♪♫♪ I don’t know why all the trees change in the fall, I know you’re not scared of anything at all / Don’t know if Snow White’s house is near or far away but I know I had the best day with you today…
Dear Sarah (age 10),
Hi there, it’s me (I mean, you) – but ten years older. Actually, it’s 2014, you’re 20 years old now, and you’re a junior in college, if you can believe it. Twenty. Years. Old. Do you even know what that means? To be double the length of your life so far? Of course you think you do. Because right now you think you know what everything means – and you’re very wrong about that – and you even think you already have the next ten or even twenty years of your life mapped out.
Well…Sarah? You’re wrong. Sweet and naïve, but completely wrong. Take your daily walk to and from Robert E. Clow Elementary School right now, and you’ll realize that your whole world is basically contained within the four block radius between your house and the grade school playground – and even that walk has been “supervised” by your big brother Bob for the past five or so years when you walk together to school every morning and he waits for you by the door every afternoon after the last school bell rings. But Bob also just turned 12 years old, and he just moved on over to Gordon Gregory Middle School across the street from the house. Sure, now Mom says you’ll be able to walk to school and back home alone everyday, but let’s be real – you’re still not stepping foot out of this subdivision alone.
But hey, this isn’t a bad thing. That’s not what I’m trying to point out at all. It’s not like you’ve never gone anywhere or done anything fun. Mom and Dad are always the best at making sure there was some kind of family vacation every year, and it’s always the best time no matter where the destination is. At the age of 10, you’ve been to Taiwan, Japan, England, Canada, and a smatter of the states across America. That’s more than some people at age 20 could say! Whether we’re all on the road to Six Flags or aboard a ten hour flight across the globe, you always knew it would be good time because Mom, Dad, and Bob were there to make it fun (and keep you safe).
Feeling safe – that also means more than you can imagine right now, because you just accept it without much thought. You’re going to keep taking it for granted for years before you realize just how sheltered with protection you were, and once you do realize it, make sure you keep the best memories and never let them go. Remember falling asleep in the car late at night as Dad was driving? You can’t remember where you were all going, but you as long as Dad was driving, we would all get there. And with that, remember falling asleep everywhere? But miraculously, no matter where you ended up – the living room, the backyard, the car – you would always wake up tucked in your bed the next morning.
Or even memories you thought you would leave behind but still come to mind, ten years from now. Remember snuggling close to Mom in that tiny bed at Sleeper’s Inn in London? The TV hummed with an English talk show that neither of you could make sense of. Remember wandering about Chinatown with Bob when Mom and Dad were working at their office? And that one time when Bob spent his allowance buying you Sailor Moon trading cards just because he knew you were eyeing them and it was your favorite show at the time.
Think about all the times you drew sketches of Dad because you told him you wanted to be an artist and he humored you by dressing up in a nice suit and tie so you could practice by drawing him – even though they always came out quite awful-looking – and he always told you they were just wonderful when you were done coloring them in with crayons and color pencils. Just so you know, Dad kept all of those messy pictures, and they’re still in his office right now.
There’s a lot you don’t understand yet, and probably one of the biggest things is just how lucky you are. It’s easy for people to label you that way just because you grew up in Naperville in a nice, safe subdivision that had highly rated schools and teachers – but you know it goes deeper than that. You were surrounded by love since the day you were born, and that’s something rare in the world. Sarah, if I could do anything for you, it would be to slow time for you right now to a standstill and let you be 10 years old forever. Your family has always protected you, steadfast and unfailingly reliable, and if you be honest with yourself, you’ve never properly thanked them for that. Sadly, it might even be several years before you fully comprehend what kind of sacrifices they have made for you to succeed and get to where you will be at age 20.
Your brother, Bob – he’s your biggest hero right now, and frankly nothing’s going to change much when it comes to that. But for goodness sake, grow up already and stop pouting and whining so much when he beats you at Sonic Adventure or Super Smash Brothers on the Gamecube. Trust me, whenever you win, he’s just letting you anyway. And wow, I hope you memorized what it’s like to share a room with him and sleep on a bunk bed – because that’s never gonna happen again. You might bicker a lot now, but believe it or not, there’s going to come a time when you really, really miss it. Soon he’s going to want privacy and more space, and he’ll move into the bigger guest room after your cousin Pam graduates from high school and goes to college. And even then, you’ll still stick to him like glue and spend all your time with him anyway, because you secretly always loved just watching him play his video games even more than joining him and playing yourself. You’re going to keep having epic “Beanie Babies” wars with him, and he’ll dress up your little toys with paper armor and make amazing tanks and planes out of Legos and K’nex. You’ll make stupid bets with him with the loser having to go downstairs and get soda or snacks. You’ll stay up late watching anime on Cartoon Network late into the night on his TV until you fall asleep in his room and he gripes for you to wake up and go to bed. Hold on to this for as long as you can because it won’t last long. You know how smart Bob is, and he’ll soon graduate middle school and head over to IMSA, the math and science academy where he’ll live at a boarding school for high school with other impossibly smart kids. And even if you won’t say it to his face, you’ll miss him so awfully much every single day when you have to go to school by yourself and can’t come home to watch cartoons with him.
And of course, you have your mom and dad’s tireless support. That’s something – the most important thing – that’s not going to change anytime soon. If you can, could you just take a minute to thank them for it? You don’t see it yet but they’re not infallible either. They get tired, worried, angry, and scared, and you do a lot of thing that don’t help with that too. They deserve some appreciation. And for heaven’s sake, stop being such a brat to your mom when she takes you shopping for new shoes and clothes. Yes you think it’s unbearably boring and just want to go read books and magazines instead, but trust me when I say there will come a time when you want to go shopping for clothes and you’ll wish your mom was there to give you advice.
And you have so much time on your hands, would you just practice piano today?! You love it and in just a few years you’ll be busy enough and wish you had time just to fool around with music.
Things like grief, fear, stress, anxiety, shame…all of these terrible, terrible things are just words to you right now. You think you know what they are, but you don’t. And I wish it could stay that way for you, but it can’t. The next 10 years are not going to be easy for you, and many changes are coming very soon. But I can offer you one condolence: I promise that you will be able to handle whatever comes. A lot’s going to happen, and if I could write you a life manual for every year, month, week, day of it, I would – because trust me, there are times that you’re going to feel completely lost and hopeless as to what to do, and sometimes (often, actually) you’ll make the wrong choice. You’re going to cry, get your heart broken, miss people who don’t miss you back, and make all kinds of mistakes. But don’t worry – you make plenty of right choices too. There’s going to be people who walk into your life and stay, and you’re going to go places you never imagined and make memories you keep with you for tens of years to come. And in ten years time, it’s all going to lead you to people and a place that you’re happy with – that I’m happy with – today.
Alright Sarah, you got this. Last tidbit of advice: never stop writing, no matter how awful things are and even if you’ll cringe at it later, because writing will always make you feel a bit better. You’re gonna be fine.
Sarah (age 20)
And I love you for giving me your eyes, for staying back and watching me shine / And I didn’t know if you knew so I’m taking the chance to say I had the best day with you today ♪♫♪
(The Best Day - Taylor Swift)