Dear Child,

Today is your birthday. Eighteen years ago today you turned 18. It was 2003. The world had changed and now so would you. You thought you were so smart and so grown. As only experience and hindsight can prove, you’re now painfully aware that you were not. I wouldn’t go back and relive those years for anything in the world. But there are a few things I wish I could tell that girl. That intelligent, ignorant, confident, terrified child.

First things first, LEAVE YOUR EYEBROWS ALONE. The pencil thin brow is just a fad and a stupid one at that. Your brow should begin in line with the inside corner of your eye and taper all the way past the outside corner. This is very, very important. If you heed nothing else I say, please take this to heart. While we’re on the subject, wash your face every night, do not go to bed with makeup on and make sunscreen your friend right now. Nothing less than SPF30 on your face at all times. I can’t believe we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lay in the sun like strips of bacon with a cancer wish. SPF15 all over your body no matter how long you’ll be outside and at least 30 from the nipples up. You will thank me.

I want you to remember to trust your gut. You will do some extremely stupid things in the next few years, many of which could be avoided by listening to that little voice that often sounds a lot like your mother. Your instincts are good and your intuition is strong. Pay attention to it. Don’t discount it because some rando says it’s fine.

I should reiterate here. When I say you’ll do some extremely stupid things, I mean some really ignorant, truly dangerous, life threatening shit. In the intervening years you will think many times, how did I not die?! The piece of advice on this is, never be afraid to call your parents. You will suffer through some traumatic, painful days all alone because you underestimate how much they love you. When they come pick you up from jail, their disappointment will take a backseat and they will ask where you want to go for breakfast. I didn’t know at the time what unconditional love actually meant. I wish I had known sooner what a solid rock of a sounding board my mom would be.

Anxiety and depression. Call them by their names. Putting a clear label on something takes away half its power because it’s no longer an unknown. Things are scarier in the dark so shine a light on them. The sooner the better. When you correlate what you feel with these terms that can be researched and understood, suddenly it’s just another manageable part of life. Once you realize you’re not alone, it’s easier to deal with. And when it’s still too much, reach out. Please don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses.

Avoiding your feelings is only a temporary solution. Learn to sit with them. Understand, analyze and break them down. Figure out where they come from and why.

Your pride will be what hurts you most. You build up walls and keep everyone at arms length and act like nothing is important to protect yourself from being hurt. But all you’re really doing is missing out on some wonderful things because you were too afraid to fail or be vulnerable. This is where most of your regrets will lie.

The next thing I wish you knew is that you can walk away. From people, jobs, situations, anything that is giving you a bad vibe or not serving your best interests. As women, especially Southern women, we learn early to be polite. Go with the flow, don’t make waves, don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Except ourselves, which we hide with a smile. You owe no one your time or energy. You can set boundaries politely. You can also throw politeness out the window when the occasion warrants. And sometimes, even if you do nothing wrong you will make unreasonable people upset. But you know what? That’s ok. Sometimes unreasonable people deserve to be upset.

It will still be several years before you begin to realize that you can be a pain in the ass. That’s ok too. Self awareness is one of your best qualities and one that takes a lifetime to sharpen. Know who you are and what you’re worth and never forget it. You’ve already spent too many years trying unsuccessfully to be normal. Eventually you will learn that no one is normal and your specific brand of weird is a lot of fun. FYI, you’re currently carrying a purse with dinosaurs on it.

Your family is amazing, cling to them. Not just your blood family, the one you build from scratch. You will be blown away by the people who become important to you and how they end up in your life in such random ways. No matter the physical distance or how long it’s been, the people who matter will remain. Feel free to cut the rest out. No relationship has to last forever. Important during one period doesn’t buy a ticket to the rest of your life. Your time, energy and peace are precious. Don’t waste them on those who don’t matter.

Regardless of what all the graduation songs say, this is not the time of your life. The best days are still ahead. You will grow into who you are and love her more everyday. She deserves your patience and respect. She’s not perfect, not even close, but try not to be too hard on her.

Love, Mackenzie

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