know that is not necessarily something that will get you into college.  It will make all those other college-necessary classes easier to bear."

"[D]o not be afraid to try something different.  Don't wait until your jr/sr years to decide to try a sport or the musical things like that, because you may end up really enjoying yourself, but not having all four years to make the most of it."

And, on a personal note, I'm giddy that you're taking up photography and joining the yearbook staff.  If you ever want to go play photographer together, I'm totally in!

5.  Don't settle re: boys.

Someone once accused me of being too picky about the boys I dated.  Of insisting on too much.  While I would encourage you to give those poor boys that are going to be smitten with you a chance, when you know it's not "right" don't hesitate to move on.  'Cause when it is right, you won't be asking yourself--you'll know.

That's not to say you should get too serious about guys.  They'll still be there when you're in college, and to a large extent they're more fun when they've grown-up a little.  But to the extent the interest is inevitable, you're too good to settle.

6.  "Be bold, be brave, be brilliant."

If you decide to sneak off and get a bird tattoo--and since your brother and I both did, I'm afraid it's likely--pick a classic font, an inconspicuous place, and work this in somehow.  Because if there are only six words I could have you remember for the next four years and  beyond, those would be it.

Call me if you need me.  Even if it's four in the morning.

Love you,

Sister