This week I was running and listening to streaming music when Taylor Swift’s oldie but goodie “Mean” started playing. For the first time, I felt a wave of satisfaction as the lyrics ran through my head. Years ago it was a song that helped me get through some tough moments, but now it sounded more like a victory tune. There’s a line in the chorus that says,
“Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”
I remember hearing that song when I was nineteen and twenty and thinking, “Someday that will be me. Someday these things that so and so is saying won’t hurt me anymore.” It felt so good listening the other day and realizing, I am there. I am at that place now. Here I am at this point where I feel happy and confident and where I’m even making strides towards successful. The meanies of the universe can’t reach me anymore. But, as I realized this, I also realized that one day my daughter will be a teenager and a young twenty-something. That she will have to deal with the cruelties of the world and the bitter hearts of others and the doubt in herself that both of these things will bring. So I decided to write a letter to my future teenage Bryn. I also decided to share it here because, let’s be real, there’s no way I wouldn’t lose the paper version eleven + years from now. Internet, I’m trusting that you’ll stick around for my daughter’s teens.
I’m sure you’re embarrassed by me at this point in your life, and you probably don’t want to be called Bryn-Bryn either. But I’m writing this when you’re two and a half, so get over it.
I love you and your red curls and your chunky legs and your beautiful, wild, untamable spirit more than anything. I love your big hugs and your toddler smell and even how you line baby dolls in your bed up in a row all creepy and Chucky-like. I wish that I could keep you from the bad things forever. But since I can’t, there are a few things that I really want you to try to take to heart, as best you can. I still have so much learning and growing to do myself, but here is what I know at the ripe old age of twenty-seven that I didn’t as a slightly younger soul.
First of all, please be kind. There is enough hate in this world, and I want so much for you to be the anti-venom. Don’t call people names. Apologize when you’re wrong. Be open to what others are communicating, especially if they disagree with you. Love on your family, even when we drive you crazy. Give compliments out generously. Tell a cashier that you like their hair. And while we’re at it, because as you know, I do give strange compliments like that, please always embrace your awkwardness. Own it. Be weird and silly and laugh loudly and when you want to.
I need you to know that, like it or not, not everyone is going to like you. That people are going to dislike you for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. That sometimes someone will want so badly to make themselves the hero in their own story that they will turn you into their villain, even if you didn’t do anything to deserve this narrative. And sometimes, baby girl, people just aren’t nice. You have to know that these folks are fighting their own battles, and more often than not, you are only caught in their crossfire.
Listen closely here, boo. You can’t and shouldn’t have to prove yourself to people who only want the abstract of who you are. The concrete version of you is flawed and scarred and imperfect, and this real person is so very beautiful, no matter who takes the time to see it.
And Bryn? You don’t ever have to retaliate in anger, or frustration, or sadness. It took me years to realize that one. Try your best to forgive and move on and to focus on you, not anyone else. Look towards your biggest goals and live your craziest dreams. I promise you, that is the only vindication you will ever need.
Littlest love, this is important too. I don’t want you to ever let anyone put you into a box. Every now and again someone will try to tell you who you are and what you can and can’t be. They’ll try to say that there’s only one path to self-actualization, but please take note of the word “self” there. It’s up to you to find out what makes you, you. It’s up to you, not a stranger or an online opinion piece or your great Aunt Edna (to be clear, we don’t actually have an Aunt Edna. If we did, I’m sure she’d be lovely.) to learn and decide the paths that will bring you fulfillment and joy. It’s up to you to break down the walls that society has put up for you. It takes small minds to impose their barriers onto others, but you need to know that you are bigger and better than any cage anyone could ever try to squeeze you into. Please don’t ever let the world define you. You redefine the world, baby girl.
I hate this one, but it’s inevitable that you will have your feelings hurt and your heart broken. I so badly wish that I could protect you from those things, but I can’t and I shouldn’t. You’ll be rejected. You’ll hurt others. You will have to let go of people who mean a lot to you, and though this is healthy, it can also be really, really hard. You are going to feel like you’ve made a mess of things sometimes, and you’ll probably wish for a take-back or two or ten. But I want you to make mistakes, because this is how you will grow. I want you to do things that scare you, because some of the most terrifying things in life can also end up being the most incredible ones.
Brynlee Mae, please don’t let these hurts and heartbreaks turn you cold. The world can be a mean place but it will surprise you with its goodness too. Always search for the good. Fight with everything you have to keep that joyous spirit and loving nature. Fight to keep the sparkle that dances in your blue eyes. Fight against becoming jaded, or pessimistic or unkind, and encourage others to do the same. Encourage others every chance you get. We could all use a little bit more of that.
Finally, I need you to know that so often, more often than not, you will be your own worst enemy. That the voices in your head, you know, the cruelest ones that tell you the things that others probably think about you? That this will so often be only what you fear about yourself. So please, please, please take the time to be kind to yourself. To forgive yourself. To look at what you’ve done and to be proud. Women are so often told not to be proud. To be modest, and meek and to swat away compliments like flies. Lest we be considered full of ourselves. Boastful. Egotistical. Lest we be considered what men are applauded for being, every single day.
But Bryn, I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to hide your shine just because the world isn’t ready for it. Shine, baby. Show them everything you’ve got. Be the hero that doesn’t need a villain, or a rescuer or the false reality created by unrealistic expectations. Be your own hero.
I promise you, that is a story that needs to be told and told again.
PS: By the time I give you this letter, I will also have a list of Taylor Swift songs ready to guide you through the trials, tribulations and dance parties of young adulthood. You’re welcome in advance.
PPS: Dad says you’re not allowed to like boys.