A Letter to My 13-year-old Brother: Your Growth in Jr High Will Make You A Better Man in College

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Isaiah,

Do you remember when we pretended we were fairies? You sort of went along with it because I was the older sister and you were just a little kid and embarrassment-proof. And I, who probably had sleep deprivation at this point with all my pre algebra homework, said, “you’ll be Tinkerbell and I’ll be Tinker…butt.” And you cracked up laughing because you were six and I probably shouldn’t have said the word “butt” in front of you, but not only did I say that word, I related it to fairies, which were really just flashlights that danced on the wall.

I was about your age when that happened, and I was a weird kid. I mean, I’m still weird, but definitely not as strange as I was when I was 13. And I can’t help but wish I were back there, in that moment, to tell myself that it’s okay to be a little weird. I wish I would have known that being weird would be the greatest thing that could have happened to me.

I promised you I would write you a letter for when you went to middle school—a letter that would help you through this awkward time and give you some support as you mature. And as I started writing the letter, I realized that most of what I’ve learned in middle school can really be useful at any age, in any stage of your journey. So I’ve decided to publish it in my school newspaper, so that those who are not 13 can take the advice I’m giving to my little brother and apply it to their lives as adults. Because the greatest piece of advice I can give you is that you’re never too old to learn something new. You’re never too old to grow up.

The first piece of advice I have for you is this: treat your friends like gold because you never know how long they will be with you. People move, change and grow apart, but you will have those friends that will stay with you through all of that if you put an effort into the friendship. Don’t feel like you have to have a surplus of friends. Daddy always told me that if you have one good friend, you’re gonna do alright. Mom calls them “oak trees.” She says that acorns will come and go with the wind, but oak trees will be rooted in the ground and won’t be affected by the wind. Find at least one oak tree and surround yourself with acorns and learn from them.

As a girl in middle school, I always thought I wanted to be liked by boys. But as I grew in high school and college, I realized that it feels a lot better to be respected by guys than to be liked by them. So don’t be selfish when it comes to girls. Respect looks a lot like listening. It looks a lot like seeing value in a person and giving them permission to have their own thoughts, decisions and emotions. If you like a girl, listen to her, learn about her and allow your actions to reflect that. Once you have established that respect, she will be more open to being liked by you. You may not see the effects of this in middle school because at your age we are so insecure and lose ourselves easily, but once you get to high school and college, you will have a better perception about the difference between love and infatuation, and will have a positive reputation with the girls in your community. If you get your heart broken—and you will—remember that we’re all growing and the seasons in your life will bring you joy and pain. It’s about embracing the experience and having the self-respect to move on and the respect for her to let her go.

Kids are going to try and get you to do some stupid stuff. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid for being smart. Don’t snort Smarties, don’t jump off the roof, don’t get in the car with someone’s drunk older brother, don’t play the knife game, you get the point. That being said, don’t be like your sister and be too afraid to take risks. Once in a while, there will be something stupid that won’t be dangerous or unhealthy, like pulling back and forth pranks on your friends or making funny memes about your weird teachers. Do that. It’s about the balance of stupidity, not the absence of it.

You will get hurt. Your friends, your classmates, your teachers will hurt you. Some days you will feel alone, left out, broken. But this pain is the most beautiful pain you can experience because it will shape who you will become. You are stronger and more resilient than you may think and you have an amazing family and support system. You have a voice. Use it. Show people your identity. Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Persevere with passion and endurance, and do what you can to be a light for people who are going through this pain. Don’t become a bully, as this is often a negative side-effect of this pain. Remember that you are not powerless. You have the power to grow in whatever direction you choose.

You are a leader, whether you want to be or not. People gravitate toward you. Be someone that you will be proud of when you are my age. It won’t happen overnight. It’s a long process. You will make mistakes and do things you’ll regret. But with that comes growth if you don’t let the mistakes define you. The mistakes are part of the story, but your heart is the narrative. Believe in it.

Love and miss,

Tinkerbutt

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