1. Do not forget to look at the family surrounding you. Be thankful they insist upon hugging you every time you see them. The long, drawn-out, dramatic hugs are their way of showing you they care. The illness your great-grandmother has is not something that is planning on just “passing over” as she claims. You will not have the chance to play spite and malice with her in your beach house along the New Jersey shore again. So do it now in the quiet sunroom, off the back of your grandmother’s ancient brick home.
2. Do not be a homebody. Branch off and invite the boy you sit next to on the bus every day to join you at lunch with your friends. Do not be afraid to try a new sport, attend the National Youth Event alone, or run for president of peer mediation.
3. Do not allow your brother to escape your frequent hugs. But also hold his sleek, black Game Boy above his head and taunt him until he gives in. The roles will be reversed much quicker than you believe. Tell him you love him and appreciate it when he returns the sentiment. He will be reluctant to admit feelings in the future. Make sure to give him advice even if he plugs his ears every time you begin. He’s listening. When he doesn’t know how to get back on Mom and Dad’s good side, he’ll need to lean on you. Only then will you be able to silently tease, “I told you so.”
4. Let your brother be independent. He will not learn to drive the way you did, and he will not play the cello the way you did. Leave him out of your shadow and allow him to create his own.
5. Always eat the chocolate and peanut butter Reese’s Easter eggs your mother buys buckets of. Always eat the rich chocolate birthday cake with the purple sugary icing your grandma makes every year for you. Always eat the last peanut-butter cookie fresh from your mom’s oven, even when you swear you can’t possibly eat another crumb without exploding. Your metabolism will not be so kind in the future.
6. Watch what you eat.
7. When your almost-deaf grandpa drives you around the city he grew up in for hours at a time, do not wish it away. When he teaches you the “ins and outs” of the X-Mark 72-inch zero-turn lawn mower, do not dismiss his lessons. When he says he cannot hear you, speak loudly into his good ear and do not badger him about wearing his hearing aids.
8. Continue to use your sarcasm when talking to your grandpa. Poke a little fun at him — he likes to be challenged sometimes.
9. Believe the cliché saying that “boys will come and go.” The boy with piercing blue eyes and dark chestnut hair will be your first love. You will be cynical about love again, but do not be afraid to be vulnerable again. Be the strong, independent woman your aunt has inspired you to be.
10. Accept help from people when it is offered. Accept the generous payment your grandparents insist on giving you for cutting their small plot of grass around the pool. Out-of-state tuition will be expensive. Every penny helps. Really.
11. Continue to sing as loudly as you can muster in the shower, in that tiny blue Ford Focus, and in your bright bedroom with your white hairbrush. When your mom begins to harmonize with you to Katy Perry’s new song on the radio, let her. When you’re given the opportunity to sing with the all-too-frightening concert choir, be confident in your abilities. They are what got you there.
12. Do not be overconfident. Be humble in your abilities in the chorus room, on the lacrosse field, and in the classroom.
13. Talk to the elderly women sitting in the back of the congregation every Sunday morning. They like to hear about your life and love even more to see you happy. Elaborate on what your future plans are even if the only future you can see is the cold piece of pizza waiting in the refrigerator for you.
14. Learn to be a wallflower. Keep to yourself and listen eagerly to your grandma’s rants about her favorite celebrity on Dancing with the Stars — even when you didn’t know that celebrity existed.
15. Wear your light yellow tie-dye with your black Nike lacrosse shorts and red flannel. Make it an outfit with your favorite pair of beaten-up rainbow flip-flops and do not apologize for breaking the rules of “fashion.” The rules will change tomorrow.
16. Dress to impress. Running to Sheetz for a “quick trip” means you will see at least five classmates and two family members while there.
17. Go on that three-mile run around the quaint park across the street you have been avoiding. When you become captain, you will need your endurance to encourage others during those runs.
18. Take a nap on Sunday afternoon. Snuggle with your pudgy chocolate Lab and call it a day.
19. Travel whenever you get the chance. You will never regret being fully immersed in another culture. Remembering how to barter with the woman in Jamaica will be useful for that semester abroad you’ve been dreaming about. Skip the cornrows from the insistent man on the beach.
20. Make sure you spend a sufficient amount of time lounging on the couch at home. Make sure you go to church every Sunday in that quaint town your grandma likes. Make sure you keep old traditions alive.
21. Remember what mom taught you about money. It is simply money. Your best memories will probably be from when you don’t have any money at all. Enjoy the little things and laugh at the inconveniences that will almost always ensue. When you’re having the time of your life with friends sitting on the floor of your dorm room, using the pizza box as a plate, and a mason jar for wine—you’ll thank her.
23. Make sure to save the green bills that arrive in the mail for your birthday annually. Eventually they will add up.
23. There will always be a right to your wrong, a hot to your cold, an up to your down — a point to your counterpoint.